NXIVM leader Raniere’s lawyer calls case ‘Hollywood-driven’

Albany Times Union

By Robert Gavin

Monday, December 31, 2018

NEW YORK — An attorney for NXIVM founder Keith Raniere blasted the federal case against his client – and suggested it was manufactured by “media and Hollywood-driven detritus.”

Raniere, 58, known within NXIVM as “Vanguard,” faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of sex-trafficking, forced labor and racketeering charges in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, where his trial is set for March.

Federal prosecutors say NXIVM, described by some as a cult, used coercion to lure women into a sex-slave club in which they were branded during rituals in Saratoga County. Raniere’s co-defendants are actress Allison Mack, formerly of the television show “Smallville,” NXIVM’s president Nancy Salzman, her daughter, Lauren Salzman and longtime NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell.

Attorneys for the defendants tried to get charges tossed in letters to the court filed on Friday.

“The truth is that the sex trafficking charges that led to this misconduct are baseless and are hanging by a thread,” stated Marc Agnifilo, a Manhattan lawyer for Raniere.  He said federal prosecutors in Brooklyn were “still trying to cobble together a case by promising a last-minute superseding indictment.”

Raniere was arrested last March on a beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Prosecutors say he fled to Mexico to avoid arrest. Lawyers for Raniere say he went there for personal reasons.

In April, a federal grand jury indicted Raniere and Mack on charges of sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy. In July, a superseding indictment elevated charges against Raniere and Mack – and added Bronfman, Russell and Nancy and Lauren Salzman.

Prosecutors say Raniere and his co-defendants engaged in extortion, identity theft, money laundering, obstruction of justice and harbored illegal immigrants for financial gain.

“Everything about this case … betrays a clear reality: the prosecutors read about branding in The New York Times, spoke to different people writing books, making podcasts or starring in television dramas and endeavored to construct a criminal case from media and Hollywood-driven detritus,” Agnifilo wrote.

Prosecutors say Raniere was a “grand master” over female NXIVM members, including Mack, who were forced to provide “collateral” to join the secret club Dominus Obsequious Sororium, or DOS, which means “Master Over the Slave Women.” Mack and Nancy Salzman allegedly served as first-line “masters.”

If the women attempted to leave, the collateral — such as damaging information about family members or pictures of their private parts — would be released, court papers said.

The women — some of whom said they were pressured to have sex with Raniere — told federal investigators a female doctor associated with NXIVM used a cauterizing iron to brand them with a design on their lower abdomen containing the initials of Raniere and Mack.

Mack attorney William McGovern  said in court papers Friday the indictment against his client failed to provide notice “as to whom the victims of forced labor are, where such conduct specifically occurred, or a reasonably precise time period when it occurred— let alone what the inadequately alleged forced acts of labor were.”

McGovern said the alleged collateral was never released. He said that supports Mack’s argument that she was unable to coerce anyone into remaining in the organization.

“Equating collateral to blackmail, the government cites a legal textbook noting that it is uncommon for blackmailers to spill secrets once their victims have gone to the authorities,” McGovern stated. “This assertion is irrelevant because many DOS members left the organization without having their collateral released long before the initiation of the instant prosecution, which demonstrates the lack of coercive effect of the collateral.”

Raniere remains in a federal lock-up in Brooklyn. A federal judge in December rejected Raniere’s latest request to be released on $1 million bond while his criminal case is pending.

The order, handed down by U.S. District Judge Nicholas A. Garaufis, cited Raniere’s continued flight risk, noting again that he had traveled to Mexico in the fall of 2017 when a federal investigation of his organization was intensifying.