Keith Raniere, who ran a cult-like group that kept women as virtual sex prisoners to service him in upstate New York, was sentenced to 120 years in prison on Tuesday.
Raniere was convicted on federal sex trafficking, racketeering and possession of child pornography charges last year for his role in the alleged sex cult called NXIVM (pronounced “nexium”).
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who presided over the six-week trial last year that ended in Raniere convicted on all counts.
As he announced the sentence, Garaufis noted that Raniere labeled some of the victims’ claims lies. The judge told a woman who Raniere ordered to be kept in a room for two years when she was 18: “What happened to you is not your fault.” He said that went for the other victims too.
Raniere, who looked at victims as they spoke in the courtroom, maintained his defiant tone, although he said he was “truly sorry” that his organization led to a place where “there is so much anger and so much pain.”
“I do believe I am innocent of the charges. … It is true I am not remorseful of the crimes I do not believe I committed at all,” Raniere said.
Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said he hopes the sentence will serve as a deterrence to any aspiring cult leaders.
“When justice catches up to you, as it did today, it is severe,” DuCharme told reporters outside court in Brooklyn. “Keith Raniere will not be able to victimize people anymore after today’s sentence and we’re very grateful for that.”
Marc Elliot, a former NXIVM member and supporter of Raniere’s, said the defendant didn’t get a fair trial.
“We all should be fighting for due process no matter how much you don’t like it or how inconvenient it is,” Elliot said. “Because if someone or society ever turns on you, you better hope to God that due process and laws are still standing to protect you.”
In a jailhouse interview that aired Friday on “Dateline NBC,” Raniere apologized for the “tragedy” and “hurt” he caused victims — but also said that he’s not guilty of any crimes.
“I am innocent,” Raniere said.
“This is a horrible tragedy with many, many people being hurt,” he added. “There is a horrible injustice here. And whether you think I’m the devil or not, the justice process has to be examined.”
NXIVM founder Keith Raniere speaks out ahead of his sentencing in an interview with journalist Frank Parlato and @DatelineNBC.
Raniere was found guilty of multiple charges related to the group, which prosecutors call “cult-like.”
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) October 23, 2020
It took jurors in Brooklyn just a few hours in June 2019 to convict Raniere. In running a purported self-help organization near Albany, New York, he created a secret sorority called DOS in which female “slaves” turned over compromising materials that were used to blackmail and force them into sex, prosecutors said.
One former NXIVM member, India Oxenberg, daughter of “Dynasty” star Catherine Oxenberg, said once she became ensnared in the group, it was difficult to leave.
“When you’re unaware, it’s so easy to be led astray, especially by people who are masters at manipulation,” Oxenberg told ABC’s “Good Morning America” this month.
NXIVM’s president, Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren Salzman, bookkeeper Kathy Russell and Claire Bronfman, the Seagram liquor heiress, have all pleaded guilty to various charges.
Bronfman was a key NXIVM benefactor and sentenced to 81 months behind bars. She admitted last year that she harbored someone who was living in the U.S. illegally for unpaid “labor and services” and that she committed credit card fraud on behalf of Raniere.
NXIVM is the subject of the HBO docuseries “The Vow,” which is scheduled to feature Raniere in its second season next year.
In his interview with “Dateline,” Raniere apologized for participating in a group that caused so much “pain and suffering.”
“I’ve clearly participated. I’ve been the leader of the community. And it has come to this,” he said. “Even if it is by oppression, I am absolutely sorry and pained. This is a horrible situation.”