Jan 12, 2020

Raniere questions victim status of speakers at his sentencing

Robert Gavin
Albany Times Union
January 10, 2020

NEW YORK -- NXIVM leader Keith Raniere is disputing the victimhood of a number of people expected to give impact statements at the convicted sex trafficker’s sentencing later this year.

Albany lawyers Paul DerOhannesian and Danielle Smith wrote a letter to Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis on Friday opposing prosecutors’ motion to allow victims of Raniere – including some who may not qualify as victims under the law – to speak under anonymity.

“The prosecution’s anointing of ‘victim’ status to an individual connotes a predetermination that an individual has in fact been wronged,” DerOhannesian stated. “Such a predetermination would also prejudice the defendant at his sentencing.”

Raniere, 59, known as “Vanguard” within his cult-like organization based in Colonie, faces up to life in federal prison when he is sentenced in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Jurors convicted the purported personal growth guru on all charges of sex trafficking, forced labor and racketeering charges in June.

The Times Union reported on Wednesday that Raniere was opposing anonymity for all victim statements. Prosecutors had said in their Dec. 19 motion that a “significant number of victims” want to speak but are concerned for their privacy given “degrading and humiliating treatment” some victims suffered in the case.

The defense attorneys wrote that Raniere “disputes the ‘victimhood’ of individuals” who were not mentioned in the second superseding indictment against him and have not withstood a standard of review. DerOhannesian argued that prosecutors were making “generalities” and provided no basis for saying victims suffered “degrading and humiliating treatment” and feared being identified.

“Although the government has not identified these individuals, the prosecution is seemingly extending its request far beyond the operating indictment’s named Jane and John Does,” DerOhannesian stated. “In so doing, the prosecution is certifying to this court and the public who is a ‘victim’ which necessarily places the government in the position of vouching for the credibility of an individual who seeks to influence Raniere’s punishment. “

DerOhannesian stated: “The government has made no showing that Raniere has harassed, humiliated, or annoyed any purported victim in ‘retaliation’ for bringing evidence against him."

In response Friday, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said the defense argument “misapprehends the law and his argument is meritless.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar noted that the judge previously allowed women to testify using pseudonyms or partial anonymity. She said because prosecutors provided a valid reason to limit the identities, Raniere must show a “particular need” for their names.

“The defendant does not articulate any ‘particularized need’ for the disclosure of victim identity information in open court. He does not because he cannot,” Hajjar said in a filing with fellow Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Lesko and Karin Orenstein.

Hajjar said Raniere, who will receive a list of the speaker’s identities, offered no explanation as to what harm he would suffer by the victims speaking under partial or full anonymity.

“Raniere’s argument that the government’s concerns of victim retaliation and harassment are ‘conclusory’ ignores that Raniere has now been convicted of being a leader of an enterprise that, among other things, used harassment, coercion and abusive litigation to intimidate and attack his perceived enemies and critics,” Hajjar stated.

Under Raniere’s leadership, NXIVM maintained a list of “enemies,” some of whom were subjected to several years of litigation.

Raniere’s victims included women in his secret “master/slave” group -- Dominus Obsequious Sororium or DOS, which Latin means “Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions” – in which members were starved on 500-a-day calorie diets, coerced to seduce Raniere sexually and forced to be branded with Raniere’s initials by a person using a cauterizing pen.

Raniere's sentencing has been indefinitely adjourned as Garaufis awaits a pre-sentencing investigation report by a federal probation officer.

Raniere's co-defendants -- Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman, NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, her daughter and government witness Lauren Salzman, actress Allison Mack and NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell -- are yet to be sentenced.

CultNEWS101 NXIVM Collection

Robert Gavin

Robert Gavin covers state and federal courts, criminal justice issues and legal affairs for the Times Union. Contact him at (518) 434-2403


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