Oct 30, 2020

NXIVM founder Keith Raniere sentenced to 120 years in prison

Raniere asserted his "complete innocence," defense attorneys said.

Aaron Katersky
ABC News
October 27, 2020

Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison at a Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday for running NXIVM, a self-help organization prosecutors labeled a "criminal enterprise" exploited by Raniere for power, profit and sex.

To followers, he was known as Vanguard, but prosecutors cast Raniere as a con artist who did "immeasurable damage" to victims over 15 years of crime and exploitation. They had asked he receive a life sentence.

"You have done irreparable harm to peoples psyches, to their self-esteem, their belief in themselves and their experience of sanity and well being," filmmaker Mark Vicente, a former member of NXIVM turned whistleblower, said in an impact statement delivered at Raniere's sentencing.

"I believed in you. I believed in your mission. Because I thought it was the same as mine," Vicente added. "I believed you knew what goodness was. Finding out the truth about you and your actual motives turned my world upside down."

"Raniere and his co-conspirators maintained control over the Enterprise by, among other means, obtaining sensitive information about members and associates of the Enterprise; inducing shame and guilt in order to influence and control members and associates of the Enterprise; isolating associates and others from friends and family and making them dependent on the Enterprise for their financial well-being and legal status within the United States; and encouraging associates and others to take expensive NXIVM courses, and incur debt to do so," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

The U.S. attorney in charge of the case said he was satisfied with the result.

"The judge's sentence incapacitates Keith Raniere for the rest of his life," said Seth DuCharme, acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "Keith Raniere will not be able to victimize people anymore after today's sentence and we're very grateful for that."

Raniere has been jailed since his June 2019 conviction on charges including sexual exploitation, forced labor and sex trafficking.

"Members of the Enterprise recruited and groomed sexual partners for Raniere ... and many were themselves in sexual relationships with Raniere that involved pledges of loyalty, penances for ethical breaches and collateral," the memo said.

Among the victims who testified during the sentencing hearing was a woman identified as Camilla, who was 15 when Raniere allegedly raped her. He was 45 at the time.

Raniere trafficked a woman called Daniela for labor and services and confined her to a room for nearly two years in an attempt to force her to do work for him.

According to prosecutors, Daniela was told that if she left the room, she would be sent to Mexico without any identification documents. Daniela went months without human contact and was denied prompt medical care. She testified she contemplated suicide.

"Raniere's reign of control over the women he scarred, both physically and emotionally, is the making of a horror story," said the FBI's Bill Sweeney. "It is inconceivable to think of the sexual exploitation, abuse, seclusion and mind control his victims suffered -- at his direction."

Unapologetic, Raniere asserted his "complete innocence," defense attorneys said.

"Simply put, he remains proud of his life's work. He also remains determined to fight this case, which he views as a terrible injustice and, respectfully, an affront to what should be one of the great systems of justice to ever exist," his attorneys said in their sentencing memo.

A life sentence for Raniere was the "only sort of thing that would stop him," Angela Ucci, one of the original "NXIVM 9" victims of Raniere, told ABC News.

"This is the finale for him, his victimization of people, his terrorizing people," she said. "It really is over."

"For nine years I was his girlfriend," said Barbara Bouchey, another former member of NXIVM. "I felt he was my soul. And when I left, I realized, 'Oh my god. This guy is a crazy pathological liar.' ... This man robbed me, emotionally, physically, financially spiritually. ... This guy terrorized me. He set out to destroy me."

The judge rejected Raniere's latest bid for a new trial on Friday.

"This complex situation of personal motives, individual regrets and life choices has no place in a federal courtroom. Yet, the government seeks a life sentence for Keith Raniere in a case that has no guns, no knives and no force. No one was shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, slapped or even yelled at," the defense memo said.

At trial, Raniere was accused of forming a group within NXIVM composed of female "slaves" who were branded with his initials and coerced into having sex with him after giving him nude photographs or revealing embarrassing secrets.

"Every single person making the decision to get branded or not get branded ... or to make any one of a thousand other decisions was a free-thinking adult," the defense said.

ABC News' Sasha Pezenik and Henderson Hewes contributed to this report.


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