Feb 4, 2021

Leader of New York sex cult transferred to federal prison in Tucson

Keith Raniere
Keith Raniere is latest high-profile inmate to be held at lockup on south Wilmot Road in Tucson

Henry Brean
Arizona Daily Star
February 3, 2021

Infamous New York cult leader Keith Raniere is now being held at a federal prison in Tucson specializing in sex offenders.

Raniere, 60, was transferred to United States Penitentiary Tucson on Jan. 21 after being sentenced last year to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy.

Raniere is the founder of NXIVM, a self-improvement company and cult accused in the systematic sexual abuse of more than a dozen women.

He is the latest high-profile inmate to be sent to the high-security prison on Wilmot Road south of Interstate 10.

The 14-year-old prison has also housed Boston-area mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, Elizabeth Smart-kidnapper Brian David Mitchell, Silk Road online black market drug website operator Ross Ulbricht, and former USA Gymnastics team physician and serial rapist Larry Nassar, who was transferred to another facility after a 2018 assault at the hands of his fellow Tucson inmates.

In December, New York mobster and murderer Anthony Casso, 78, died from COVID-19 and other medical conditions while in custody of the Tucson prison.

In 2014, Army soldier- turned-war criminal Steven Dale Green hanged himself in his cell there while serving a life sentence for rape and murder in Iraq.

The Tucson facility is one of several nationwide that operates under the Sex Offender Management Program, which is designed to keep inmates safe and more engaged in their treatment by housing a higher percentage of sex offenders who might be targeted for their crimes at other prisons.

The prison’s inmate orientation handbook states that “a primary goal of (a) SOMP institution is to reduce the need to place sexual offenders in protective custody and to create an institution climate conducive to voluntary participation in treatment.”

No one at the prison could be reached for comment. Citing privacy reasons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to release Raniere's intake photo or discuss the conditions of his confinement.

According to its website, the Tucson facility holds 1,328 inmates — 1,271 in the prison itself and another 57 in the adjacent, minimum security satellite camp.

Raniere and his cult were chronicled last year in the HBO documentary series “The Vow.” Prosecutors said he coerced and controlled his victims, even branding their skin with his initials.

Lawyers for Raniere tried to block his transfer to Tucson.

In a Jan. 5 letter to U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis, attorney Jennifer Bonjean asked that her client be kept behind bars in New York, at least while he fights his restitution agreement and appeals his 2019 conviction.

Bonjean said she could not have “meaningful communication” with Raniere over the phone but traveling to and from Arizona in the midst of a pandemic would be “exceedingly burdensome” and pose a health risk.

Ultimately, the judge declined to intervene in the decision to send Raniere to Tucson.


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