UPDATE 3-NXIVM victims confront Raniere as sex cult leader awaits sentencing

28 Oct 2020 / 03:34 H.

    (Adds details from sentencing hearing)

    By Brendan Pierson

    NEW YORK, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Keith Raniere, the founder of the cult-like group NXIVM, watched as 15 former members spoke out against him on Tuesday ahead of his expected sentencing for sex trafficking and other crimes, which could land him life in prison.

    At a sentencing hearing in a federal court in Brooklyn before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, the victims, most of whom were women, described what they called the devastating impact Raniere, 60, had on their lives.

    The first to speak was a woman, identified in court only as Camila, who recounted a 12-year sexual relationship with Raniere starting when she was 15 and he was 45.

    "He screwed with my mind for so long that trying to find the strength and clarity to tell my story has been a slow and painful journey," Camila said.

    Camila's brother Adrian and mother Adriana, who were also part of NXIVM, lamented how two other family members -- the father and Camila's oldest sister -- remained loyal to Raniere.

    "Before being part of NXIVM, my family was close," Adrian said. "He destroyed my family."

    Another former member, the actress India Oxenberg, told Raniere at the hearing: "You stole seven years of my life that I'll never get back."

    Federal prosecutors said Raniere deserves life in prison for exploiting victims at NXIVM, a purported self-help group based near Albany, New York where women were kept on starvation diets, branded with his initials, and ordered to have sex with him.

    Lawyers for Raniere have said he maintained his "complete innocence" and was the victim of an "unfair trial," and asked Garaufis for a sentence of no more than 15 years in prison. Raniere is expected to make a statement at the hearing.

    Jurors convicted Raniere in June 2019 of racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, possession of child pornography and other crimes, following extensive testimony from former NXIVM members.

    Prosecutors said Raniere created a secret sorority within NXIVM called DOS, where female "slaves" turned over nude photos and other compromising materials that could be used for blackmail if they tried to leave.

    They also said the nude photos Raniere kept of Camila were the basis of the child pornography charge.

    More than 50 people wrote letters to Garaufis urging leniency for Raniere. Many said NXIVM classes, which could cost thousands of dollars, had greatly improved their lives.

    Several other people affiliated with NXIVM have pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

    They included Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, actress Allison Mack, former NXIVM President Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren Salzman, who became a star prosecution witness.

    Bronfman was accused of helping bankroll NXIVM, and was sentenced last month to more than six years in prison. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson; editing by Rosalba O'Brien, Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)

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