By AARON KATERSKY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — 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.
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.
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.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.