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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/CNN) – After the seven week trial, it took the jury less than five hours to find NXIVM group founder Keith Raniere guilty on all counts of crimes including racketeering and forcing women to have sex.
His victims and their families say this is the day their nightmare finally ended, reports CBS2’s Valerie Castro.
In the prosecutor’s closing arguments of the 58-year-old Raniere’s racketeering trial were claims that the “NXIVM” self-help group he founded was secretly a sex cult set up like a pyramid scheme.
“Over the last seven weeks, this trial has revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact, a master manipulator, a con man and the crime boss of a cult-like organization involved in sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortions, branding, degradation and humiliation,” said prosecutor Richard P. Donoghue.
“Today was the end of a hellish nightmare,” said actress Catherine Oxenberg outside federal court in Brooklyn Wednesday.
Oxenberg’s daughter was one of Raniere’s victims.
“She just found out, she’s in shock, I’m shock as well,” said Oxenberg. “She, like all the other young women who have suffered at the hands of Raniere, no one is unscathed but she’s not broken and she’ll be the stronger for it.”
NXIVM Sex Cult Conviction News Conference
Raneire’s ex-wife, Toni Natali, says her wardrobe choice for the verdict was intentional and meaningful.
“This is my jail shirt,” she said. “I wore this so he would know what he would be looking at the rest of his life, he’ll be looking through bars the rest of his life.”
Prosecutors had shown the 16-person Brooklyn jury evidence of a number of crimes, ranging from images of child pornography to testimony from a woman who said she was tied to a table by Raniere and then forced to have oral sex performed on her by someone else.
Raniere pleaded not guilty to charges including racketeering, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of a child and human trafficking. He did not testify in the case and his defense attorney did not call any witnesses, but his attorney argued that his relationships with NXIVM followers were consensual.
“Keith does maintain his innocence, he does plan on appealing,” said Marc Agnifilo, Raniere’s attorney.
He has been in federal custody in Brooklyn since he was arrested in Mexico last year.
Raniere’s sentencing is set for September 25. He faces the possibility of life in prison.
Over six weeks, several women testified about how they blindly obeyed their “masters,” screamed when they were branded with Raniere’s initials near their bikini lines and were pressured to have sex with him.
Raniere ran an Albany, New York-based company that offered pricey “self-help” classes to thousands of people across the United States, Canada and Mexico for two decades. An actress who testified in court said he was revered by his students, and some saw him as one of the smartest men in the world.
Multiple women testified they were misled about joining the group and were told it was a “women’s empowerment” group. They later found out they would become “slaves” who would be expected to have sex with Raniere, send him nude photos and have his initials branded onto their bodies.
Prosecutor Moira Penza described the way women who became “slaves” and “masters” within DOS as “turning victims into victimizers.”
Agnifilo previously said Raniere firmly believes his ideas are sound, humanitarian ideas.
Lauren Salzman, 42, who pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy in March, testified she was a master and had six slaves of her own. She was told that the group would teach women to be “master of your own life.”
While recruiting them, the masters would insist the recruits provide information about themselves as “collateral” to encourage the recruits to keep information about DOS a secret, according to an affidavit prepared by an FBI agent and filed with Raniere’s arrest warrant.
Several women testified in court that they shared sexually explicit photos, granted access to their bank accounts and recorded videos with damaging stories that would hurt their families and those closest to them. Some of the women said the statements were not even truthful.
After being accepted into DOS, members would be branded near their bikini line with Raniere’s initials, prosecutors and victims said.
During the trial, prosecutors presented a series of recordings of conversations between “Smallville” actress Allison Mack and Raniere in which they discuss a ceremony for the branding. Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges before the start of the trial.