New York – Lawyers for Keith Raniere are proclaiming his innocence, lashing out at victims and describing the Capital Region’s most notorious convicted sex trafficker as a crime stopper who helped bring peace to Mexico.
And if the NXIVM leader - who is facing possibly life in prison - must be incarcerated, it should be for 15 years, defense attorneys told the judge who will impose Raniere’s sentence on Oct. 27.
“Simply put, he remains proud of his life’s work,” Raniere attorneys Marc Agnifilo and Paul DerOhannesian informed Senior U.S. Justice Nicholas Garaufis, who presided over Raniere’s nearly two month trial last year.
“Keith Raniere continues to assert his complete innocence to these charges,” the attorneys stated. “He does, of course, recognize that a jury convicted him of very serious crimes, ironically crimes that he and others in NXIVM have been seeking to prevent others from committing for many years.”
On June 19, 2019, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Raniere of sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering counts with underlying acts that included possessing child pornography, child exploitation, extortion, identity theft and conspiracy and money laundering.
Last month, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn submitted a memo to Garaufis requesting a life sentence for the 60-year-old Raniere, formerly of Halfmoon, a purported self-help guru known as “Vanguard.” The memo said that in an April 8 jailhouse conversation, Raniere told a supporter, Suneel Chakravorty, they needed to "get scrutiny" on Garaufis and that the judge "needs to know he’s being watched.”
In a filing dated Sept. 18, Agnifilo and DerOhannesian countered that their client was simply "expressing the need for a good lawyer,"which is why, they argued, Raniere added that they "gotta figure out the next step with Dershowitz,” referring to high-profile attorney Alan Dershowitz, whose clients include sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
The 85-page defense memo said Raniere's conviction was the “product of a media campaign involving witnesses who were motivated to testify falsely, a heavy-handed prosecution that threatened potential defense witnesses and, most respectfully, an unfair trial where, we believe, the court was not provided with full, candid information from the prosecution.”
In NXIVM, being “prideful” was scorned. But the defense memo repeatedly said Raniere “remains proud” of many of his accomplishments in NXIVM – and boasted that he made Mexico safer.
“He remains proud to have been permitted to play a part in helping citizens and residents of Mexico strive to bring peace to a country beset by violent gangs, kidnappings and murders, a struggle that continues to the present and that will continue into the future," the memo said, claiming that Raniere created a sustainable peace movement.
Many top members of NXIVM were from Mexico, including three sisters who all became sexually involved with Raniere, the youngest at the age of 15. The middle sister angered Raniere when she dared to kiss another man, leading him to order she be banished to a room in her family's Halfmoon townhouse for nearly two years. The eldest sister remains a Raniere love interest and gave birth to his child.
Raniere's lawyers said he was "not sorry" for his conduct. He expects to one day be “freed from the tyranny of the destructive forces showcased over the last several years,” they said.
The defense memo slammed prosecutors in Brooklyn’s Eastern District, which brought the case. The lawyers wrote that a “highly experienced” prosecutor in the Northern District, based in Albany, and the Albany area FBI “concluded that no crimes had occurred.” The U.S. attorney's office in Albany could not immediately be reached for comment. The FBI declined comment.
“This complex situation of personal motives, individual regrets and life-choices has no place in a federal courtroom,” the defense memo stated. “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. Despite the sex offenses, there is no evidence that any woman ever told Keith Raniere that she did not want to kiss him, touch him, hold his hand or have sex with him.”
Raniere's sex trafficking victims were members of his secret "master/slave" club, Dominus Obsequious Sororium or DOS, which was all female except for Raniere. DOS members were required to hand over “collateral” such as naked photos. Once in, they were "slaves" who swore lifetime vows of obedience to their "masters." Raniere orchestrated demanding rules through a "first line" group of eight slaves. Women in DOS became rail thin, living on a Raniere requirement of consuming 500 calories or less a day; orders to respond to “readiness” drills at all hours of the night; so-called “acts of care” to please their masters, and, for some members of DOS, assignments to please Raniere sexually. Some women in the group were branded on their pelvic areas with Raniere’s initials by a person using a cauterizing pen, a practice revealed by Sarah Edmondson, who ran NXIVM's Vancouver center and went public to the New York Times about DOS, which she joined.
The defense memo claimed Raniere created DOS to be a positive force for women.
"While it has controversial elements, that does not make it bad," the memo said. "It makes it difficult and demanding, which is what the women joining DOS were signing up for. DOS is not for everyone. It is, rather, for those women who believe that they would benefit from a serious challenge and from developing greater discipline. DOS is serious medicine and it is appropriate only in certain circumstances."
The memo claimed DOS, also known as "The Vow" (now the name of an ongoing HBO documentary series about NXIVM) was not created for the purposes of sex. Raniere's lawyers also claimed DOS victims who testified at trial were "pressured, coerced and otherwise convinced to testify" against Raniere. The lawyers said when DOS slaves were told to seduce Raniere -- and bring a cell phone with them and disrobe while he keeps his clothes on -- the assignment was not to have sex with Raniere.
"Rather the assignment tests the women’s resolve to undertake a task that is difficult and challenging," the lawyers stated. "It is easy and even perhaps natural to see that this is a highly controversial practice and one that can easily lead to serious misunderstandings."
The defense memo included excerpts from letters sent on Raniere's behalf from NXIVM devotees including Jim Del Negro, identified at trial as a member of Raniere's inner circle; Brandon Porter, a former Capital Region doctor whose medical license was revoked for conducting human brain-activity experiments and other unsanctioned research on NXIVM-linked people in Halfmoon; and television actress Nicki Clyne, a "first-line" DOS slave. She and other Raniere loyalists have danced this summer with other supporters outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where Raniere is being held.
The memo alleged that before the trial, prosecutors threatened to charge another person who has danced outside the facility -- DOS member Michele Hatchette -- with perjury if she refused to continue to come to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. The defense attorneys said Hatchette and Clyne were both potential defense witnesses.
The memo argued that an "anti-NXIVM" contingent using cult deprogrammers and defectors such as Edmondson and former NXIVM executive Mark Vicente tried to turn the women against Raniere.
The memo also delved into Raniere's past: Born in Brooklyn, Raniere's parents moved to Suffern in Rockland County when he was six years old. Two years later they separated and later divorced. The lawyers explained how Raniere remained close to his parents as a youth, especially to his mother who, they said, had heart disease. They said Raniere spent his adolescence and teenage years caring for his mother and realizing he could lose her at any point.
Raniere’s father, James, a former advertising executive, died earlier this spring. His mother, Vera Oschypko, a professional ballroom dancer, died in December 1978, the memorandum said.
In 1977, Raniere went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, starting his long residency in the Capital Region.
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