New York – Marc Agnifilo defended NXIVM leader Keith Raniere in news conferences, spoke on his behalf in documentaries and sat beside him during a nearly two-month trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
And now, Agnifilo is leaving the case of Raniere, the disgraced personal growth guru known as “Vanguard” who is serving a 120-year federal prison sentence in Arizona.
The defense attorney and another Raniere attorney, Teny Geragos, marked their withdrawal as Raniere’s attorneys in letters filed in federal court on Feb. 23.
The lawyers are withdrawing as attorneys Jennifer Bonjean, Joseph McBride and Steven Alan Metcalf II have been hired to wage the appeal of Raniere, formerly of Halfmoon, who based his cult-like company in Colonie for two decades. It had branches in Vancouver, Mexico, Los Angeles, the state of Washington, among other locations.
In June 2019, a jury convicted Raniere, now 60, of sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering crimes that included underlying acts of possessing child pornography, extortion and identity theft.
“Now that Mr. Raniere’s new counsel have entered appearances in this matter, I respectfully request to be formally relieved as counsel of record for Mr. Raniere,” Agnifilo said in a letter to Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. “I have conferred with Mr. Raniere, informed him of my intent to withdraw and he agrees.”
Agnifilo stated that Raniere would not be prejudiced by his departure because he has new attorneys.
It was unclear if Albany attorney Paul DerOhannesian, who has defended Raniere alongside Agnifilo, would also be departing the case.
Agnifilo, joined by DerOhannesian, vehemently defended Raniere at news conferences outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn and in the courtroom. In one press briefing in May 2018, Agnifilo downplayed the fact that women in Raniere’s secret “master/slave” group known as Dominus Obsequious Sororium, or DOS, were branded on their pelvic areas. Victims have said they were not told of the extent of the branding, the pain or what the branding would look like.
"There are well-known groups of men that brand themselves. It's utterly uncontroversial. But a group of women decides to brand themselves, and all of a sudden they're victims," Agnifilo told reporters.
In his closing argument to the jury in June 2019, Agnifilo told the jury the word “cult” would not help them in deliberations. "I think that's kind of a dead end. I think you have to look at the content and not be swayed by that word," he said.
In the summation, he said DOS was “not for everybody.” But he suggested a former “’slave” – a woman whom Raniere blindfolded, ordered to disrobe and drove to a home in Halfmoon where she was sexually violated – might have been helped by it because she had previously been suicidal and was not after DOS.
"Maybe it worked," Agnifilo told the jury. "It's strong medicine but it has to be used in the right circumstances with the right people and the right time."
The lawyer said Raniere and the woman had a "sweet, caring, casual relationship."
At Raniere’s sentencing, the woman told Raniere she was appalled to learn Raniere once referred to DOS members as "(expletive)-toy sex slaves."
"That was me," she said. "My life meant nothing to you."
After Raniere was convicted, Agnifilo was criticized by Albany attorney Steve Coffey after Agnifilo told NXIVM defector Barbara Bouchey, "Congratulations. I hope it helps. I really do."
"You’re gonna speak to Barbara Bouchey? You’re going over to her and say, ‘I hope that you can heal?’ Are you f---ing kidding me? Really?” Coffey told the Times Union.
Agnifilo appeared in "Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult" and recently in a two-hour documentary on Dateline NBC about the case.
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