New York -- Lauren Salzman was once a high-ranking leader of the purported self-help group Nxivm and a loyal member of founder Keith Raniere's inner circle.
But ahead of her sentencing Wednesday in Brooklyn, she shared in court documents why she eventually cooperated with the government and testified against him.
In 2019, Salzman pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges. She could face seven to nine years in prison, but prosecutors recommended less time, writing to US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis that her cooperation was "extraordinary" and that her testimony "substantially contributed" to the prosecution of Raniere.
He was sentenced to 120 years in prison after being convicted of racketeering, sex trafficking, sexual eploitation of a child, human trafficking and more in 2019.
Garaufis scalled Raniere's crimes "cruel, perverse and extremely serious."
Salzman's attorneys point out that she was the first co-defendant to cooperate and the only one to testify. They say she spent "countless" hours explaining how the criminal enterprise worked to prosecutors. Her attorneys asked that she receive no prison time.
During her testimony, Salzman spoke about becoming part of a secretive group within Nxivm called DOS. It was touted as a "women's empowerment group" and its existence was kept secret, enforced by the demand that the women who joined share "collateral" with its leaders -- damaging documents such as explicit nude photos and letters. She said women were directed to have sex with Raniere, directed to send sexually explicit photos to him and were coerced to get brands with his initials on them, symbolizing a lifetime vow.
One witness testified about how Salzman had been part of a group who kept her in a room for two years by withholding her immigration and identification documents, despite her begging to leave.
Salzman's journey into Nxvim, what finally pushed her to plead guilty and testify against her longtime lover, and how she continues to grapple with her role are detailed in documents filed before her sentencing. They include a letter from Salzman apologizing to victims.
"I wish I could go back. I wish I could take my participation back. I wish I had been stronger and seen things sooner," Salzman wrote to the court.
Salzman, now 45, spent most of her adult life in Nxivm, co-founded by her mother, Nancy, a nurse who teamed up with Raniere to create programs they said would help people unlock their potential.
In her sentencing memorandum, Salzman's attorneys wrote that her mother introduced her to Raniere while in college and that she urged her to take six months of Nxivm "Executive Success Programs" classes to help her figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Salzman went from taking classes to teaching them, she wrote in her letter to court, and in 24 months she went from an entry-level position to a high-level executive.
"I was 23 years old, and I really thought I was helping change the world," she wrote.
Her mother told the court that introducing her daughter to Nxivm and Raniere is one of the most regrettable things she has done.
"I am responsible for Lauren being before you, having endured arrest, prosecution and successful cooperation, and now facing her own judgment," wrote Nancy Salzman, who pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced September 8.
For about two decades, Lauren Salzman went deeper into the group and her relationship with Raniere, which lasted for 17 years. She testified that she stayed in it because she wanted children and Raniere repeatedly had promised they would have a child together.
"Over time, I have witnessed him gain control in countless others' lives and exploit them for his own ends," Lauren Salzman wrote.
Two other co-conspirators who pleaded guilty in the case have been sentenced. Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conceal and harbor people who were not in the US legally for financial gain, and to fraudulent use of identification. She was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison.
"Smallville" actress Allison Mack, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges, was sentenced to three years in prison.
Salzman said in her pre-sentencing letter to court that, after sifting through documents related to the case, her perspective dramatically shifted. She began to realize the totality of what she had participated in, and she decided to plead guilty. She said it took time to piece together information, much of which Raniere had kept from others.
"The manipulation and years of abuse that I participated in and was complicit in became very clear," she wrote. "This almost destroyed me, but it also gave me a clear path and direction."
Salzman's testimony had to be halted during cross-examination after she broke down, prompting the judge to call her a " broken person" and say, "I am not going to have someone have a nervous breakdown on the witness stand."
In the two years since her testimony, Salzman has become a business owner specializing in dog care. She wrote that she is grateful she has been able to be in home confinement, saying it kept her from "spiraling."
"At 45 years old, I am finally in a stable and consistently positive and progressive situation," she wrote. "I feel proud of my choices and relieved to finally have a life that is my own, an experience I never had prior to now."