Law Beat: Attorneys for ex-NXIVM member claim media 'caused harm'

Albany Times-Union/August 1, 2021

By Robert Gavin

When a federal judge in Brooklyn imposed a non-prison sentence Wednesday for NXIVM defector Lauren Salzman, it was no surprise.

The 45-year-old daughter of NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman testified over four grueling days, helping federal prosecutors bury NXIVM leader Keith Raniere at his 2019 trial. A jury convicted the disgraced personal growth guru known as "Vanguard" of all charges, including sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering crimes. He is serving 120 years in prison in Tucson, Arizona.

What was surprising, however, was that in the weeks leading up to Lauren Salzman's sentencing, her attorneys took a page right out of the NXIVM playbook in a sentencing recommendation to Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. On the 34th page of a 38-page memo, Salzman's lawyers attacked news outlets - a prime target of Raniere for two decades.

The Phoenix-based lawyers, Hector Diaz and Andrea Tazioli, went so far as to claim that the press “caused harm” to their client and other longtime NXIVM members who were charged in 2018 alongside Raniere. All of those defendants have since pleaded guilty to federal crimes.

The lawyers – without evidence – claimed Lauren Salzman was the victim of targeted media “hit pieces.”

Then, the lawyers stated: “Though Lauren was not charged with or convicted of any sex-related offenses, she has faced a social stigma because of the extensive media attention garnered by NXIVM that labeled her as a member of a ‘sex cult.’”

The judge, of course, was well aware that trial testimony and their client’s admission established that Lauren Salzman was a “first line master” in Raniere’s extortion-filled club, Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS). In that group, sleep-deprived and calorie-starved female “slaves” were given “assignments” to sexually seduce Raniere.

Meanwhile, one of the witnesses at Raniere's trial, a California bondage device salesman, testified that another "first line" DOS member (answering directly to Raniere) had ordered ankle shackles and a "jail cell."

Apparently, such happenings might lead some to suspect a sex cult was at large. That would include the judge who, during Wednesday's sentencing, used the term "NXIVM sex cult."

Diaz and Tazioli, however, cast blame on the messenger, ignoring that Raniere had targeted journalists among the "enemies" of NXIVM for simply reporting what was happening.

Left unsaid in the defense memo was that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn brought the NXIVM case following news reports, including a New York Times report of women being branded on their pelvic areas in DOS. Or that it was news outlets, beginning with the Times Union in 2003, that exposed Raniere's organization initially known as Executive Success Programs.

Many journalists, including Times Union reporters, were among those perceived “enemies” whose names were kept in files kept in Nancy Salzman’s basement in Halfmoon. Nancy Salzman, who will be sentenced Sept. 8 for her guilty plea to racketeering conspiracy, committed underlying acts that included conspiring to commit identity theft to get the names and passwords of email accounts of those perceived enemies.

Conspiring to obtain email accounts would certainly fall into the “caused harm” category, but in their memo, Diaz and Tazioli said it  was their client who “suffered at the hands of relentless media outlets whose obsession with this matter has caused harm to most of the defendants in this case, but in particular Lauren, who previously never had any media exposure.”

Over two decades, Raniere and his disciples in the Capital Region-based organization engaged in unchecked gaslighting, psychological torment, manipulation and sexual predation of his victims. And Lauren Salzman, by all accounts, appears to have moved on from that world. The judge indicated that she, now working as a dog groomer, was on the right path (as opposed to the "stripe path" that was part of NXIVM, whose members wore sashes that contained stripes signifying their level of advancement).

Diaz and Tazioli included more than 25 letters in their sentencing memo on behalf of their client. With the exception of Lauren Salzman herself and her mother, every name was redacted - even close family members.

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