NEW YORK — A federal judge in Brooklyn sentenced NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman to three and a half years in prison Wednesday after eight of her victims described Salzman as a cold, calculating enabler and enforcer for cult leader Keith Raniere.
Salzman, known as “Prefect” in her role as the president of Raniere’s purported self-empowerment organization, also must pay a fine of $150,000 and serve three years of supervised release after her incarceration ends. The 67-year-old Halfmoon resident is scheduled to report to prison on Jan. 19.
“I convinced myself that the ends justified the means,” Salzman, wearing a pink mask, told Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in a courtroom in Brooklyn.
Unmoved, the judge told Salzman she had weaponized the civil legal system to bring lawsuits against those NXIVM perceived as its “enemies,“ manipulated its students and turned a blind eye to the worst of Raniere’s abuses, which included his sexual predation of a 15-year-old girl from Mexico who worked as a maid in Salzman’s home.
The judge questioned how Salzman, who has two grown daughters, could treat the girl and her siblings so horribly. “What mother does that to a child?” Garaufis said. “It’s just ... it’s unspeakable.”
The sentence was slightly longer that what prosecutors had asked for.
At NXIVM’s headquarters in Colonie, Salzman’s photo was prominently displayed along that of Raniere, who is now serving 120 years in prison for sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering charged with underlying acts of possessing child pornography, child exploitation and identity theft.
“In 20 years at Raniere’s side, you left trauma and destruction in your wake,” the judge told Salzman.
The courtroom was packed with former NXIVM members and victims as well as Salzman’s family. Her daughter, Lauren, another former high-ranking NXIVM member, was the star witness for prosecutors at Raniere's 2019 trial.
Nancy Salzman, who co-founded NXIVM’s Executive Success Programs in 1998 with Raniere, sat and listened as eight victims described their treatment by Salzman and NXIVM.
That included the Mexican woman who at 15 was sexually violated by Raniere. She said Salzman showed no concern that neither the teenager nor her brother were attending school during their time with the group. She said Salzman pushed Raniere’s twisted theories that girls were ready for sex as soon as they could physically conceive, and that some women enjoy rape.
That woman’s middle sister, who Raniere coveted, was ordered to stay in a room in her family’s home for nearly two years for kissing another man. Her oldest sister is still with Raniere, and has a son with him.
In a recorded statement, the mother of the siblings recalled that Salzman once jabbed a finger in her chest as she scolded her to impress upon her that Raniere’s time was so valuable it was worth $10,000 an hour simply to be in his presence. On Wednesday, the mother asked Salzman to consider the worth of her victimized children.
Another victim, a woman from Wisconsin, said that at 21 she spent a short period time at NXIVM’s headquarters in hope of having her Tourette’s syndrome cured. During her 20 days in Albany, she said, Salzman told her she had the condition because she was a “parasite” and defiant.
“You used me as a guinea pig,” the woman told Salzman in a video. She still lives with Tourette’s.
Former high-ranking NXIVM members Ivy Nevares, Mark Vicente and Sarah Edmondson all delivered recorded statements. Nevares likened Salzman to a warden in a prison run by Raniere. Vicente said Salzman subjected him to “emotional abuse and spiritual rape.” Edmondson told Salzman she believed Salzman became drunk with power.
Susan Dones, who left NXIVM in 2009, said Salzman enticed multiple people into NXIVM — including co-defendants Kathy Russell, Allison Mack and Clare Bronfman, all of whom are now convicted criminals. And Dones reminded Salzman that it was her name on the lawsuits that NXIVM used to intimidate its perceived enemies.
“Nobody held a gun to her head,” Dones said of Salzman.
Toni Natalie, a onetime Raniere girlfriend who took therapy with Salzman before NXIVM was created, said Salzman knew early on that Raniere was attracted to young girls and did nothing to stop it.
In March 2020, Salzman pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, becoming the first of the five NXIVM defendants to be convicted in the sprawling racketeering case against the organization's leadership.
The guilty plea included admission of underlying acts, including one in which Salzman doctored tapes to be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit in New Jersey against cult expert Rick Ross and others. Salzman admitted she conspired to commit identity theft by trying to obtain names and passwords of email accounts of perceived NXIVM "enemies," the names of whom were in files kept in her basement on Oregon Trail in Halfmoon.
When given a chance to speak, Salzman read from a sheet of paper. She noted that she has been caring for her 92-year-old mother and that her father had recently died. She claimed to have changed drastically in the past three years and now rejects Raniere. She said she first saw him as a socially awkward and quirky “gifted genius,” but now regards him as a predator.
Garaufis said he had heard allegations Salzman had engaged in “exploration of meaning” sessions — a type of therapy that was part of NXIVM's program — with new clients. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar said such sessions were part of NXIVM's manipulation process. The judge said he did not factor this activity into Salzman's sentence.
The judge gave credence to Salzman for taking care of her elderly mother but said her crimes required incarceration.
Salzman did not have to turn a blind eye to the crimes, Garaufis said.
“The door was always open,” he said, “but you never left.”
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