New York — A federal judge denied NXIVM leader Keith Raniere's bid for a new trial, rejecting his argument that FBI agents planted evidence to frame him for possession of child pornography.
In a decision issued Monday, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis said Raniere's lawyers had cited no relevant prior cases in their argument that they should be allowed to examine the metadata embedded in photographs federal agents seized in the raid on a townhouse on Hale Drive in Halfmoon on March 27, 2018.
"A review of the record and the case law provided by the defendant makes it clear that defendant's motion is frivolous," Garaufis wrote.
Raniere wanted the judge to vacate his conviction. His lawyers argued the photographs' metadata had been changed to make it appear the images had been taken when the girl depicted was underage. Raniere's attorney, Joseph Tully, wanted the judge to allow a hearing where experts could examine the evidence.
The FBI seized the pornographic materials during the 2018 search of Raniere’s so-called executive library at 8 Hale Drive in the Knox Woods townhouse complex, where according to the woman Raniere had sex with her when she was underage. In February 2019, prosecutors revealed that they had discovered 13 photos of the victim, including nine classified as child pornography, on a Western Digital hard drive found in the townhouse.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have consistently called the allegations of tampering frivolous. The victim whose images appeared in the child pornography spoke at Raniere's sentencing in October 2020. The woman, now in her 30s, said Raniere began grooming her at age 13, and started a sexual relationship with her at 15.
In the defense motion, Raniere’s attorneys included sworn statements from former FBI special agent J. Richard Kiper and others identified as digital experts alleging that the government “manufactured child pornography and planted it on a computer hard drive to tie it" to Raniere, then manipulated evidence to convict him.
But the U.S. Attorney's office countered Kiper’s findings with an affidavit from FBI senior computer scientist David Loveall II, who determined that Kiper’s findings were incorrect and misleading. The prosecutor also said the information in Raniere’s so-called newly discovered evidence was known to his defense at the time of the trial.
The judge found the government's argument convincing. "Mr. Raniere therefore does not raise a reasonable probability that testing the evidence would demonstrate he did not commit the offense," Garaufis wrote.
Raniere, 63, known in NXIVM as "Vanguard," led NXIVM and its Executive Success Programs in Colonie for 20 years. He's serving a 120-year sentence in federal prison in Arizona for sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering charged that included underlying acts of extortion, identity theft and possession of child pornography. A jury convicted him of the charges in June 2019.
The ruling is Raniere's latest legal setback. In January, a tribunal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected Raniere's request to have Garaufis, the trial judge, removed from handling his appeal. Raniere's lawyers argued the judge was biased against him.
The previous month, the same court upheld his conviction, ruling Raniere was not denied a fair trial.