Keith Raniere, the disgraced leader of a self-improvement group in upstate New York, has been sentenced to 120 years in prison, authorities said Tuesday. A jury convicted the 60-year-old on seven charges, including sex trafficking, racketeering, and forced labor conspiracy, in 2019.
Raniere insisted he was innocent during the sentencing hearing, telling the judge he had “no remorse for the crimes because he did not commit them.” Fifteen people, two of whom are the mothers of Raniere’s children, delivered victim impact statements.
The sentencing comes after years of revelations about Raniere and his group, NXIVM, which he founded in 1998 in Albany, New York. NXIVM quickly exploded in size, as thousands of people enrolled in self-help and development courses. But prosecutors said that the group took a dark turn in 2015 when Raniere added a secret female-only society known as DOS or “The Vow.”
In court documents and publicly, former members of DOS claim they were forced to hand over collateral, including nude photos, in order to join the organization. They said they had to ask their “master” for permission to do everything — even when they could go to bed and what and how much they could eat. They were allegedly forced to keep strict diets, limiting them to as little as 500-800 calories per day.
Raniere collected “collateral” from the women in the group, including nude photos, to keep them under his control, prosecutors said. He was also accused of keeping women as sex slaves and branding some with his initials “in their pelvic area” using a cauterizing pen.
In the civil lawsuit filed in January against Raniere and other leaders of NXIVM, some former members of DOS said they were forced to disrobe during the branding ceremony, read from a script stating they had requested the branding, and then lie down on a table and submit to the branding. It was done, they said, without anesthesia.
“Everything in my body was saying don’t do this, don’t do this,” one former member told HBO in its docuseries about the group. The member said women were squirming, sweating and crying as they were branded.
Prosecutors also accused Raniere of having sex with a 15-year-old when he was 45 and taking nude photos of the underage victim, and of keeping another victim confined to a room for nearly two years.
All of Raniere’s co-defendants in the case, including “Smallville” actress Allison Mack and Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, have pleaded guilty to various crimes, prosecutors said. Mack, who was accused of helping Raniere recruit women, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in 2019 and is awaiting sentencing. In September, Bronfman was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison on identity theft and immigration charges related to the group.
Before Raniere was sentenced, a group of his supporters submitted a letter to the judge alleging that they had proof of evidence tampering, CBS New York reported. Some of his supporters he is innocent.
In a sentencing submission before the decision was announced, his lawyers argued against a life sentence.
“No one was shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, slapped or even yelled at,” the lawyers wrote, according to CBS New York. “Despite the sex offenses, there is no evidence that any woman ever told Keith Raniere that she did not want to kiss him, touch him, hold his hand or have sex with him.”
But the Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York heralded the sentence, writing, “The 120-year sentence imposed on Keith Raniere today is a measure of his appalling crimes committed over a decade. Raniere exploited and abused his victims emotionally, physically and sexually for his personal gratification. It is my hope that today’s sentence brings closure to the victims and their families.”
Nikki Battiste, Luisa Garcia and Victoria Albert contributed reporting.