NEW YORK—Closing arguments in the high-profile trial of Keith Raniere, the former leader of the secret society NXIVM, began on June 17, with a federal prosecutor telling jurors how the organization’s tactics “destroyed their victims’ sense of self.”
In a packed federal courtroom in Brooklyn, Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza alluded to the prosecution’s May 7 opening statements, telling the jury of eight men and four women that Raniere was chiefly after “sex, money, power.”
Penza brought up the testimony of former NXIVM members, including one identified by prosecutors as “Daniela,” who had spoken about being locked up in a room for nearly two years after Raniere found out she had kissed another man. Another member, identified as Sylvie, testified about being forced into a sex act with the leader. Another, a senior board member, detailed Raniere’s manipulation and fraud.
“Even though his community members considered him a humanitarian, leader, mentor, and guru, you saw him for what he was: a con-man, a predator, and a crime boss,” Penza told jurors.
Penza detailed the crimes committed by Raniere over a 15-year period. The organization was founded by him in 1998.
The accusations against Raniere center around a secret society he allegedly created in 2015 named DOS, an acronym for the Latin “dominus obsequious sororium,” loosely translated as “master of the slave women.” Prosecutors say Raniere forced other members—all women—to have sex with him.
Members were recruited by DOS on the condition that they would give up personal, often embarrassing, information about themselves, including compromising images or videos, as “collateral.” Once inside, members were regularly required to provide additional collateral to ensure that they kept the group’s activities secret. Many of the DOS slaves were branded with a cauterizing pen while naked and being filmed.
A number of alleged former “slaves” were also in court on June 17, including actress India Oxenberg, who is the granddaughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, and the daughter of actress Catherine Oxenberg. India Oxenberg didn’t testify at the trial.
Raniere faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of all seven criminal counts, including sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, and racketeering.
The prosecution went through the charges in court, telling jurors of the ample evidence that proves Raniere’s guilt. Penza said Raniere also turned “victims into victimizers,” as the five other co-defendants in the case have all pleaded guilty.
Penza also brought up added child pornography charges against Raniere, who had photos stored on a hard drive.
“The evidence is overwhelming that [the girl] was under 18 when the naked pictures were taken,” Penza told the court.
DOS masqueraded as a women’s empowerment group. But members testified they wouldn’t have joined if they had known Raniere was running it.
“The defendant did not create DOS to be a sisterhood,” Penza said. “Can there really be any doubt that DOS was just a way for the defendant to get what he wanted and for sex?
“These women had the best of intentions. They wanted good in the world and that was what was used against them.”
Raniere, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His lead attorney, Marc Agnifilo, has argued that everything was consensual and that NXIVM’s members needed to take more responsibility for their own actions.
The jury could begin deliberating Raniere’s verdict sometime this week, after the prosecution and the defense conclude their closing arguments. The trial is currently in its seventh week.
NXIVM presented itself to the public as a company with noble goals: offering self-help courses to those seeking to improve their lives both personally and professionally. At least 17,000 people had enrolled.
Mark Vicente, a former member of NXIVM, testified previously that Raniere had sexual relationships with more than 20 women.
The content of the group’s classes, all transcribed from Raniere’s speeches, was presented as the core of the NXIVM’s curriculum. A 12-point “mission statement” penned by him shaped much of the philosophy behind the organization. It contained guidelines students were told to recite, such as “I will not choose to be a victim,” as well as the directive to keep information related to the organization confidential.