Former members of the purported self-help organization NXIVM are set to testify for the first time against their former leader Keith Raniere over egregious sex-trafficking charges involving a master-slave society within the group.
The members will break their silence by testifying against Raniere on May 7 at a federal court in Brooklyn. Prosecutors have not revealed any details on who will testify about the society called DOS, or “The Vow,” founded by Raniere. A spokesperson for the district court did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Of the six NXIVM defendants named in a superseding indictment last year, all but the group’s leader have since pleaded guilty to an array of charges including forced labor, and extortion. Raniere will now face a jury by himself. The guilty pleas come after prosecutors added child exploitation charges against Raniere based on evidence he had sex with a 15-year-old girl.
There is speculation that some of the co-defendants in the case could take the witness stand against Raniere, 58, including TV actress Allison Mack, a slave recruiter, and Lauren Salzman, the daughter of the group’s president. DOS was created around 2015 and is believed to be an acronym for the Latin term “dominus obsequious sororium,” translated loosely to “master over the slave women.”
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis has yet to rule on a request by prosecutors to protect the privacy of some alleged victims, referred to as “Jane Does” in court papers, by only using their first names, nicknames or pseudonyms while they testify—measures needed to protect them from “potential harassment” and “undue embarrassment.”
Raniere has pleaded not guilty to sex-trafficking and other charges. His lawyers have opposed what they call “unusual and dubious” protections that would violate his constitutional right to confront his accusers. They add it would “unfairly signal to the jury that, in the court’s view, the witness is a victim of a sex crime who is in danger.”
The case has resulted in a dramatic downfall for Raniere from a time when he was known as “Vanguard” by devotees in the United States and Mexico.
Prosecutors say Raniere was styled as the “highest master” of DOS and that he forced other members, all women, to have sex with him. Many of the DOS members were also branded with a cauterizing pen during a process that took “20 to 30 minutes.”
According to court documents, the secret society allegedly operated as a pyramid scheme, with levels of “slaves” headed by “masters”; slaves were then expected to recruit their own slaves, thus becoming masters themselves.
The society allegedly recruited members 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 they kept the group’s activities secret.
Bronfman, the latest defendant to plead guilty last month, admitted to harboring a woman brought to the United States on a fake work visa so she could use the woman’s labor for her own and the group’s benefit. Bronfman also said she committed fraud on behalf of Raniere by using a deceased woman’s credit card.
Lauren Salzman meanwhile admitted in court to conspiracy charges and to harboring her own personal slave. She said she threatened her slave with deportation and kept her imprisoned in a room between March 2010 and April 2012.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.