US prosecutors urge life sentence for convicted sex cult leader

The lawyer of Keith Raniere, Marc Agnifilo, speaking to journalists during proceedings on May 7, 2019 in Brooklyn
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TIMOTHY A. CLARY
·2 min read
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US prosecutors on Friday requested life in prison for a "self-help" guru convicted for his leadership of a cult-like organization of sex slaves.

Keith Raniere, 60, was convicted on charges including racketeering and sex trafficking in June 2019, found guilty of coercing a string of women into having sex with him as the charismatic leader of a life-coaching group he founded in New York state.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 27.

Beyond the gravity of his crimes -- Raniere was found to have sexually exploited a 15-year-old girl and engaged in extortion and criminal conspiracy -- prosecutors accused him of "total denial of culpability," saying in a memorandum that while imprisoned, he continues to contact his supporters and voice contempt for his victims.

"To justly punish his years of crime and exploitation, the Court should impose a Guidelines sentence of life imprisonment," prosecutors wrote in the court memo. "Raniere's complete lack of acceptance of responsibility also counsels in favor of a sentence of life imprisonment."

Citing post-conviction calls and emails, the prosecution said Raniere presented his organization as a "good" thing, wondering "who will carry forth this burning torch of light?"

Rainere hid his wrongdoings behind an organization dubbed Nxivm -- pronounced Nexium -- which proved a huge draw since its 2003 launch with the promise of self-help courses.

But Raniere, who was arrested in Mexico in 2018, swapped the personal development training courses for sex sessions as the head of a group of up to 20 women -- the youngest of whom was just 15.

Following his conviction after a six-week trial, Richard Donoghue, a federal prosecutor in New York, said the proceedings "revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact, a master manipulator, a con-man and the crime boss of a cult-like organization."

While the prosecution described Raniere as a psychological manipulator, the defense unsuccessfully asked the jury to focus on whether they saw Raniere's actions as legal, even if they found them immoral. 

Five other people were charged in the case, and all of them pleaded guilty.

Among them was German-born American actress Allison Mack -- known for her role in "Smallville" -- and Seagram liquor company heiress Clare Bronfman, who was accused of using more than $100 million of her $2.6 billion estimated net worth to fund the group.  

Their sentencing dates have not yet been set.

The dramatic story has been the subject of two screen adaptions: HBO's recently released "The Vow" docu-series and "Escaping the Nxivm Cult," a 2019 Lisa Robinson film focused on the testimony of a mother working to save her daughter from the organization.

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