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The Ultimate NXIVM Trial Guide: Keith Raniere's Conviction, Disturbing Revelations and the "Lost" Allison Mack

NXIVM co-founder Keith Raniere has been convicted of sex-trafficking and other charges related to the so-called self-help group that multiple women testified that he used as a personal harem
By Natalie Finn Jun 19, 2019 8:15 PMTags
Cults, Keith RaniereElizabeth Williams via AP, File

NXIVM co-founder Keith Raniere was accused of running a female slavery ring within his purported self-help program for which women were recruited as "slaves" by other female members, or "masters," and manipulated into having sex with him.

On Wednesday, the 58-year-old was found guilty of sex trafficking, attempted sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.

Earlier this year, five women, including Smallville actress Allison Mackpleaded guilty to lesser charges, leaving Raniere as the only one who went to trial following a months-long federal investigation into NXIVM and DOS—the secret sorority that included 15 to 20 women whom Raniere would have sex with, while they were instructed to be faithful to him.

DOS was said to be an acronym for the Latin "Dominus Obsequious Sororium," which roughly translates to "Master of the Obedient Female Companions."

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NXIVM Co-Founder Keith Raniere Found Guilty of Sex Trafficking and Racketeering

"Over the last seven weeks, this trial has 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 involved in sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortions, branding, degradation and humiliation," said Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, shortly after the verdict was handed down.

"His crimes, and the crimes of his co-conspirators, ruined marriages, careers, fortunes and lives. The evidence proved that Raniere was truly a modern-day Svengali."

Neither Raniere nor Mack ended up taking the stand, but multiple women—some identified only by their first names—did to testify to the abuses perpetrated by Raniere and those he enlisted to carry out his sordid vision.

 

Keith Raniere Conversations Youtube

In a motion to have the charges dismissed that was filed in December, Raniere's legal team argued that NXIVM was a "wonderful humanitarian organization" whose members have "sought to end the violence in Mexico, have introduced tools useful to people with difficult conditions, such as Tourette's syndrome, have pioneered multi-linguistic schools for young children, who would become proficient in multiple languages and later multi-cultural adults, and have developed approaches to help people lead happier, more productive, more enriched lives."

Prosecutors alleged, meanwhile, that NXIVM—a purported self-help organization based in Albany, N.Y., that since the late 1990s has attracted more than 16,000 people, including actors and corporate leaders, to its Executive Success Programs and other seminars—resembled a pyramid scheme in which participants could only move up the ladder by paying more and recruiting more people. To even get the chance to meet Raniere, participants usually had to complete a 16-day course that cost $7,500.

Mack, who once called Raniere "a wonderful teacher and mentor" was also originally charged with sex trafficking before pleading guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.

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One former DOS member, Nicole, testified that she was ordered to address Mack as "Madame Mack," and was asked to sign a waiver releasing NXIVM from liability in the case of incidents such as "disfigurement" or "physical and psychological injuries." But Nicole didn't want to sign and, eventually, Mack seemed to forget about it.

Another woman, Sylvie, testified that she signed similar papers.

A third woman, Jay, testified that Mack would also refer to DOS as "The Agency," because "her slaves were all actresses and models and were beautiful, so it was as if she was running an agency."

Incidentally, multiple women testified that Raniere had erectile dysfunction issues. 

Mark Lennihan/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Nicole said in court last week that she was first drawn to NXIVM's self-help program as an aspiring actress looking to jump-start her career after moving to New York in 2014. An ex-boyfriend had told her about all the rich and famous people, including several actors, associated with the organization. 

From the beginning, Nicole said, she thought that the general fawning over Raniere—his annual birthday celebration was "V-Week," referring to his nickname "Vanguard"—was strange. After a week-long program, she was urged by her ex and Mack to sign up for more classes. She ended up teaching classes to supplement her income. When she told Mack that she was worried she was making the wrong choices, Mack told her about a society within NXIVM for women called "The Vow," Nicole recalled. 

The Vow was DOS.

 

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"[Mack] said that she couldn't let me out no matter how hard I cried because it would show me that if I cried hard enough, I could get out of anything," Nicole testified. She ended up remaining in DOS for over a year. When she finally got Raniere's attention after sending him multiple emails (at Mack's command, she said), Nicole said that Raniere took her to a cabin in the woods one day where he blindfolded her, had her lie on a table, tied her to the table, and had another woman perform oral sex on her. Nicole said she didn't realize another person was in the room till it was happening and Raniere started talking at the same time.

Prosecutors said the entire encounter was videotaped.

Nicole said she finally extricated herself from NXIVM in 2017. She never got her collateral back. "Once I'd gotten enough separation, there's not been one moment that I am not grateful that I am no longer in that situation," she said on the stand.

The defense didn't call any witnesses during the trial. Raniere's attorney Marc Agnifilo told the jury, "You may find him repulsive, disgusting and offensive. We don't convict people in this country for being repulsive or offensive. Unpopular ideas aren't criminal. Disgusting ideas aren't criminal."

Until his arrest, Raniere had been running NXIVM for years in plain sight, touting his programs as key stepping stones for people who wanted to harness their best selves and realize their true potential. Here's a primer of some of the key players and the roles they played in creating—and unraveling—this tangled web:

Keith Raniere

On June 19, 2019, the Brooklyn native was found guilty of sex trafficking; sex trafficking conspiracy; forced labor conspiracy; racketeering conspiracy, which, according to the U.S. District Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, encompasses crimes including identity theft, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice; and exploitation of a child.

A jury agreed that the NXIVM co-founder known as "Vanguard" maintained a harem called DOS for which Allison Mack, who had risen through the ranks of the organization to become a "first-line master," recruited other women for the purpose of having sex with Raniere. As part of their initiation, the women would turn over compromising photos or other items and information that could be used against them if they disobeyed, and were branded on their pelvis with an abstract symbol that incorporated Raniere and Mack's initials.

"If one woman is having an issue, it hurts Keith, and if he's hurting, you're hurting," a woman identified as a former member of the harem told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "So if you do something he doesn't like, you get an army of women, sister wives, coming after you. You get ostracized. No one wants to socialize with you unless you get back in line."

Though Raniere's business dealings had attracted legal and journalistic scrutiny before, it wasn't until about a dozen people spoke out to the New York Times about the ritualistic branding and other alarming practices in 2017 that the FBI launched the investigation that turned into the current case against him.

In March 2018, FBI tracked Raniere down to a $10,000-a-week villa in a gated community near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he was staying with several women, including Mack—who ran after the Feds' car as they drove Raniere away.

Allison Mack

The former Smallville star, who played reporter Chloe Sullivan for 10 seasons, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and racketeering acts of state law extortion and forced labor. She was originally charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy, like Raniere.

She first attended a NXIVM seminar in Vancouver with her Smallville co-star Kristin Kreuk in 2006, a program billed as a "women's movement" called Jness—and their high-profile presences had been planned for, because some of the organization's top people (those closest to Raniere) flew in for the occasion. They put on a charm offensive for the newcomer and invited her to meet Raniere, who, they said, could help her acting career. Mack accepted, was flown to Albany via private jet, and stayed for weeks.

"A collective inspiring a community of strong, authentically empowered women to own themselves in a way that has never been seen or understood before?" she wrote in a since-deleted blog post. "It sounded like the perfect blend of what I was looking for! So I took the leap and enrolled in a weekend workshop and within the first few hours I knew I had found my people."

Old tweets of Mack's reaching out to Kelly Clarkson and Emma Watson, seemingly to pique their interest, surfaced after she was arrested. Beverley Mitchell has said that Mack once invited her to a Jness seminar. 

"I was lost," Mack said in Federal District Court in Brooklyn when she entered her plea on April 18, 2019. "Through it all, I believed Keith Raniere's intentions were to help people. I was wrong."

She admitted to selling DOS to potential recruits by describing it as a female-empowerment group, to making members hand over photos and information for blackmail purposes, and to obtaining "labor and services" from two women; she did not say that any women were coerced into having sex with Raniere.

Mack is facing as much as 20 years in prison when she's sentenced in September; she's free on a $5 million bond.

A former roommate who lived with Mack after she got involved with Raniere and NXIVM told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, "I don't think she was thinking she was actually trafficking girls. It doesn't mean she doesn't deserve punishment, but I think she had drunk enough Kool-Aid to really believe that these girls were going to save the world with his super-sperm."

Nancy Salzman

After meeting him in 1997, the former psychiatric nurse co-founded NXIVM in Albany with Raniere and was known in the organization as "Prefect."

She has pleaded guilty to a charge of racketeering criminal conspiracy after being accused of identity theft and falsifying records in relation to a lawsuit filed against the company.

"I believed that we would be helping people," she said in court in March. "I compromised my principles." She's facing 33 to 41 months in prison; sentencing is scheduled for July 10.

Lauren Salzman

Nancy's daughter, she is said to have hosted DOS members at pre-branding ceremonies at her home before the women were allegedly blindfolded and driven to a different location for the actual procedure. Per the NY Times' 2017 report, Lauren would instruct the women to say, "Master, please brand me, it would be an honor."

Lauren Salzman pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy on March 25, 2019, at a hearing that wasn't on the court docket; the transcript was sealed until portions could be redacted.

Prosecutors had previously said that they were actively negotiating plea deals with three of Raniere's co-defendants, prompting speculation that deals are being made in exchange for their cooperation in the case against Raniere. 

"Lauren was someone I really looked up to as a rock star within the company," actress Sarah Edmondson, a former member who went through the branding ritual, recalled to the Times.

Lauren was also one of the top people dispatched to meet Allison Mack in Vancouver in 2006. "By the end of the weekend, Lauren and Allison were like best friends," former NXIVM member Susan Dones recalled to The Hollywood Reporter.

Clare Bronfman

The daughter of late business mogul Edward Bronfman Sr. and heiress to the Seagrams liquor fortune was accused of financing what turned out to be illegal conduct after meeting Raniere in 2002 and becoming, first, a NXIVM acolyte, and ultimately a board member as well as Raniere's bankroll and legal advocate who would finance lawsuits on his behalf against perceived enemies.

In 2003, her father estimated to Forbes that Clare had loaned NXIVM $2 million, which she denied at the time. "I think it's a cult," Bronfman Sr. said.

On April 19, 2019, Clare pleaded guilty to conspiring to conceal and harbor an undocumented immigrant for financial gain, and fraudulent use of identification, for helping Raniere use the credit card of someone who had died. Part of her sentence calls for her to forfeit $6 million. Bronfman's facing between 21 and 27 months in prison when she's sentenced on July 25; she's been free on a $100 million bond.

"I am truly remorseful," Bronfman told U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis. "I endeavored to do good in the world and help people—however, I have made mistakes."

Kathy Russell

Right after Clare Bronfman entered her plea, longtime NXIVM bookkeeper Russell pleaded guilty to one count of visa fraud for helping to falsify documents, according to the Albany Times Union. "I know what I did was wrong," Russell said. "I'm very sorry for the trouble I have caused. I have compromised my own principles, and I'm going to have to live with that for the rest of my life."

Bronfman and Russell were the last of Raniere's co-defendants to enter pleas, leaving him to stand trial alone. "We don't believe Ms. Russell and Ms. Bronfman should have been charged, and we are happy they're out of the case," his attorney Mark Agnifilo told the NY Times.

Sara Bronfman

The older Bronfman sister, here with mom Georgiana, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Like her sister, however, she was a longtime NXIVM member and along with Clare is said to have given millions to the organization.

Vanity Fair reported in 2010 that in six years the Bronfman sisters had taken more than $150 million out of their trusts and bank accounts for NXIVM-related purposes, including $66 million to help bail Raniere out of personal financial trouble, $11 million for a 22-seater jet, and millions to aid NXIVM's legal battles when it would go after perceived enemies (or "suppressives") in court. They tried to conceal the massive amount they were spending from their father, the report continued.

"I think there are personal reasons regarding the conflict they have with their family that keep them affiliated with [NXIVM]," a friend of the sisters told the magazine. "On some level, I think they feel the affiliation is reinforcing their version of things, in opposition to the opinion of their family. I think all the legal, litigious craziness is all about them trying to win this battle with their father."

Sarah Edmondson

The Canadian actress was one of the first people to open up to the New York Times about her experience, which she says included being branded after being told she would be getting a small tattoo.

"I wept the whole time," she told the paper about the ceremony, which she says occurred in March 2017. "I disassociated out of my body."

Edmondson helped establish NXIVM's chapter in Vancouver after joining in 2007, which in turn attracted other actresses, including Grace Park and Nicki Clyne, while they were on Battlestar Galactica, which, like Smallville, was filmed in the area. Edmondson had been recruited by director Mark Vicente, who also spoke to the Times after disentangling himself from the group.

Edmondson said that Lauren Salzman first told her about DOS—after the actress had written a letter detailing past indiscretions and handed it over. She said Salzman had described the secret society as a force for good, a way in which women could overcome the overemotional natures that society had historically ingrained in them, causing hangups about sex and fear of letting go. "She made it sound like a badass-bitch boot camp," the actress recalled.

In May 2017, she and her husband and fellow member, Anthony Ames, told Salzman that they were leaving the program. Months later, NXIVM filed a criminal report against Edmondson and two other women from the Vancouver center, accusing them of mischief and other wrongdoing. Nothing came of it.

Catherine Oxenberg

The former Dynasty actress also raised awareness about NXIVM after daughter India Oxenberg joined the program—originally at the instigation of her mom, who thought it was just a self-help course—and was inducted into the "sorority" that turned out to be the alleged DOS.

"She said it was a character-building experience," Oxenberg told the Times, recalling how she became alarmed when India grew scarily thin and told her mom that she was skipping periods.

One of Raniere's alleged preferences detailed in the charges against him was for the women in his harem to remain skinny. A former member told THR that she had run into Allison Mack in 2010 and immediately "knew she was involved romantically and sexually with Keith. She had a gray pallor that was common to Keith's women because they all start to get a little sickly. I know I did. They drop weight. Their heads get too big for their bodies so they become bobbleheads. It's scary-looking."

"I never gave up," Oxenberg, whose book Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult details her experience, told E! News in August 2018. "I must be hard-wired as a mom, I'm not capable of giving up. Even in the hopeless moments I just kept persevering and trusting that it would turn around."

India joined two of her fellow former members—identified by prosecutors only by their first names, Nicole and Jay—in court to watch closing arguments. Jay had testified during the trial that she was one of India's "slaves," and the collateral she turned over included an old sex tape and the revelation that she had been molested by an uncle.

Frank R. Parlato Jr.

Clare and Sara Bronfman hired the Buffalo-area developer as a consultant and in 2011 accused him of defrauding them of $1 million.

The FBI had been investigating his business dealings for several years and he was indicted in New York in 2015 on charges including wire fraud and stealing from the Bronfmans. He has denied all of the charges, and a judge dismissed the ones pertaining to the sisters in May 2018, according to The Buffalo News.

Meanwhile, he has chronicled NXIVM's alleged crimes and the subsequent legal proceedings against Raniere, Clare Bronfman and others on his website, Frank Report. Per the NY Times, many NXIVM members learned about DOS for the first time from reading his site, particularly a post titled "Branded Slaves and Master Raniere," prompting more members to reach out to him.

"I am glad to have played a part [in the investigation of NXIVM] through my reporting," Parlato said in a statement in May 2018. "I have been credited by many organizations across the country with providing the information that led to the indictment against Raniere."

Raniere is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 25. He's facing the possibility of life in prison.

(Originally published April 27, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)