One of Keith Raniere’s victims slammed the NXIVM sex-cult leader in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday afternoon, describing how he “hid his abuse behind concepts of value and nobility.”
“But there is nothing noble about abusing a child,” Camila, who was identified in court only by her first name, declared as Raniere looked away.
She is one of at least 15 former NXIVM members expected to speak out against the group’s founder ahead of his sentencing on sex trafficking and wire fraud charges.
Camila, who allegedly had a sexual relationship with Raniere for over 12 years—beginning when she was 15 years old—spoke for the first time about the abuse she endured, detailing to the court how the 60-year-old isolated her from friends and family for his “sexual gratification.”
The woman, now in her 30s, explained her decision to speak was her way of “getting her voice back” after years of “coming to terms with the trauma and abuse.”
Throughout Raniere’s trial, jurors saw sexually explicit messages between the pair, including multiple conversations about BDSM. Prosecutors used Camila’s abuse as the basis for Raniere’s child-pornography charge.
On Monday, Camila, whose two sisters also had a relationship with Raniere and were forced to get abortions, said the abuse was more than sexual—but also emotional, mental, and psychological, resulting in her isolating herself from friends and family to “please” Raniere.
“He manipulated me for what he wanted,” she said. “I became unreachable to my parents, my brother, my friends until I had nobody to worry about me. He knew the things that mattered most to me and what I feared and used that against me.”
“I hold scars on my body from him that can never be erased,” Camila added.
Sarah Edmondson, a former top recruit in NXIVM who was one of the original whistleblowers against the organization, also addressed the court via video. Speaking directly to Raniere, she slammed the cult leader for being a “liar, parasite, and a grifter” who manipulated people seeking personal growth.
“In a curriculum that focused on personal growth—you have taken none,” she said. The 43-year-old, who was part of a secret group forced to have Raniere’s initials branded on them, said she removed the marking with plastic surgery.
As the two women spoke to Raniere, clad in a navy prison jumpsuit and orange T-shirt, he remained emotionless.
The sentencing marks the end of a years-long battle between Raniere, known as “Vanguard,” and scores of former members who allege NXIVM was a criminal enterprise in which Raniere had sex with underage girls, forced women he impregnated to have abortions, and made “slaves” illegally monitor his enemies. Last June, Raniere was convicted of seven offenses—including wire fraud conspiracy, sex trafficking conspiracy, and forced labor conspiracy—for manipulating his followers for his own sexual gratification under the guise of NXIVM’s mission.
Hours before the sentencing in Brooklyn federal court, over a dozen of Raniere’s supporters lined up outside the courthouse—including Battlestar Galactica actress Nicki Clyne, who arrived with a camera crew. (While Clyne was a NXIVM member, she has not been charged with a crime.)
Prosecutors have recommended a life sentence for Raniere, while his defense asked for 15 years behind bars, arguing that while the 60-year-old “continues to assert his complete innocence to these charges,” he believes there was misconduct by prosecutors in his case.
Since its founding in 1998, NXIVM amassed an estimated 17,000 members, holding $5,000 workshops that promised to give followers the skills to promote a path to “greater self-fulfillment.” But prosecutors contend it was nothing more than an illegal pyramid scheme, luring in new recruits who were made to recruit others. In 2017, authorities opened an investigation after a New York Times exposé alleged female NXIVM members were being branded and used as Raniere’s playthings.
Less than a year later, Raniere was arrested in Mexico and extradited to the U.S. on charges including sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy, child exploitation, and child pornography.
Raniere was charged along with five other women: co-founder Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren, a top lieutenant; Smallville actress and alleged second-in-command Allison Mack; Clare Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram’s fortune and NXIVM’s largest donor; and the group’s bookkeeper, Kathy Russell. While all five pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, Salzman was the only one to testify against Raniere.
Bronfman was sentenced last month to 81 months in prison for the extreme lengths the 41-year-old went to in order to protect the group and its leader.
“I’m immensely grateful and privileged that people all over the world are praying for me because they know my goodness,” Bronfman said just before she was sentenced. “It doesn’t mean I haven’t made mistakes, I have made mistakes.”
In a stunning move, Kristin Keeffe, who has a 13-year-old son with Raniere and worked in NXIVM’s legal department for a decade, also spoke to the court on Monday about Bronfman and Raniere. Breaking down in tears, Keeffe described the power Raniere and his inner circle wielded over her—a force that led her into hiding with her son for years.
“My child will never get back the years we spent in hiding,” she said, after detailing how Raniere and several of NXIVM’s top lieutenants used threats to silence her after she had Raniere’s child.
Throughout Raniere’s six-week trial last June, jurors heard lurid testimony from several women, some of whom testified about NXIVM’s purported women’s empowerment group, DOS. The women allege it was actually a master-slave program in which they were forced to have sex with Raniere, blindly obey their “masters,” and brand themselves with his initials near their crotch with a cautery pen—without anesthesia.
Among the written DOS instructions created by Raniere, Lauren Salzman testified, slaves were told to “be a hungry dog for your master.”
India Oxenberg, a former member of NXIVM and daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, detailed to the court on Monday how Raniere “stole seven years of her life” and abused her. Calling Raniere several names—including “sexual predator” and “racist”—Oxenberg went into detail about the pain she endured while in DOS and the mental manipulation she endured while in the perverted sorority.
“You’re a liar and sadist for getting pleasure watching our skins burn,” she said. “I may have to live the rest of my life with Keith Raniere’s initials on my skin.”
Oxenberg, who didn’t leave the organization until after Raniere’s arrest, urged the judge for a “permanent sentence” in light of the permanent effect his abuse had on his victims. “I will be the victim of Keith Raniere’s for the rest of my life—but I don’t need to act like one,” Oxenberg told the court, her voice breaking several times.
But since Raniere’s conviction, the 60-year-old has maintained his innocence and continued to issue demands to his disciples from inside prison, prosecutors said in a sentencing memo last month.
Requesting a life sentence, prosecutors revealed in a memo to U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis that Raniere has still been communicating with his remaining supporters through phone calls and emails—suggesting that “he is unrepentant, has no empathy for his victims, and would continue to commit crimes if released.”
Some of those commands include digging up dirt on Garaufis, asking pundits, including Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, to speak on Raniere’s behalf, and to allegedly start a podcast with a $25,000 cash prize that would entice listeners to find “purported errors in Raniere’s prosecution and trial.”
“Raniere concealed his abuse behind the smokescreen of his supposed ‘personal growth’ programs—a charade he continues to this day,” the memo said, asking for the judge to impose a life sentence. “Since his conviction, Raniere has continued to demonstrate a complete lack of remorse for his crimes.”
In a court filing last month, Raniere’s own defense lawyers admitted that the “Vanguard” carries no remorse for his actions and will not be asking his former members for forgiveness. Instead, the legal team accused Garaufis of corruption and demanded a new trial. Garaufis on Friday denied Raniere’s second bid for a new trial.
Raniere himself has insisted he’s innocent in an interview with NBC. In his first interview since his conviction, Raniere claimed that while he was a leader of an organization that essentially imprisoned women, he is simply the victim of unethical prosecution.
“I am innocent,” Raniere said in the Friday jailhouse interview with Dateline NBC, before stating he was “sorry and pained” for his role in NXIVM. “This is a horrible tragedy with many, many people being hurt. There is a horrible injustice here. And whether you think I’m the devil or not, the justice process has to be examined.”