Keith Raniere, the leader of a group called Nxivm, has been found guilty on all charges against him after prosecutors said his organisation operated like a cult, branding women as “slaves” and forcing them to have sex with him.
Raniere has been charged with racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, attempted sex trafficking, forced labour conspiracy and wire fraud.
Prosecutors said Raniere had formed a secretive group within Nxivm comprised of brainwashed women who were marked with his initials and forced to have sex with him.
There also were accusations that he began having sex with one follower when she was 15 and took pornographic photos of her.
Lawyers for Raniere say that he never had any criminal intent and that his encounters with the women were consensual.
A jury in federal court in Brooklyn took less than five hours to find him guilty on all counts. Raniere reportedly listened attentively in court, but showed no visible reaction as he learned the verdict.
Prosecutors said he took a series of nude photos of a teen that were shown at trial, one by one, to the eight women and four men who comprised the jury.
Raniere kept the child pornography stashed in his private study as “a trophy” of “his sexual conquest,” prosecutors said.
The defence argued Raniere was a genuine believer in unconventional means for self-improvement and that all his sexual encounters with female followers of his organisation were consensual. His behaviour could be seen as “repulsive and offensive, but we don’t convict people in this country for being repulsive or offensive,” his attorney, Marc Agnifilo, said in his closings.
Raniere, 58, was arrested at a Mexican hideout in 2018 following an investigation his Albany-area group, that once had an international following with a foothold in Hollywood but was called a cult by critics. His adherents included TV actress Allison Mack, best known for her role as a friend of a young Superman in the series Smallville, and Seagram’s liquor fortune heiress, Clare Bronfman.
Raniere’s organisation began to crumble amid sensational reports alleging its members were held down and branded in ceremonies at a “sorority house” for them that had a mock dungeon.
Additional reporting by AP