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Leader of alleged 'sex cult' Nxivm goes on trial in New York

Smallville actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering last month.

Brooklyn courthouse
Brooklyn courthouse
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE LEADER OF an alleged ‘sex cult’ in the US has gone on trial in New York for charges including sex trafficking, extortion and conspiracy. 

Keith Raniere was the leader of Nxivm, a purported life coaching group that prosecutors say extorted money from followers and enabled the accused to sexually exploit female devotees. 

Over the course of two decades, more than 16,000 people took at least one of Raniere’s ’self-help’ workshops, which promised to develop a student’s “human potential” to the tune of $5,000 per five-day course.

Many who signed up quickly became indebted and ended up having to work for Nxivm to pay for their courses.

He appeared before a court in Brooklyn, New York yesterday.

“He was a mentor but he was a predator,” federal prosecutor Tanya Hajjar said in her opening statement. 

“He was a leader of a criminal organization. This was organized crime and Keith Raniere was the crime boss,” Hajjar said.

Raniere pleaded not guilty, but if convicted, could face life in prison. 

Defence attorney Marc Agnifilo urged jurors to focus on Raniere’s motivation, not his methods.

“I’m going to defend his intentions… his good faith to my last breath in this courtroom,” Agnifilo said.

“The true issue is not the control. The issue is the intent.”

The defendant was visibly relaxed and taking copious notes during the proceedings.

From the beginning, Raniere, who asked followers to call him ‘Vanguard,’ is believed to have had a circle of around 15 to 20 women under his influence, with whom he had sex at will. 

The first witness called to the stand was a British woman in her 30s identified only as Sylvie.

She recounted her time at Nxivm, including how she was manipulated by Raniere and his close aide Clare Bronfman, the heiress to the Seagram drinks company, who has already pleaded guilty.

She said they were trying to help her grow as a person, but systematically tore her down. She eventually became a “slave,” she said. 

Last month, actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering, after allegedly recruiting women to the secret society.

Mack, best known for her role as Clark Kent’s friend in superhero television series Smallville, was one of six defendants in a federal indictment filed against members of Nxivm, 

Based in Albany, the state capital of New York, the organization had centres in several cities across the United States, Canada, Mexico and other Central American countries. It has now been disbanded.

© AFP 2019

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