Raniere's request for release denied
Posted June 21, 2018 7:51 a.m. EDT
A federal judge issued an order Wednesday formally rejecting NXIVM founder Keith Raniere's request to be released from custody while his criminal case is pending.
The 16-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis characterized Raniere as a flight risk and danger to the community with access to enormous wealth from his supporters. The judge also noted the "indictment by a grand jury conclusively establishes that there is probable cause to believe that he committed the offenses charged in the indictment."
Federal prosecutors had recently asked the judge to reject Raniere's request to be released on a $10 million bond, unveiling text messages they said show that Raniere was directly involved in recruiting women to be his sex slaves and having them branded with a "monogram" that included his initials.
If convicted of the charges of sex trafficking and forced labor, Raniere faces a potential sentence of up to life in prison.
The judge found "there is at least some risk that if Defendant is released, he may unlawfully exploit women or obstruct justice."
Raniere's motion for bail had characterized his prosecutors as the "morality police" and alleged the women around him were never forced to have sex and were willingly branded. Raniere also offered to live in a New York residence secured by armed private guards. He said a trust fund set up by others on his behalf would have paid the estimated $40,000-a-month cost of that security.
Prosecutors had urged the judge to reject Raniere's request and keep him in custody, describing him as a flight risk and danger to the community with access to private jets and unlimited wealth.
The Justice Department's filing included a series of 2015 text messages attributed to Raniere and obtained with a search warrant. Prosecutors said the messages demonstrated that Raniere created the secret slave-master club within NXIVM and that his position as the head of the group would be kept hidden from the women lured into it. The text messages, the government argued, confirmed there was a sexual component to the club.
"I think it would be good for you to own a (expletive) toy slave for me, that you could groom, and use as a tool, to pleasure me," Raniere wrote in a text message to one of his slaves, according to the filing.
In another text attributed to Raniere, also sent to a female slave, he acknowledged his awareness of the branding rituals.
"Without going into detail. It caused there to be other slaves, all who want to be branded with my monogram plus a number ... your number is reserved ... it is number 1. It is now a secret growing organization," he wrote. "I don't know well some of the people involved but I command them ultimately."
Raniere last year publicly disavowed any connection with the secret club. In his bail motion, he said it was similar to a college fraternity.
Raniere, 57, whose organization has been described by experts as a cult, was arrested in March at a luxury beach villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In Mexico, authorities said, Raniere got rid of his mobile phone and used encrypted email to communicate. It took authorities nearly two months to locate him before he was deported and arrested by U.S. federal agents.
Raniere's attorneys said that he was keeping a low profile _ including staying in a private compound protected by armed security _ to avoid a group of NXIVM critics who had been stalking and photographing him. They said that he was not fleeing law enforcement, and that one of his attorneys had contacted federal authorities almost two weeks before his arrest asking for Raniere to be able to explain his side of the allegations being made against him.
The judge cast aside those arguments, noting that it's unclear how critics of Raniere's would be able to track him through his use of a mobile phone. The judge also cited a Google map link to show the Mexican resort where Raniere was staying was hundreds of miles away from his last known location.
The judge also flagged Raniere's lack of assets, noting that his townhouse in Halfmoon is worth about $60,000 but that he has listed no source of income and claims to be self-employed.
"Defendant has little to lose if he were to flee, and nothing with which to secure a meaningful personal bond," the judge wrote.
A federal indictment that was unsealed April 20 charged Raniere and former television actress Allison Mack _ a longtime NXIVM member and close associate of Raniere's _ of organizing a secret group within NXIVM in which some of its female members said they felt coerced into joining a slave-master club, and were later branded with a design that included the initials of Raniere and Mack.
Federal prosecutors said emails seized from Raniere's private messaging accounts "support the conclusion that Raniere created" the club, known as "Dominus Obsequious Sororium," which means "Master over the Slave Women." The women in the group, according to federal court records, were lured into the club by other female NXIVM members, including Mack, and were required to provide "collateral" in order to join. If they tried to leave, they were threatened that their collateral _ sometimes damaging information about family members or photographs of their genitalia _ would be released.
The government alleges that some of the women felt coerced into having sex with Raniere because of the threat of having their collateral released if they tried to leave the group or failed to follow orders.
Prosecutors have not described NXIVM as a cult or raised that issue in the indictment or other court filings. They have described NXIVM as a multi-level marketing _ or pyramid _ scheme.
Raniere is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Mack was released on bond under conditions that include remaining at her parents' California residence and wearing an electronic monitoring device on her ankle.