Keith Raniere, a self-help guru who ran a secret cult NXIVM, where women were branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him, has been sentenced to 120 years.
Raniere, 60, was handed the sentence by US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn on Tuesday. 15 former NXIVM members spoke out against Raniere during the hearing.
Judge Garaufis said “no words can adequately express the lasting pain” Raniere caused his victims. He also fined Raniere $1.75 million, the maximum allowed by the law.
“I do believe strongly that I’m innocent of these crimes,” Raniere said before being sentenced. He said some of the victims’ statements were false, but that he was “truly sorry” for causing them pain.
Federal prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Raniere for crimes he committed as the leader of NXIVM, a purported self-help group he founded 1998 in Albany, upstate New York.
During his trial, prosecutors said NXIVM was in fact a cover for a sex cult that manipulated and brainwashed dozens of victims, putting some on starvation diets.
The victims, most of whom were women, described what they called Raniere’s devastating impact on their lives.
They told of how they had to hand over embarrassing photographs and documents that were kept as collateral to keep them quiet about what was going on.
His control was apparently so absolute that one woman testified about how she was confined to a single room for two years after she said she was attracted to someone else.
The first speaker, identified in court only as Camila, recounted a 12-year sexual relationship with Raniere starting when she was 15 and he was 45.
“He screwed with my mind for so long that trying to find the strength and clarity to tell my story has been a slow and painful journey,” Camila said.
Her sister Daniela, who testified at the trial about her own abusive relationship with Raniere, called Raniere “pathetic” and said he “deserves no mercy.”
Another former member, the actress India Oxenberg, told Raniere at the hearing: “You stole seven years of my life that I’ll never get back.”
NXIVM charged thousands of dollars for invitation-only self-improvement courses at its New York headquarters, along with branches in Mexico and Canada.
Members included millionaires and Hollywood actresses willing to endure humiliation and pledge obedience to the defendant as part of his teachings.
“It is our sincere hope that today’s sentence does deliver some measure of justice to those victims,” Acting US Attorney Seth DuCharme, whose office prosecuted the case, said after the sentencing. “Keith Raniere will not be able to victimise people anymore.