NEW YORK: Keith Raniere, the founder of a cult-like group where women were kept on starvation diets, branded with his initials, and ordered to have sex with him, faces possible life in prison at a Tuesday sentencing hearing in Brooklyn for crimes of which he maintains his innocence.
Federal prosecutors say they want Raniere, 60, to remain behind bars for life as punishment for the "immeasurable damages" to victims he exploited as head of NXIVM, a purported self-help group headquartered near Albany, New York.
Raniere has remained defiant. In a court filing last month, his lawyers said Raniere maintained his "complete innocence," and viewed his conviction as the result of a "media campaign involving witnesses who were motivated to testify falsely" at "an unfair trial."
Lawyers for Raniere have asked U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who will impose the sentence, for no more than 15 years in prison. The sentencing hearing was scheduled to begin late Tuesday morning.
Raniere was convicted in June 2019 of racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, possession of child pornography and other crimes, after jurors heard extensive testimony from former NXIVM members.
Prosecutors said Raniere created a secret sorority within NXIVM called DOS, where female "slaves" turned over nude photos and other compromising materials that could be used for blackmail if they tried to leave.
Raniere was also accused by prosecutors of having a sexual relationship with a girl starting when she was 15, and who later became part of his inner circle of DOS slaves. Prosecutors said he kept nude photos of the girl, which are the basis of the child pornography charge.
The girl's older sister, who was also deeply involved in NXIVM, testified at length against Raniere at the trial.
Nonetheless, the girls' father was among more than 50 people who wrote letters to Garaufis urging leniency for Raniere. Many said their lives had been greatly improved by NXIVM classes, which could cost thousands of dollars.
Raniere's lawyers have maintained that no one in DOS or NXIVM was ever coerced.
Several other people affiliated with NXIVM have pleaded guilty to criminal charges, including Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, actress Allison Mack, former NXIVM president Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren Salzman, who testified as the prosecution's star witness.
Bronfman, who was accused of helping bankroll NXIVM, was sentenced last month to more than six years in prison.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson; editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Jonathan Oatis)