By Ben Feuerherd
May 3, 2022
-New York Post
Nxivm sex-slave cult leader Keith Raniere and his co-conspirator, Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, will each appeal their cases before a federal court panel in Manhattan Tuesday afternoon.
Raniere, 61, is seeking to get his 2019 conviction on seven counts, including racketeering and sex trafficking, tossed — alleging he was denied his constitutional right to a fair trial.
The 43-year-old Bronfman, who pleaded guilty to harboring an alien for financial gain and identity theft, is challenging her sentence of six years and seven months, which she has been serving in a Philadelphia prison.
Federal prosecutors and attorneys for Raniere and Bronfman will argue their respective cases beginning around 2 p.m. at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Among the arguments in his appeal, Raniere’s lawyers said the jury at his Brooklyn trial was prejudiced by erroneous instructions US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis gave them about the sex trafficking and related racketeering counts.
Attorneys for the sick Svengali — who was sentenced to 120 years in prison after his conviction — also claimed prosecutors failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove his guilt on those counts.
In response, prosecutors highlighted the mass of evidence they produced at trial, which included testimony by more than 15 witnesses.
“During the relevant period, Raniere and his co-conspirators committed a wide range of criminal activity, including sex trafficking, forced labor, alien smuggling, wire fraud and obstruction of justice in connection with the Enterprise,” prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York wrote in response to the appeals.
The jurors heard how Raniere formed a secret master-slave group within Nxivm — called DOS, for “Dominant Over Submissive” — to carry out his illicit deeds with the help of an “inner circle” of his most ardent supporters.
He even lured actresses such as Allison Mack and Nicki Clyne, as well as India Oxenberg, the daughter of TV’s Catherine Oxenberg, and Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, into Nxivm’s ranks.
Bronfman had argued she was never a member of “DOS” — and rather only served on the board of Nxivm, a self-help organization founded by Raniere.
Garaufis, however, determined that she had been “willfully blind” to DOS and Raniere’s tyrannical rule — and sentenced her to more than two years above what prosecutors had requested, her lawyers wrote in their appeal.
In response, prosecutors pushed back on the notion that Garaufis imposed a harsh sentence because of Bronfman’s “willful blindness” — arguing that was not, in fact, a “core finding” of the court.
“To be certain, the court used the phrase ‘willful blindness’ to describe Bronfman’s behavior — not her legal culpability — but the concept played a limited role in the court’s analysis that bears little relation to Bronfman’s description of it on appeal,” they wrote.
Beginning in 2015, Raniere forced women and girls — one as young as 15 — to serve as “slaves” to him and his cohort of obedient women, who themselves were slaves to the self-help guru.
The slaves, who lived with Raniere and other cult members in upstate Clifton Park, were required to take nude photos, perform unpaid labor and, in some instances, engage in sex acts with Raniere.
The appeal arguments scheduled for Tuesday afternoon will be heard by a three-judge panel, consisting of Jose A. Cabranes, Guido Calabresi and Richard J. Sullivan.
An attorney for Raniere, Joseph Tully, had attempted to get the arguments postponed — claiming in a Thursday filing that he uncovered new evidence showing FBI agents tampered with evidence that led to Raniere’s conviction on child pornography charges. The court rejected the request.