Convicted sex cult figure says he's innocent

Tim Uehlinger and Dennis Romero
·2 min read

Keith Raniere, who was convicted of sex trafficking, racketeering and possession of child pornography in connection with his role in the alleged sex cult called NXIVM (pronounced "nexium") says he's innocent and wants a new trial, a request that a judge denied Friday.

In an interview that aired Friday on "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt," Raniere acknowledged he was a leader in an organization that kept women as virtual sex prisoners, but he said he is the victim of unethical prosecution.

He was convicted last year by a federal jury in New York and is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.

"I am innocent," Raniere said in a jailhouse interview with journalist Frank Parlato and Dateline NBC. Parlato was a spokesman for the group and ultimately helped expose it. He has pleaded not guilty to tax allegations and other charges related to his role with the organization.

Raniere alleges federal prosecutors engaged in misconduct in their pursuit of his conviction, and they "scared away witnesses" who could have swayed the jury in his favor. On Friday, a judge denied his second attempt to get a new trial.

Asked for his response to Raniere's allegation of prosecutorial misconduct, John Marzulli, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, said by email, "No comment."

"This is a horrible tragedy with many, many people being hurt," Raniere said. "There is a horrible injustice here. And whether you think I'm the devil or not, the justice process has to be examined."

Prosecutors said Raniere was behind a secret sorority in NXIVM that essentially imprisoned women and used compromising material to force them to have sex.

"Dynasty" star Catherine Oxenberg, mother of victim India Oxenberg, said the women used by the organization "were completely unaware."

"That's where Keith Raniere was taking them, like, to hell," she said.

NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren Salzman, bookkeeper Kathy Russell and Seagram liquor heiress Claire Bronfman have all pleaded guilty to various charges.

The case is the subject of the HBO docuseries "The Vow," which is scheduled to feature Raniere in its second season next year. He faces a maximum of life behind bars.

"You know, one of the things that's most important in our country is the justice system," he said in the interview, adding that even though many people "hate" him, "both the devil and a saint should be able to get the exact same treatment under our justice system."

Raniere said he was "sorry and pained" for his role in an organization that's been operating since the late 1990s.

"I apologize for my participation in all of this-- this pain and suffering," he said. "I've clearly participated. I've been the leader of the community. And it has come to this. Even if it is by oppression, I am absolutely sorry and pained. This is a horrible situation."