At a hearing in Brooklyn today, a federal judge agreed to move the trial of NXIVM founder Keith Raniere and his co-defendants from October to January 7th, at the government’s request.
This scheduling change comes a day after prosecutors brought charges against four more members of the alleged cult; Clare Bronfman (an heiress to the Seagram’s liquor company fortune), Nancy Salzman (NXIVM’s co-founder and president), her daughter Lauren Salzman (a high-ranking recruiter) and bookkeeper Kathy Russell join Raniere and Alison Mack, a former actress turned NXIVM staffer, in facing charges of “racketeering conspiracy involving an array of crimes, including identity theft, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.” (All six defendants have entered not guilty pleas.) Lauren Salzman and Russell were the only two defendants who were not in court today, but are scheduled to go before the judge on Friday.
The government requested to move the scheduled trial date because of the volume of discovery in the case, which prosecutors said includes 60 electronic devices that are still being confiscated and assessed under the terms of their related search warrants. Defense attorneys expressed concerns about having enough time to review the discovery files, which are being disclosed on a rolling basis, and all but Raniere’s attorney echoed the government’s request.
As Raniere remains in custody and bail terms have not been reached, his attorney entered objected to the change, citing his client’s right to a speedy trial. All parties agreed to a status conference on September 13th, to update the judge on the discovery process and assess whether more time is needed. Asked if it was possible that there may be additional defendants in the government’s case against NXIVM, prosecutors said their investigation is ongoing and more indictments are possible.
The government also requested that the judge instruct the defense to only “use the proper channels” when seeking potential witnesses, expressing concern that NXIVM’s allegedly coercive tactics could be employed by associates of the group to intimidate witnesses. A New York Times story in October 2017, described how new members of Raniere’s “inner circle” were allegedly made to hand over “naked photographs or other compromising material” as collateral, and were forcibly coerced into being branded with the group’s symbol.
Attorneys for both Raniere and Bronfman voiced their objection to such sanctions, arguing that it would greatly hinder their ability to conduct a thorough investigation, which sometimes requires a third party to reach out to potential witnesses on their behalf. Bronfman’s attorney, Susan Necheles, “invited” prosecutors to reach out about any individuals that they may be concerned about, and the defense otherwise assured the court that, at most, third party intermediaries would only ask potential witnesses if they were willing to talk and would be instructed to not discuss the facts of the case.
Apparently satisfied by the defense’s response, the judge declined to impose restrictions on their pursuit of witnesses, but encouraged communication about anyone problematic, reminding prosecutors of Necheles offer, “You’ve been invited.”