On Monday, Mexican authorities closed in on Keith Raniere, co-founder of the controversial, cult-like self-help group NXIVM. The Albany, New York-based NXIVM is, according its website, "a community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human."
Charged with sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy, Raniere, 57 – known as "Vanguard" to his followers – was arrested at a $10,000/week luxury villa near Puerto Vallarta and extradited to Texas for arraignment.
Rainiere did not seek bail during an initial court appearance on Tuesday in Fort Worth, and will be transported to Brooklyn this week for preliminary hearings. On Tuesday, FBI agents raided the home of NXIVM president Nancy Salzman ("Prefect" to her followers) as well as another home in upstate New York, which former NXIVM publicist Frank Parlato believes was that of disgraced NXIVM-linked doctor Brandon Porter.
Considered a cult by some experts, NXIVM was thrown into the national spotlight last fall when the New York Times interviewed several women claiming to have been forcibly branded as part of their entree to a secret NXIVM sect called DOS. After that story broke, the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn reportedly launched an investigation into NXIVM, and Raniere fled to Mexico with some female followers. (That reportedly included Smallville actress Allison Mack, who was photographed at the scene of his arrest in Mexico).
If convicted, Raniere faces 15 years to life. Here's what we learned from the newly released criminal complaint against Raniere, filed by FBI agent Michael Lever and unsealed in a Brooklyn court on Monday.
Since founding NXIVM's umbrella org ESP (Executive Success Programs), Raniere has allegedly maintained a rotating cast of 15 to 20 women he's had active sexual relationships with.
According to the complaint, the women must remain sexually faithful to Raniere and are not permitted to discuss their relationships with him. The document also states that NXIVM's course teachings advocate that men must have "multiple sexual partners" while women must be monogamous, and that DOS strives to help women overcome their "inherent weaknesses" and "overemotional natures."
DOS' "master-slave" participants allegedly thought they were joining a women-only sorority, and Raniere's position at the top of the group was withheld.
Per the complaint, NXIVM's secret society, DOS, is a pyramid-style "organized criminal group" with levels of "slaves headed by masters." The document alleges that Raniere is the singular ruling "master" and sole male member of DOS (also reportedly known as "The Vow"). The society is rumored to have formed around 2015; DOS allegedly stands for "Domunus Obsequious Sororium," which loosely translates to "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions."
The document claims that DOS' "slaves" had to recruit more slaves in order to become "masters" themselves, and that NXIVM women who were going through some kind of personal strife were the primary targets of DOS recruiting efforts.
When luring a new DOS member, the complaint says that masters required "collateral" in the form of incriminating photos, videos, or "damning" confessions about a recruit or her family. This material was allegedly used to blackmail members into staying put, as well as to dissuade them from speaking up about what they were exposed to within the group. The complaint alleges that DOS members had to provide new collateral once a month, and according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue, members were also threatened with having their assets stolen.
The complaint also states that many DOS slaves were allegedly forced to participate in a torture ritual in which they were held down naked by other members and branded with Raniere's initials using a cauterizing device. The complaint says these encounters were filmed.
DOS members were allegedly forced to provide "acts of care" for masters – and have sex with Raniere.
The complaint states that DOS slaves were forced to serve their masters in various "acts of care," including running errands for them, cleaning their homes and preparing food for them. They were also reportedly forced to perform uncomfortable "acts of self-denial," such as taking icy showers or "standing for an hour at 4 a.m."
The document says that slaves were given "assignments" to perform as part of their tenure, and these assignments could include sex with Raniere. Some slaves were also allegedly tasked with following brutally low-calorie starvation diets to remain extremely thin, a physical preference of Raniere's. The women tasked with having sex with Raniere reportedly believed they risked the release of their collateral if they refused. According to Raniere's detention memo filed by U.S. Attorney Donoghue, "The government estimates that the defendant has had more than fifty DOS slaves under him."
In the criminal complaint, one defector known as "Jane Doe 1" claimed Raniere offered her a job and gave her money after she slept with him, but said he asked for the money back after she left the group.
Keith Raniere allegedly did not act alone.
Raniere's co-conspirators – dubbed CC-1 and CC-2 in the complaint – reportedly played active roles in the alleged sex trafficking happening within the group. CC-1, a "direct slave" of Raniere's, is described as an actress with a longtime relationship with Raniere (her video interviews with Raniere are mentioned). Frank Parlato, NXIVM's ex-publicist and a whistleblower, has stated that "Smallville" actress Allison Mack, 35, is "CC-1" and he believes that she will likely be arrested shortly.
The complaint also describes agents obtaining a search warrant for Raniere's Yahoo email address. Within those emails, agents reportedly uncovered an email from CC-1 pledging her "full and complete life" to Raniere in a letter she called a "vow." They found other emails serving as collateral for CC-1, including a letter meant to destroy the character of her mother and father and a note "addressed to social services alleging abuse to CC-1's nephews."
In the complaint, CC-1 is directly implicated in various stories shared by DOS defector "Jane Doe 1," who shared disturbing stories of alleged manipulation and sexual abuse at the hands of Raniere. The document states that CC-1 forced her slaves to pose for nude photographs, "including close-up pictures of their vaginas," which she then passed along to Raniere.
In addition to being forced into sexual encounters with Raniere in various locations and circumstances, the complaint describes that at least one of Jane Doe 1's other "assignments" was to edit up to 95 "dense articles" written by Raniere.
The complaint states that CC-2 is CC-1's "direct slave" and a co-founder of a side NXIVM group called the Delegates. In the complaint, an actress and model known as "Jane Doe 2" recalls being recruited into DOS by CC-2 while on a walk in Clifton Park, New York, during a NXIVM seminar. Jane Doe 2 defected in 2016 after CC-1 tried to push her into the "special assignment" of seducing Raniere and then documenting "proof" of the encounter afterward. But before she left for good, Jane Doe 2 reportedly captured images of collateral of other members in the hopes of preventing her own collateral from being leaked.
Raniere may be getting rich off NXIVM.
According to the complaint, classes offered by NXIVM and other linked groups can cost up to $5,000 for a five-day workshop. The document alleges that NXIVM is run like a multi-level marketing scheme, with members "encouraged to keep attending classes and to recruit others" into the group to hit various "goal levels." The memo also notes that participants' "goal levels" are indicated via the color of sash they wear, with some members eligible to earn either salaries or sales commissions. The complaint alleges that many members descend into debt from the cost of the courses. Oh, and group members are also reportedly expected to pay $2,000 or more to celebrate Raniere's birthday during a weeklong celebration known as "Vanguard Week." (His birthday is August 26, 1960.)
Raniere allegedly gets financial help from high places
According to the U.S. Attorney's detention memo, Clare W. Bronfman, heir to the Seagram's fortune (and NXIVM's self-described operations director) financially supports Raniere. (Bronfman has previously denied all accusations of coercion and abuse.) In the memo, prosecutors wrote, "[Bronfman] has financed the defendant repeatedly over the years including providing him with millions of dollars and paying for private air travel costing up to approximately $65,000 a flight. She has also paid for numerous lawyers to bring suits against NXIVM critics. Bronfman also owns a private island in Fiji, which the defendant has visited, and both Bronfman and the defendant have contacts all around the world."