Keith Raniere

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Keith Raniere
US v. Raniere GovtExhibit GX46.JPG
Born (1960-08-26) August 26, 1960 (age 59)
Brooklyn, New York
Alma materRensselaer Polytechnic Institute
OccupationFounder, NXIVM
Known forPersonal development, multi-level marketing
Partner(s)Toni Natalie (1992–1999)
Barbara Bouchey (2000–2009)
Kristin Keeffe (c. 2007 or before – 2014)

Keith Raniere (born August 26, 1960)[1] is the founder of NXIVM, a multi-level marketing organization that has been described as a cult.

On June 19, 2019, Raniere was convicted of federal crimes including sex trafficking, conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit forced labor, all related to DOS (a "secret sisterhood" within NXIVM).[2][3][4][5] Raniere is scheduled to be sentenced on September 25, 2019. He faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 15 years and a possible life sentence.[6]

Early life and career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Keith Allen Raniere was born in 1960 to James Raniere, a New York City advertiser, and his wife Vera, a ballroom dancing instructor.[7][8] James recalls that Vera 'drank more than she should have', and in adulthood, Keith Raniere privately described his mother as an alcoholic.[9] At age five, the family relocated from Brooklyn to Suffern, New York. When he was around eight years old, his parents separated.[10][better source needed]

From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Raniere attended a Waldorf school, before leaving for a public junior high school.[11] One classmate recalled an incident in which she had unwittingly shared "compromising" information about one of her sisters in front of a 9- or 10-year-old Raniere.[11] According to her recollection, Raniere had told her: "You know, it’s like I have this little bottle of poison I can hold over your head ... I just don’t think your parents or your sister would be very happy if I told them."[11] She claims Raniere "would call me sometimes and say, 'Little bottles, little bottles'".[11]

Beginning at age 12, Raniere attended Rockland Country Day School in Suffern; he graduated in June 1978, two months prior to his 18th birthday.[12][13] As an adult, Raniere reported that he read the Isaac Asimov mind-control-themed work Second Foundation at age 12 and credited the science-fiction novel with inspiring his work in NXIVM.[14][15]

Raniere's former partner has shared stories about Raniere's childhood which she claimed to have been told by his father, James.[16] According to Barbara Bouchey, James had said: "What we did is we told Keith about how gifted and how intelligent he was. And he said it was almost like a switch went off. And suddenly overnight he turned into like Jesus Christ. And that he was superior and better than everybody like he was a deity. He said it was that [snaps] dramatic and that profound he said it went right to his head."[16]

Bouchey likewise recalled a story about a 13-year-old Raniere's relationships with girls: "dozens of young girls were calling the house and [Raniere's mother] was overhearing his conversations with them where he was telling every single girl the same thing: I love you. You're the special one. You’re important. You are the only one in my life and I love you.’ And she says, he's saying this to all these girls. He's clearly lying ‘cause all of them are not special!"[16]

In 1978, Raniere's mother died.[10][better source needed] In 1982, Raneire graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a 2.26 GPA.[17] During his time at RPI, Raniere met Karen Unterreiner; she would remain among his inner circle for the next four decades.[18][19]

Early adulthood[edit]

According to reporting by the Times Union, in 1984, the 24-year-old Raniere became sexually involved with 15-year-old Gina Melita after the two met in a theater group.[20] According to Heidi Hutchinson, Raniere was also sexually involved with her sister, Gina Hutchinson, in 1984, when Gina was 15 years of age. She later died from suicide.[7][20]

Raniere worked as computer programmer for the state Division of Parole.[20]

In June 1988, the Times Union profiled Raniere, reporting on his membership in the Mega Society after having achieved a high score on founder Ronald K. Hoeflin's MEGA test, a 48-question unsupervised test which had been published in the April 1985 issue of Omni magazine.[21][22] Although the MEGA test has been widely criticized as not having been properly validated, Raniere's name was listed in a 1989 Australian edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.[23][24][10]

Multi-level marketing career[edit]

In the 1980s, Raniere was involved with Amway, the multi-level marketing company. [10][25] One associate, Heidi Hutchinson, recalled that during the late 80s, Raniere was fascinated by Scientology, neuro-linguistic programming, and Amway.[26][27]

In 1990, Raniere founded the multi-level marketing company Consumers' Buyline.[9] In 1991, Raniere was pitching that business when he met Toni Natalie.[28] Natalie and her then-husband became top sellers for the organization.[28] Natalie recalled that she was able to stop smoking after a two-hour session with Raniere. [28] Within a year, Natalie and her son had moved to Clifton Park to be near Raniere; her marriage ended shortly thereafter. Natalie and Raniere dated for the next eight years.[28]

In 1993, Raniere's business Consumers' Buyline shut down after being investigated by 20 states; that year, New York filed suit alleging the organization was a pyramid scheme.[29] In 1996, Raniere signed a consent order permanently barring him from "promoting, offering or granting participation in a chain distribution scheme" and ordering him to pay a $40,000 fine.[30]

In 1994, Raniere created "National Health Network", a multi-level seller of vitamins.[31][better source needed] That business failed in 1999.[32] In the mid-90s, Raniere and partner Toni Natalie operated a health-products store.[29]

Executive Success Programs and NXIVM[edit]

In 1998, Keith Raniere's then-partner Toni Natalie met Nancy Salzman, a nurse and trained practitioner of hypnotism and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Natalie recalled:

"Nancy said 'You're so wonderful, how can I help you?' So I said well, you can help me with my boyfriend. He had grandiose ideas and his hours were becoming erratic again... She listened and she said 'Oh that's easy, I can help you. He's a sociopath'... They met, and four days later, she came out with the glazed eyes and gave me the 'you don't know who he is' and I was like 'wow, there goes another one'.[33]

Also in 1998, Raniere met Christine Marie Melanakos, a recently-divorced mother who had won the title "Mrs. Michigan 1995". She recalled that Raniere "explained how there was a profound event that would often happen to the women who became intimate with him, sometimes they would even see a blue light. ... Ultimately I agreed to be intimate with Keith, and it was just as he said. I even saw a blue light, but I don't think I told him so. I remember thinking, 'Wow, my brain is really susceptible to the power of suggestion.'"[20]

Raniere and Salzman founded "Executive Success Programs", a personal development company[7] offering a range of techniques aimed at self-improvement.[34][35][36] A few years later, the program was rebranded under the name "NXIVM".[16] Raniere "adopted the title 'Vanguard' from a favorite arcade game in which the destruction of one's enemies increased one's own power."[37] Much of NXIVM was influenced by the teachings of Ayn Rand, one of Keith's favourite authors.[38][39][40][better source needed]

In 1999, Raniere's eight-year relationship with Toni Natalie ended. Natalie would subsequently claim to have been the victim of harassment.[16] In a January 2003 ruling, federal judge Robert Littlefield implied Raniere was using a legal suit to harass his former partner Toni Natalie. Wrote Littlefield: "This matter smacks of a jilted fellow's attempt at revenge or retaliation against his former girlfriend, with many attempts at tripping her up along the way".[41][28]

In 2002, Raneire and Salzman succeeded in recruiting members of the influential Bronfman family, heirs to the billion-dollar Seagrams fortune. Sara Bronfman intitially became involved, followed by sister Clare Bronfman. Their father, Edgar Bronfman Sr., took a NXIVM course the following year.[42]

Death of Gina Hutchinson and Disappearance of Kristin Snyder[edit]

Gina Hutchinson had been sexually involved with adult Raniere when Gina was 15 years of age in 1984. [7][20] In August 2002, Gina resumed contact with Raniere and began participating in NXIVM/ESP, according to her surviving sister, Heidi.[43][better source needed] On October 11, 2002, Gina Hutchinson was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head; her death was ruled a suicide.[7][20]

Kristin Marie Snyder was a 35-year-old environmental consultant who, in November 2002, paid $7,000 to enroll in a 16-day personal development course conducted in Anchorage, Alaska by ESP/NXIVM leader Nancy Salzman.[44][better source needed] The following January, Snyder traveled to visit Raniere, and other leaders, in New York. Snyder's mother recalled that her daughter "had come to believe she was responsible for the Columbia shuttle disaster" and "thought Keith was incredible". Snyder, accompanied by her partner Heidi Clifford, signed up for a second 16-day session in Anchorage. Clifford later reported that on the tenth day of the course, Snyder began making suicide threats. Clifford recalled: "I was told (by a NXIVM instructor) not to bring her to the hospital. That's what makes me feel really bad".[45][better source needed]

On February 6, 2003, Snyder was last seen leaving the NXIVM seminar. Two days later, police recovered a note that read as follows: "'I attended a course called Executive Success Programs . . . based out of Anchorage, AK, and Albany, NY. I was brainwashed and my emotional center of the brain was killed/turned off. I still have feeling in my external skin, but my internal organs are rotting. . . . I am sorry life, I didn’t know I was already dead. May we persist into the future'".[45] A separate page added: "'No need to search for my body'".[45][better source needed]

A witness at Raniere's 2019 trial testified that after Kristin Snyder disappeared, Raniere paid $24,000 to obtain the password to her email account.[46]

2003 Forbes exposé[edit]

In 2003, billionare Edgar Bronfman Sr. took a NXIVM course at the encouragement of his daughters Sara and Clare. Later that year, he would denounce the group as a "cult" in a quote he gave to Forbes Magazine. He died in 2013.

In October 2003, Raniere was featured, cloaked in shadows, on the cover of Forbes magazine, accompanied by the appellation "The World's Strangest Executive Coach".[47] The "devastating" cover story, penned by Michael Freedman and entitled "Cult of Personality", has been described as "a gold mine of previously unpublished information".[9] The cover story discussed Raniere's title "Vanguard" and detailed his business "Consumers' Buyline" which collapsed amid accusations of being a "pyramid scheme".[9] The cover story included a quote from billionaire Edgar Bronfman accusing the organization of being a cult.[9]

Vanity Fair subsequently reported on the cover story's impact within the group: "People at NXIVM were stunned. Expecting a positive story, the top ranks had spoken to Forbes, including Raniere, Salzman, and Sara Bronfman. What upset them above all were Edgar Bronfman’s remarks."[9] According to Vanity Fair, the Forbes article was a turning point in Raniere's relationship with Edgar Bronfman: "'That,' says one woman, 'was when Edgar Bronfman became NXIVM’s enemy.'"[9] A witness at Raniere's trial later testified that Edgar Bronfman's computer was compromised and his emails monitored by group members for a period of years.[46]

2005 relationship with minor Camila[edit]

According to 2019 trial testimony, in 2005, Raniere commenced a sexual relationship with a 15-year old named Camila. [48][49]

Commodities trades[edit]

Barbara Bouchey spent $1.6 million covering losses of commodities trades which Raniere made in her name.[16] From January 2005 until late 2007, Raniere lost nearly $70 million in commodities trading.[9] Raniere suggested to Clare Bronfman that the losses were due to market manipulation by her father.[50] Beginning in August 2005, the Bronfman sisters covered the losses, ultimately using $150 million of their funds in support of Raniere and his organization.[9][10]

Collaborations with the Dalai Lama[edit]

In 2009, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, appeared onstage and presented Raniere with a white scarf.

Eager to distance themselves from 'cult' allegations in the press, NXIVM members sought the endorsement of the Dalai Lama, spending $2 million on the project.[51][52]

Eight years later, it would be revealed Sara Bronfman had a 2009 sexual relationship with Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the Dalai Lama's gatekeeper who arranged the appearance, who as a monk had taken a vow of his celibacy.[53] Amid accusations of corruption, Dhonden was replaced.[54][55]

On May 6, 2009, the Dalai Lama traveled to Albany to give a talk; during the event, he presented Raniere with a white scarf onstage.[56] The Dalai Lama additionally wrote the foreword to the book "The Sphinx and Thelxiepeia", which Raniere co-authored in 2009.[57][better source needed] The prior year, Raniere had co-authored his first book entitled "Odin and The Sphinx".[57][better source needed]

Mass resignations and public allegations[edit]

In 2009, a group of Raniere's associates (called the "NXIVM Nine") broke with Raniere and his organization, citing "concerns about unethical practices and the alleged abuse of his leadership status to sexually manipulate women in the organization."[30] One of the dissenters, Barbara Bouchey, had been Raniere's partner for nine years.[58][59][better source needed]

In March 2010, Raniere learned that inner-circle member Daniela had kissed another man. According to 2019 trial testimony, upon hearing the news, Raniere locked himself in a bathroom. Thereafter, he ordered that Daniela be confined to her room for over two years.[60][61]

In November 2010, Vanity Fair published an article entitled "The Heiresses and the Cult"; in that article, Raniere's former partner Toni Natalie recalled that Raniere "had insisted she keep the body of her dead puppy in her garage freezer and look at it daily".[9] That same month, The New York Post reported on the existence of a video in which Raniere is heard telling two followers: "I’ve had people killed because of my beliefs — or because of their beliefs."[62][63] In an 2010 article in the Times Union, NXIVM former coaches characterized students as "prey" for Raniere to satisfy either his gambling or sexual proclivities.[64]

In 2011, Raniere's former partner Toni Natalie filed documents in federal court alleging that she had been repeatedly raped by Raniere.[28]

Departure of Kristin Keeffe[edit]

Kristin Keeffe was a longtime partner of Raniere and mother of his son Gaelyn. [65] The child, born circa 2007, had earlier been reported to be an orphan adopted by Raniere and Keeffe, rather than their biological child.[66] In 2010, it was reported that Raniere had ordered that the child be kept away from peers and that he was being cared for by nannies speaking five different languages.[67]

In February 2014, Keeffe broke with Raniere and his group. Fleeing the region with her son, an email bearing Keeffe's name explained: "I have full sole legal custody of Gaelyn. Keith was experimenting on him. I had to get Gaelyn away".[68] Keeffe publicly described Raniere as "dangerous".[68]

In 2015, it was reported that Keeffe had alleged that Raniere directed that Canadian investigative firm "Canaprobe" obtain financial information on six federal judges, a US senator from the State of New York, as well as a reporter, an editor, and the publisher of the Times Union.[65] That same year, Keeffe further alleged that Raniere had planned to lure his critics to Mexico with an invitation to an anti-cult conference; once in Mexico, the critics were to be arrested on false charges by order of a judge who had been bribed.[69][16][50]

Patent infringement litigation[edit]

In 2015, Raniere personally sued AT&T and Microsoft, alleging they had infringed on his patents. The following year, the case was dismissed with prejudice. The trial court ruled that Raniere's "conduct throughout this litigation, culminating in his untruthful testimony at the hearing on the motion to dismiss, demonstrates a pattern of obfuscation and bad faith."[70][better source needed] Raniere was sanctioned and ordered to pay $450,000 in attorneys fees.[71]

Allegations of sex slavery, branding[edit]

Prosecution exhibit: a photograph of a DOS brand.

On June 5, 2017, Frank Parlato, on his website was the first to report that there was a secret sorority called DOS and the women known as "slaves" were branded with a hot cauterizing pen with Keith Raniere's initials. [72] On October 18, 2017, the New York Times published this story about the slaves and branding and that the slaves were required to provide nude photos or other potentially damaging information about themselves if they wished to join.[73][74] At trial, the prosecution introduced a 2016 recording of a private meeting with DOS "slaves" in which Raniere acknowledged that "the [branded] monogram as it is right now is very directly related to my initials". The group discussed how to obscure the connection to Raniere's initials.[75]

At Raniere's trial, DOS member "Nicole" recalled that when she and Raniere discussed her decision to leave the group, he commented: "You guys think you have it so bad, but this is nothing compared to other subcultures."[76][better source needed]

In the wake of the article, Raniere fled to Mexico, accompanied by a few members of his inner circle.[77]

Arrest, trial and conviction[edit]

Prosecution exhibit depicts Raniere surrounded by 'first-line slaves'

On January 18, 2018, a search warrant was issued for Raniere's email account. On February 14, an agent of the FBI filed a criminal complaint against Raniere with the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.[78][better source needed]

In March 2018, Raniere was arrested by Mexican authorities in a luxury villa outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.[79][80] Lauren Salzman later recalled that the arrest interfered with a planned group sex session; when police arrived, she and Raniere barricaded themselves in the master suite, with Raniere attempting to hide in a walk-in closet.[81]

Raniere was indicted on a variety of charges related to DOS, including sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit forced labor.[2][3] The indictment alleged that at least one woman was coerced into sex with Raniere, who forced DOS members to undergo the branding ritual alleged by Edmondson and others.[82][83] United States Attorney Richard Donoghue stated that Raniere "created a secret society of women with whom he had sex and had branded with his initials, coercing them with the threat of releasing their highly personal information and taking their assets."[34]

Raniere's federal trial began on May 7, 2019.[4] Prosecution witnesses included Lauren Salzman, NXIVM film-maker Mark Vicente; victims "Sylvia", "Daniela", and "Nicole"; and cult educator Rick Alan Ross. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.

On June 19, 2019, Raniere was found guilty on all charges by a jury after five hours of deliberation.[84] Raniere was found guilty of:

  • Sexual exploitation of a child and possession of child pornography with regard to minor victim "Camila";
  • Sex trafficking of Nicole, attempted sex trafficking of Jay;
  • Identity theft against Edgar Bronfman, James Loperfido, Ashana Chenoa, "Marianna", and Pam Cafritz;
  • Trafficking for labor and services of "Daniela"; forced labor of "Nicole";
  • Conspiracy to alter records for use in an official proceeding;
  • Sex trafficking conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, racketeering conspiracy, and wire fraud conspiracy.


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