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Accused leader of sex-slave cult appears in federal court in Fort Worth

Keith Raniere of New York has been charged federally with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to commit forced labor.
Keith Raniere of New York has been charged federally with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to commit forced labor.

A New York man accused of creating a secret society of sex slaves for his own pleasure — and even branding them with his initials — waived his right to extradition Tuesday in a Fort Worth federal courtroom following his recent arrest in Mexico.

Federal officials had been working with Mexican authorities over the past month and a half to track down Keith Raniere, who was found Sunday living in a luxury villa outside the Mexico resort town of Puerto Vallarta.

Raniere, co-founder of the self-help company called Nxivm, had allegedly fled to Mexico from New York after becoming the focus of a federal investigation. He has been charged federally in the U.S. Attorney's Eastern District of New York with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to commit forced labor.

After his capture, Raniere, known as "The Vanguard," was deported by Mexican authorities.

During a four-minute hearing in federal court on Tuesday, the 57-year-old Raniere, wearing khaki shorts and a blue T-shirt and shackled in chains, declined to comment during his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jefferey Cureton.

Cureton told Raniere that he will be extradited to New York, and Raniere's attorney said they will not fight extradition.

Raniere was then led out of the courtroom by U.S. marshals.

Anticipating his return to New York, prosecutors filed a letter Monday with U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Gold requesting a permanent order of detention. They call Raniere a significant flight risk and danger to the community who has access to vast resources.

Slaves and masters

Federal officials allege that during the past two decades, Raniere operated a series of purported self-help workshops — pyramid-style in nature — that operate within Nxivm.

In 2015, authorities allege, he created a secret society under Nxivm called DOS — loosely translated to mean "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions" or "The Vow."

Officials allege that women, many already members of Nxivm, were recruited to join the organization under the false pretense that it was a women-only mentorship group meant to empower them and eradicate weaknesses.

Before joining, the recruits were required to provide "collateral" — such as nude photos, rights to their assets or damaging information about friends and family.

The recruits were kept unaware, federal officials say, that Raniere actually led the organization.

The society operated under a ranked system of slaves and masters. Slaves could become masters by recruiting additional women slaves, federal officials allege.

Officials estimate Raniere had more than 50 slaves under him.

According to federal documents, slaves were branded in the pubic area with a cauterizing pen with a symbol that incorporated Raniere's initials.

At least two of the women told federal investigators that their DOS masters required them to have sex with Raniere as part of their work. In return, the master received financial benefits from Raniere in the form of status and participation in DOS and financial opportunities, officials allege.

Some of the women told investigators that they believed if they told anyone about DOS, left the organization or didn't complete their assignments, including having sex with Raniere, their collateral could be released.

Federal documents allege that to fit with Raniere's sexual preferences, some DOS slaves were ordered to adhere to very restricted diets and to stop shaving or waxing their pubic hair.

Life of luxury

Confidential sources have told investigators that Raniere has a long history of abusing women and girls, including repeated sexual encounters with teens and a 12-year-old girl in the 1980s and '90s.

The defendant told one of the DOS slaves with whom he had sex that he believed the age of consent was too rigid and that it should be lowered to when a child's parent says the child is capable of consent, prosecutors wrote in a letter to a U.S. magistrate judge in New York in anticipation of Raniere being relocated there. The letter states that while Raniere pretends to be a renunciate, he has spent his life profiting from his pyramid schemes and received financial backing from independently wealthy women, including currently Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune.

They allege he keeps no money in his name but uses a credit card and bank account in one of his dead lover's names to make purchases and access money. The account contains over $8 million, federal officials say.

When found in Mexico, federal officials state, Raniere was living with several women in a gated community where some villas cost over $10,000 a week to rent. They described him as "uncooperative" when immigration authorities encountered him and said that while he was being transported away, the women gave chase in their own car.

Raniere will be flown from Fort Worth to New York, but arranging transportation could take up to two weeks, said Laura Vega, U.S. Marshal Service spokeswoman. In the meantime, Raniere will be taken to an undisclosed detention center, where he will remain in federal custody.

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