The former leader of the cult-like NXIVM group has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to 21 victims of a sex-trafficking schemeBy TOM HAYS Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 10:38 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNEW YORK — The unrepentant former leader of the cult-like NXIVM group was ordered on Tuesday to pay $3.5 million to 21 victims of a sex-trafficking scheme, a sum including the cost of surgically removing scars from branding rituals performed by a secret sorority.The brands depicting the initials of Keith Raniere were meant to symbolize the womens’ status as sex slaves for the self-help guru who once had an international following. A judge in federal court in Brooklyn also ordered Raniere to return “collateral” — nude photos and other potentially embarrassing material — that was used to extort and manipulate the victims.Raniere, appearing by video from an Arizona prison, told the judge he was baffled by the restitution order.“I have never handled collateral,” he said. “I don’t know anything about it.”He added at another point: “I don’t know who the victims are.”Raniere — known to members of the upstate New York organization as “Vanguard” and “the smartest man in the world” — was sentenced last year to 120 years in prison for his conviction on racketeering conspiracy and other charges. It was another instance where he refused to take responsibility.“I do believe I am innocent of the charges. … It is true I am not remorseful of the crimes I do not believe I committed at all,” he said.A 41-year-old heir to the Seagram’s fortune, Clare Bronfman, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison in September for her role as Raniere’s unwavering benefactor, while another follower, “Smallville” actor Allison Mack, was sentenced to three years last month.It was unclear if Raniere has the means to pay restitution that’s also intended to cover costs of mental health treatment and unpaid labor. Bronfman has been paying his legal bills.The hearing on Tuesday was interrupted near the end when one of Raniere’s lawyers, Marc Fernich, lashed out at U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis for not granting a delay in the proceeding so that Fernich could go to a funeral.“It’s a lack of human decency and it’s disgraceful,” the lawyer said.The judge, who said the schedule actually gave Fernich enough time to attend, sat for a half hour in stony silence until the lawyer apologized.
Lawyers for R&B singer R. Kelly have been granted a little more time to prepare his defense for his upcoming sex-trafficking trial in New York CityBy TOM HAYS Associated PressJuly 8, 2021, 11:55 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNEW YORK — Lawyers for R&B singer R. Kelly were granted a little more time Thursday to prepare his defense for his upcoming sex-trafficking trial in New York City.At a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly said jury selection would go forward on Aug. 9 as originally planned but agreed to delay opening statements until Aug. 18 rather than start the openings right after the panel is picked.The jailed Kelly switched legal teams less than a month ago. His new attorneys had asked a judge Monday to postpone the New York trial for a longer period, saying they couldn’t adequately prepare.The lawyers said they had been unable to meet with him in person while he was quarantined for 14 days in a Brooklyn federal jail after being brought there from a Chicago lockup on June 22. Federal jails have been quarantining transferred and newly incarcerated inmates since early in the COVID-19 pandemic.The legal team also asked Thursday that Kelly be released on bail so he could better assist in his defense — a request the judge quickly denied. She assured them that they could now see Kelly in person at the jail seven days a week if they wanted.“You’re going to have full access to Mr. Kelly,” she said.Kelly, 54, was making his first in-person appearance in a New York court since his transfer. He didn’t speak, except to exchange greetings with the judge.The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling R&B singer is charged with leading an enterprise of managers, bodyguards and other employees who helped him recruit women and girls for sex. Federal prosecutors say the group selected victims at concerts and other venues and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly.The case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota.He denies ever abusing anyone.Kelly won multiple Grammys for “I Believe I Can Fly,” a 1996 song that became an inspirational anthem played at school graduations, weddings, advertisements and elsewhere.Nearly a decade later, he began releasing what eventually became 22 musical chapters of “Trapped in the Closet,” a drama that spins a tale of sexual deceit and became a cult classic.But Kelly has been trailed for decades by complaints and allegations about his sexual behavior, including a 2002 child pornography case in Chicago. He was acquitted in that case in 2008.Scrutiny intensified again amid the #MeToo movement in recent years, with multiple women going public with accusations against the singer. The pressure intensified with the release of the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” in 2019.Criminal charges soon followed.
A TV actor is facing sentencing for her role in a scandal over a cult-like upstate New York groupBy TOM HAYS Associated PressJune 30, 2021, 5:15 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNEW YORK — TV actor Allison Mack, who played a key role in a scandal-ridden, cult-like upstate New York group, is facing sentencing Wednesday after pleading guilty to charges she manipulated women into becoming sex slaves for the group’s spiritual leader.Mack — best known for her role as a young Superman’s close friend on the series “Smallville” — is set to appear Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court. She’s expected to seek credit for cooperating against NXIVM leader Keith Raniere and taking responsibility for helping him create a secret society of brainwashed women who were branded with his initials.Devoting herself to the self-improvement guru “was the biggest mistake and greatest regret of my life,” she wrote in a letter filed with the court last week.“I am sorry to those of you that I brought into NXIVM,” she wrote. “I am sorry I ever exposed you to the nefarious and emotionally abusive schemes of a twisted man.”Under advisory sentencing guidelines, Mack would face between 14 and 17 1/2 years behind bars. Her defense team has argued in court papers that probation or a sentence to home confinement is more appropriate, and prosecutors have agreed that any prison term should be below the guidelines range because of her cooperation.“The NXIVM saga and the story of Ms. Mack’s descent have been a tragedy for all involved. But that need not, and should not, be the end of the story for Allison Mack,” her lawyers wrote in court papers.Mack, 38, was once part of the inner circle of Raniere, whose group attracted millionaires and actors among its adherents. Prosecutors said she became a “master” for “slaves” she ordered “to perform labor, take nude photographs, and in some cases, to engage in sex acts with Raniere.”As authorities closed in on Raniere, he fled to Mexico with Mack and others to try to reconstitute the group there. He was arrested and sent to the United States in March 2018; Mack was arrested a few days later.“Ms. Mack now understands that this was the best thing that could have happened to her at that time,” the defense papers say.Mack provided information to prosecutors about how Raniere encouraged “the use of demeaning and derogatory language, including racial slurs, to humiliate ‘slaves,’” the government papers said. More importantly, she provided a recording of a conversation she had with Raniere about the branding, they added.The branding should involve “a vulnerable position type of a thing” with “hands probably above the head being held, almost like being tied down, like sacrificial, whatever,” Raniere told her. The women, he added, “should say, ‘Please brand me. It would be an honor.’ Or something like that.”Raniere was sentenced last year to 120 years in prison for his conviction on sex-trafficking charges.