It had the makings of a Hollywood suspense thriller — a television actress, an heiress, a self-help guru and an alleged sex cult – but on Wednesday the curtain closed, when a New York City jury convicted the infamous leader of all charges in a blockbuster case where women were turned into brainwashed “slaves.”
The trial of Keith Raniere, co-founder of the group in upstate New York called NXIVM, lasted weeks. It took a jury only a matter of hours to convict him.
Raniere was convicted on all seven counts, which included racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, sex trafficking conspiracy, sex trafficking and attempted sex trafficking charges. He faces up to life in prison.
Raniere - known within the group as "Vanguard" - oversaw a barbaric system in which women were told the best way to advance was to become a "slave" overseen by "masters," prosecutors said. The women were also expected to have sex with him and do menial chores for masters, and to keep the arrangement a secret or be publicly humiliated, according to prosecutors.
Defense lawyers had insisted any contact Raniere had with the women was consensual.
During the trial, startling revelations of the NXIVM group and its founder came to light.
Lauren Salzman, a former member of his inner-circle in a group called NXIVM who's pleaded guilty and was cooperating with the government, testified Raniere was a coward during his arrest last year in Mexico on a U.S. sex-trafficking charge and a bully when dealing with a follower who failed to adhere to his twisted code of ethics.
Salzman, 42, was recruited, along with others, and was confined to a bedroom for two years, the witness said, despite passing a note that begged: "Let me out. I'm coming undone."
Salzman told the jury that Raniere - spooked by mounting news reports that the sorority was under investigation - went to Mexico with her and others to try to reconstitute the group there. When Mexican authorities broke down his door at a villa in Puerta Vallarta to grab him, Salzman was there and tried to stand up to them while he hid in a closet, she said.
She also detailed how Raniere groomed as followers a family from Mexico with three daughters. According to prosecutors, he sexually exploited all three - the youngest starting at age 15.
The allegations brought against Raniere were shocking, but the case peaked the public’s interest when a television actress best known for playing a young Superman's close friend was found to be involved with NXIVM – ultimately pleading guilty to racketerring and related conspiracy charges.
Federal prosecutors said actress Allison Mack she worked as a slave "master" recruiting unsuspecting women to a cult-like group led by a man who sold himself as a self-improvement guru to the stars.
Prosecutors said they recruited unsuspecting women into a pyramid scheme for the benefit of Raniere.
Mack, 35, starred in the CW series "Smallville" and has played minor roles since the series ended in 2011. When she admitted her crimes in April she wept – ultimately apologizing to the women who prosecutors said she exploited.
"I believed Keith Raniere's intentions were to help people. And I was wrong," Mack said. "I know I can and will be a better person."
She faces 20 years on each count when she is sentenced in September.
It wasn't just a Hollywood actress who found herself connected to NXIVM. The heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune pleaded guilty to two charges in connection with the case.
Clare Bronfman, the 39-year-old daughter of late philanthropist and Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman, issued a tearful apology in court April 19 as she admitted she housed and concealed a woman she brought into the country illegally to use as unpaid labor for NXIVM.
She also admitted to using a dead woman's identity and credit card to help NXIVM avoid paying taxes.
Bronfman told the judge that she had wanted to help people through NXIVM but ended up dishonoring her family.
As part of a plea agreement, Bronfman agreed to forfeit $6 million. She faces up to 27 months in prison at sentencing on July 25.
Raniere and NXIVM have been the subject of criticism for years, dating back to at least 2012 when the Times Union of Albany published a series of articles examining the organization and allegations that it was like a cult.