By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A reputed New York sex cult whose leader is accused of holding a woman hostage and having women branded with his initials carried out his crimes in an upstate subdivision that hid a "horror movie" reality, a federal prosecutor said on Monday.
Keith Raniere, 58, is on trial facing charges including racketeering, sex trafficking and child pornography. Prosecutors said he used his organization, Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help group, to hide a secretive sorority where young women were blackmailed into sex and made to follow dangerously restrictive diets.
"The closed doors of these cookie cutter houses may seem straight out of a horror movie, but for the defendant's victims, it was all too real," Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza said as she showed pictures of the Clifton Park, New York, neighborhood where the cult operated.Penza showed photos of houses where witnesses said Raniere sexually assaulted a female Nxivm member, where another woman was branded with his initials and a young woman, Daniela, was confined in a room for nearly two years under threat of being sent back to her native Mexico without her family.
Raniere, who could face life in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty. His defense attorneys will begin their closing arguments later Monday in a federal courthouse in New York's Brooklyn borough.
Penza said Raniere recruited women into a secret society within Nxivm called DOS, an acronym for a Latin phrase, "Dominus Obsequious Sororium," that roughly means "master of the obedient female companions."
"Can there really be any doubt that DOS was anything other than a way for the defendant to get what he wanted from these women, including sex?" Penza asked the jury.
The six-week trial has featured testimony from several women who said Raniere victimized them, including Lauren Salzman, daughter of Nxivm co-founder Nancy Salzman and a longtime member of Raniere's inner circle.
Lauren Salzman, who has pleaded guilty to related criminal charges, told jurors she became Raniere's "slave," and recruited other "slaves" for herself.
Raniere's "slaves" were forced to hand over compromising information about themselves, often including nude photos and embarrassing confessions. They were told the material would be released if they disobeyed orders or tried to leave, according to Salzman and other witnesses.
Raniere declined to testify and his defense called no witnesses. His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, has said women were never forced to act against their will.
Other members of Nxivm, which is pronounced "nexium," were charged. They include Nancy Salzman, actress Allison Mack and Seagram liquor heiress Claire Bronfman. They have all pleaded guilty to crimes but have not yet been sentenced.
The group first became known for its "Executive Success Program" courses, which purported to give students the ability to achieve their goals in life by overcoming mental blocks. Witnesses testified that leaders of the organization psychologically manipulated and abused its members and demanded total obedience from them.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Jeffrey Benkoe and Susan Thomas)
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Updated Date: Jun 18, 2019 00:08:34 IST