Founder of alleged U.S. sex cult Nxivm calls no witnesses at trial

 Founder of alleged U.S. sex cult Nxivm calls no witnesses at trial

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Keith Raniere, the New York man accused of trapping women in a sex cult and having them branded with his initials, said Friday that he would call no witnesses at his trial, setting the stage for jurors to begin deliberating on his fate next week.

Raniere's decision not to call witnesses or testify came after prosecutors finished presenting their evidence over six weeks of trial in Brooklyn federal court. Closing arguments are expected to begin Monday morning.

Raniere, 58, faces 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 known as DOS in which young women were blackmailed into have sex with him, follow dangerously restrictive diets and be branded with his initials.

He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, has argued that no members of Nxivm were forced to do anything against their will.

If convicted of the most serious charges, Raniere faces life in prison. His lawyer has argued at trial that the women became members of Nxivm voluntarily and were never coerced into doing anything against their will.

The trial 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 of how she became Raniere's "slave," and recruited other slaves for herself.

DOS slaves were forced to hand over compromising information about themselves, often including nude photos and embarrassing confessions, and told that the material would be released if they disobeyed orders or tried to leave, according to Salzman and other witnesses.

Other top Nxivm members were charged in the case, including Nancy Salzman, actress Allison Mack and Seagram liquor heiress Claire Bronfman, who bankrolled the group's frequent lawsuits. All have pleaded guilty to crimes and 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 in the trial, however, testified that the organization psychologically manipulated and abused its members and demanded total obedience to its leaders.

Nxivm, which is pronounced "nexium," has suspended classes, according to a statement posted on its website posted after Raniere's 2018 arrest in Mexico.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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Updated Date: Jun 15, 2019 00:14:09 IST