Lawyers for Keith Raniere, convicted of sex trafficking and six other charges in New York, ask his supporters for letters to give him a reduced sentence of 15 years
“A sexual predator.” “A brilliant man.” “A psychopath”. “A tireless promoter of peace in Mexico.” This is how many former followers describe Keith Raniere, leader of NXIVM (pronounced Nexium), a group designated by the US Justice as a sexual sect that enslaved, abused and marked dozens of women without anesthesia. Raniere was already convicted of seven counts including possession of child pornography and sex trafficking by a jury last year and is awaiting sentencing in New York on October 27. The Prosecutor’s Office asks for life imprisonment and the defense, a reduced sentence of 15 years in prison. To support their requests, both sides have asked the people who passed through the organization to write letters, in an epistolary portrait that has left two contrasting facets: that of the “guru” who destroyed lives and families, and that of the “genius” who ended up “unjustly” in jail.
“For your letter to be the most effective and compelling, you must speak of a unique quality that you think best reflects Keith’s positive attributes. Please be specific and give as much detail as possible ”, reads a document of recommendations to which EL PAÍS had access sent by Brafman y Asociados, the defense of Raniere, in September of last year. “Your letter must be honest”, insist the lawyers, while asking to refrain from giving opinions on “the injustices of the criminal justice system” or “why you think Keith did nothing wrong” and share it on social networks. “You must speak from the heart about how this investigation and this trial have affected your life,” is added in three pages of suggestions to advocate by the leader of NXIVM, which was founded in 1998 and had more than 18,000 clients mainly in Mexico , United States and Canada. The compilation of favorable letters has been classified for the time being, but some have been paraphrased or cited in a defense memorandum.
The trial against Vanguardia, as he called himself among his supporters, uncovered a series of atrocities and scandals: sex with a Mexican minor whom he called Virgen Camila; the confinement of Daniela, the victim’s sister, in a room for two years; the creation of DOS – a secret harem with around a hundred women who were recruited by deception – and a fan base that was rich, powerful, and willing to lie and threaten to cover up their abuses.
“The physical and emotional torture my sisters endured should not have been allowed to happen to anyone. My family still suffers for him… he is a threat to society, ”says Adrián, a relative of the victims, who were central to the case, in a letter presented by the Prosecutor’s Office. “Keith did inhumane things to my daughters behind my back (…) he took my children’s freshness, their spontaneity, their curiosity, their self-love,” says the mother.
To change the image of its client, the defense chose, among other arguments, to recall the alleged plans that Raniere had to curb insecurity in Mexico. “Keith taught us a lot about violence, fear and apathy. My experience of him is that he was a brilliant and intelligent man who understood people, the world and its problems, ”says Wayne LeBarón, a member of a clan of dissident Mormons in the north of the country who has gained notoriety after being victims of several tragic crimes, such as the massacre of three women and six children at the hands of organized crime last year.
Raniere’s relationship with the LeBaróns dates back to 2011, when Emiliano Salinas, son of former President Carlos Salinas (1988-1994) and Raniere’s main partner in Mexico, promoted the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which traveled the country to demand an end to violence with figures such as the poet Javier Sicilia and Julián LeBarón, Wayne’s relative. The documentary Ignite the heart, produced and paid for by NXIVM, also used the LeBarons as a central figure to make a pacifist plea while promoting Raniere.
The testimony of Enrique Moreno, another Mexican, supports the “heroic” account of the NXIVM leader, who “left the safety of his home” to move to Santiaguito, “a dangerous and dilapidated shack on the outskirts of Mexico City,” according to the lawyers. “The tools that were given me changed my life at once,” says José Manuel Ospino, a Costa Rican who says he was able to overcome Tourette syndrome thanks to Raniere, echoing one of the most common arguments among his followers to defend “the scientific character ”of his theories.
“Keith has been my friend, my partner and my teacher for more than 10 years, when I met him he seemed like a very intelligent, funny, humble guy,” says Eduardo Asunsolo, one of the few Mexicans who maintained contact with Raniere Since he’s behind bars Asunsolo decided to write because he believes that “the trial was a sham,” which was hatched when Mark Vicente and Sarah Edmonson, two of the highest-profile people in the organization, devised a plan to bring Raniere to justice. “They invited me to a campaign to defame him when they found out about DOS, years before the trial they told me that they were going to go to the newspapers to invent and exaggerate about a sex trafficking plot,” he says.
Asunsolo, described by former teammates as a dedicated advocate, received instructions from Raniere by email last January, six months after the court’s verdict, to organize a contest with rewards of up to $ 25,000 for anyone who found inconsistencies in the case, according to the judicial summary. He responds that the contest will be for those who find evidence and has challenged the Prosecutor’s Office to sign an affidavit about the probity of your work in the case.
“I can’t believe this horror story,” says Asunsolo, who heads the organization Make Justice Blind —Which advocates for unjustly incarcerated people— and The Forgotten Ones, a group that dances outside the center where Raniere is detained to protest against the US prison system. Both initiatives, as well as Ignite the heart or a notorious event with the Dalai Lama, are described by detractors as a publicity stunt in favor of Raniere. “You always think there is a black hand when Keith is after something,” he answers.
The trial has also revealed letters sent by two Mexican law firms hired by NXIVM to intimidate the first women who left the slave group: “My clients want to give you the opportunity to cooperate and minimize the impact this has on your life. Criminal investigations are going to increase in quantity and thoroughness, and they will not stop until justice is done, ”reads one of the documents, which was drawn up by Raniere himself and Clare Bronfman, his financial arm and Seagram heir. There is even a letter with precautionary measures imposed by a public ministry in Mexico.
“I have seen and read that in the last two years the media portrayed Clare as a cold, ruthless and evil person,” writes Edgar Boone, the highest-ranking Mexican and former member of the organization’s board, “in my experience she has a deep desire to help others ”. “He always lent a hand and gave opportunities for people to live better lives,” says Carolina López Patiño, a dancer who has worked with Anima Inc, an entertainment company in Mexico City that had Raniere as a partner.