NEW YORK – A secret society publicized as a "sisterhood" that would empower women was instead a scam used to put them under the control of the sex-crazed leader of an alleged self-help group, a federal prosecutor said on Monday in closing discussions in New York City test.
Assistant US Attorney Moira Penza said graphic evidence showed that Keith Raniere used women known as "masters" to ask for pictures of nudes and other "collateral" from "slaves", with the understanding that the material would be was made public if they had not obeyed orders to have sex with him
The group, sometimes known as "The Vow," was formed "to satisfy the defender's desire for sex, power and control," Penza told the Brooklyn jury.
The prosecutor called the former leader of the North New York-based self-help organization a "scammer" and a "crime boss".
A lawyer for Raniere, Marc Agnifilo, argued that his client had no criminal intentions and that his sexual encounters with the followers were consensual. The so-called guarantee was not significant because it was never released, he said.
"Where is the extortion is extortion is purely theoretical," he said. "It is not in anyone's heart."
Raniere, 58, is a former leader of northern New York, known as NXIVM, who once had thousands of members around the world. Last year he was arrested for conspiracy and other charges accusing him of forcing victims into unwanted sexual intercourse and other servitude.
Among his co-defendants was television actress Allison Mack, best known for starring as a friend of a young Superman in the "Smallville" series, and in the successful liqueur heiress Clare Bronfman . The women, described by the magistrates as members of the restricted circle of Raniere, pleaded guilty and awaiting sentencing.
In his concluding argument, Peza told the testimony of other former insiders and alleged victims about the way some women were branded with Raniere's initials to demonstrate their devotion; as a follower he was banished to a bedroom without leaving for 705 days; and how he treated the younger sister of the same follower by sex from age 15.
Raniere used his organization to "tap into an endless stream of women and money," the prosecutor said. "He was a governor without limits and without control over his power."
Agnifilo accused prosecutors of making various caring and casual relationships that Ranière had with several women who had never been forced to stay with him abusively or systematically. When one of the alleged victims separated with him, "There is no resentment, there are no threats," he said.
Following a portion of Monday's arguments were television actress Catherine Oxenberg of "Dynasty" fame and her daughter India, who defected from NXIVM after her mother became an explicit critic of the group.
The closure of the defense was to resume on Tuesday.