Seeing him as a flight risk, a federal judge in New York on Friday ordered controversial self-help guru and alleged cult leader Keith Raniere held without bail as he faces charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor.
Appearing before a packed courtroom in downtown Brooklyn that includes many former members of his NXIVM organization, Raniere and legal team did not refute Judge Steven Tiscione’s ruling to deny bail ahead of a April 27 preliminary hearing.
Speaking to reporters following the hearing, Paul DerOhannesian - Raniere’s lawyer - said that the decision not to argue for bail was not a sign that Raniere was guilty and added the truth will be revealed in the trial.
“He’s willing to fight to prove he is innocent,” DerOhannesian said. “There is a lot more to be explained.”
For the former NXIVM members and the families of Raniere’s alleged victims who were in attendance, the denial of bail is just the start of bringing to justice a man they believe has evaded prosecution for decades.
“No one in the past has held him accountable for what he’s done,” Barbara Bouchey, a former NXIVM recruiter and one of Raniere’s ex-girlfriends. “He should remain in prison for the rest of his life. He should never be released because he’ll just reinvent himself and starting doing this again.”
Known to his followers as “Vanguard,” Raniere is accused of masterminding and overseeing a system in which women were told the best way to advance was to become a "slave" overseen by "masters." They also were expected to have sex with him, do menial chores for masters, and to keep the arrangement a secret - or face public humiliation, the criminal complaint against him states.
“[Raniere] has maintained a rotating group of fifteen to twenty women with whome he maintains sxual relationships,” the complaint notes. “These women are not permitted to have sexual relationships with anyone but Rainere or to discuss with others their relationships with Raniere.”
The complaint said many victims participated in videotaped ceremonies where they were branded in their pelvic area with a symbol featuring Raniere's initials.
"During the branding ceremonies, slaves were required to be fully naked, and the master would order one slave to film while the other held down the slave being branded," the complaint says.
Investigators said Raniere preferred exceptionally thin women, so "slaves" had to stick to very low-calorie diets and document every food they ate. Women who didn't follow orders were required to attend classes where they were "forced to wear fake cow udders over their breasts while people called them derogatory names," or threatened with being put in cages, court papers say.
“He needs to be held accountable for every woman and every underage girl that he has harmed,” Catherine Oxenberg told Fox News. “This is a long time coming.”
Oxenberg, an actress known for her role on the 1980s prime-time drama “Dynasty,” has a daughter, India, who is currently in NXIVM.
Raniere left the United States late last year after The New York Times reported the stories of women who left the group, and the government began interviewing potential witnesses. Raniere sought to cover his trail by using encrypted email and ditching his phone, court papers say.
He was ultimately found staying with several women in a luxury gated community in Puerta Vallarta, where villas can run $10,000 a week to rent.
Raniere’s lawyers contest that he did not flee to Mexico to avoid any legal trouble and that the upcoming trial will explain why he went to the country.
Raniere and NXIVM have been the subject of criticism for years, dating back to at 2012, when the Times Union of Albany published a series of articles examining the organization and allegations it was a cult.
Over the years, the group has attracted a following that includes Emmy Award-winning actress Allison Mack. Authorities also say Raniere has been bankrolled by Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune. Bronfman has allegedly given Raniere and NXIVM more than $100 million to cover expenses like private air travel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.