The spiritual leader of alleged New York sex cult Nxivm was slapped with child pornography charges on Thursday, just hours after a second leader pleaded guilty to racketeering offenses while running the organization.
Federal prosecutors charged Keith Raniere, 58, in a case already alleging he coerced female members into being his sex slaves, forcing them to be branded with his initials below the waist. Court documents reportedly revealed pornographic images of a 15-year-old, as well as electronic messages between Raniere and the minor, indicating a sexual relationship.
Nancy Salzman, 65, former president of the controversial group, admitted to stealing critics' email addresses and tampering with evidence. She is to be sentenced July 10 on charges of racketeering, and could face between 33 and 41 years in prison, NBC News reported.
Prosecutors say Nxivm (NEX-ee-um) was a sex-trafficking ring disguised as a mentoring group. Meant to trap new recruits within its pyramid scheme, Nxivm allegedly made its members financially vulnerable, forcing them to pay thousands of dollars for personal and professional development courses that often left them deep in debt.
“Smallville” actress Allison Mack and Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, along with Raniere and Salzman and two other members, were indicted in July over their alleged involvement with the group’s multilevel marketing scheme, said to be designed to recruit sex slaves. Members who recruited new slaves were reportedly rewarded with money and status bumps.
Raniere’s attorney, Marc Agnifilio, defended his client, responding to the added pornography charged with sharp criticism.
"These 11th-hour charges three weeks before the trial begins serve only to taint the jury panel,” Agnifilio said. "Had they been legitimate, the government would have brought these charges a year ago."