A New York cult leader who called women his “slaves," branded them with his initials and coerced them into sex acts was arrested in Mexico on sex-trafficking charges, authorities said Monday.
Keith Raniere, the co-founder of the Nxivm cult that began more than two decades ago, was taken into custody after Mexican immigration officials found him in a luxury Mexican villa near Puerto Vallarta, the Albany Times Union reported. He was reportedly staying at the $10,000-a-week villa with several women.
Raniere returned to Texas on Monday. He is expected to appear in court Tuesday in Fort Worth on the charges filed by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.
Authorities said Raniere, who is known as “Vanguard” in the organization, formed a secretive group within NXIVM that had women join a slave-master club called “Dominus Obsequious Sororium,” which translates to “Master Over the Slave Woman.”
The women — usually thin because they stuck to low-calorie diets — were allegedly brainwashed into thinking the best way to advance was to become a “slave.” Raniere coerced the women into having sex with him and doing menial chores for "masters," the criminal complaint stated.
The women also partook in videotaped branding ceremonies in which they had Raniere’s initials burned into their pelvic area.
"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 said.
The women were allegedly threatened with public humiliation if they didn’t keep the arrangement a secret. Raniere punished the women for not following orders by forcing them “to wear fake cow udders over their breasts while people called them derogatory names," court papers stated.
Other times, they were reportedly stuck in cages.
Raniere fled to Mexico last November after the government began interviewing potential witnesses about the cult leader’s alleged activities. The New York Times published stories of some of the women who defected from their secret sorority.
Federal authorities struggled to find Raniere for months because he used encrypted email and ditched his phone.
"The defendant was uncooperative when immigration authorities arrived and after he was taken into custody, the women chased the car in which the defendant was being transported in their own car at high speed," court papers stated.
On Tuesday, federal agents raided the home of Nxivm co-founder Nancy Salzman in Oregon Trail, the Albany Times Union reported.
Raniere was promoted as a "scientist, mathematician, philosopher, entrepreneur, educator, inventor and author" who has "devoted his life to studying the human psychodynamic and developing new tools for human empowerment, expression and ethics,” the group’s website says.
Raniere and Nxivm have been the subject of criticism for years, dating back to at least 2012 when the Times Union of Albany published a series of articles examining the organization and the allegations it was like a cult.
Over the years, Nxivm 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 gave millions of dollars covering expenses such as private air travel costing $65,000 per flight, court papers say.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.