Nancy Salzman, who created Nxivm alongside Keith Raniere, was sentenced Wednesday to 3 1/2 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Salzman was an enabler who helped Raniere remain the leader of a criminal enterprise and gain access to victims, but Salzman's attorneys say she was a victim herself -- and possibly one of Raniere's first.
Salzman, 66, once the president of Nxivm, spoke at her sentencing in federal court in Brooklyn, more than two years after she pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge.
"I know, your honor, that I put myself here," Salzman said.
US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who presided over Raniere's trial, said that Salzman should turn herself into authorities on January 19, 2022.
Prosecutors have said Salzman played a role in attempting to intimidate and investigate perceived critics of Raniere, which helped create a climate of fear within the organization. Her attorneys point out that she was the first of Raniere's co-defendants to plead guilty and helped facilitate others' guilty pleas.
Raniere was convicted of racketeering, child sexual exploitation, sex trafficking and other charges in 2019 and was sentenced to life in prison. Salzman and her daughter, Lauren, were also charged and pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy shortly before Raniere's trial.
The person Raniere was convicted of sexually exploiting when she was a 15-year-old girl spoke in court at Salzman's sentencing.
"Not only did she facilitate the environment for my abuse ... she provided an even worse environment for victims to heal," she said. CNN is not naming her.
Lauren Salzman will not go to prison, due in part to the fact that she testified against Raniere at his trial. And while Salzman will go to prison and have three years of supervised release, she will still serve less time than one co-defendant, Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman.
Bronfman is currently serving her nearly seven-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to conceal and harbor people who were not in the United States legally for financial gain, as well as fraudulent use of identification.
"The conduct underlying the defendant's conviction warrants a substantial sentence," Assistant US Attorney Tanya Hajjar wrote in a presentencing court filing.
Salzman's attorneys, however, had asked for two years of home confinement and no prison time. They point to her serious health problems, her decision to plead guilty early and the fact that she is the caretaker for her elderly mother.
"Her decision and genuine remorse for her wrongful conduct had ancillary benefit for the Court and justice system at large, because, following (her) guilty plea, others, most notably her daughter Lauren, realized it was indeed possible to renounce Raniere, despite the many who still steadfastly remained faithful to him," Salzman's attorneys wrote in their request.
Salzman is a former nurse who was specializing in a type of therapy called neurolinguistic programming when she met Raniere. Together, they started what they called a "human potential school" and developed a curriculum "designed to assist individuals with achieving their life goals," according to a court filing by her daughter's attorneys. Nxivm members called Salzman "Prefect" and Raniere "Vanguard."
The classes, called "Executive Success Programs," were pricey, multi-day lessons and prosecutors say Salzman pushed Nxivm members to take the classes and incur debt to do so. But prosecutors also allege that the classes Salzman helped Raniere develop "were designed to maintain power and control" over Nxivm members.
Salzman's 20-year relationship with Raniere was both intimate and business-like, her attorneys said, and since cutting off ties with Raniere she realized that what he saw in her was a worker who was "able to do things he was not, and for which she would allow him to receive credit."
In one letter presented by Salzman's attorneys in their court filing, an anonymous person said that she believes Salzman was one of Raniere's first victims.
"He used her to promote himself and kept her working all the time to keep the company and community together," an excerpt of the letter printed in a defense filing reads. "He kept her occupied all the time and hid from her what he was doing while she was hard at work."
One of the aspects of Nxivm that defense attorneys allege Raniere hid from Salzman was the existence of a secretive group known as DOS.
Allegations of abuse within DOS were at the heart of the prosecution case against Raniere. DOS was pitched as a female empowerment group to select women in Nxivm, and once women agreed to join they were pressured to give "collateral" to ensure they kept details of the group secret. Collateral could include explicit photos of themselves and even letters or statements making false or embarrassing claims that could be damaging if released.
Once in the group, women were known as "slaves" who were required to acquiesce to their "master's" every wish. Unbeknownst to many women, Raniere was the "grandmaster" of the group, and women were often directed to have sex with him, send him explicit photos of themselves, and some were even branded with a symbol that included his initials.
Salzman's attorneys point out that even prosecutors concede Salzman "was not aware of its existence" until details of DOS were revealed publicly.
Salzman's attorneys say she accepts responsibility for "enabling the horrific crimes Raniere committed," even when she wasn't aware crimes were being committed.
"Indeed, she herself feels the weight of responsibility for not making herself more aware of the enormity of what 'Vanguard' Raniere was doing at the helm of Nxivm, an entity that she had co-founded with him and that was her life's work," her attorneys said in a court filing.
The first to plead
Around the time that Raniere was arrested in 2018, several other high-ranking members were charged in connection with the case. Raniere and "Smallville" actress Allison Mack faced racketeering, sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy charges. Bronfman, former Nxivm bookkeeper Kathy Russell, Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren all faced racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges.
Lauren pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges and testified against Raniere at his trial; she was sentenced to no prison time. Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges and gave what prosecutors called "substantial assistance." She was sentenced to three years in prison.
The last of Raniere's co-defendants to plead guilty were Bronfmam and Kathy Russell, who pleaded guilty to one charge of visa fraud and has not yet been sentenced.
"Salzman became the first defendant in the case to accept that many of the things she had been taught by Raniere were false, and that the man she had thought and had taught others was 'infallible,' was actually deeply flawed, and vicious to the core," Salzman's attorneys wrote.
Weighing heavily on Salzman, her attorneys say, was the fact that she introduced her daughter to Raniere and pushed her to take the classes she helped design and get more involved in Nxivm and its community.
"Nancy deeply believes that the pain to which her daughter has been exposed is entirely her fault and regrets her role in that debacle every day of her life," Salzman's attorneys wrote.
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