Two Eastern District of New York Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Former Acting U.S. Attorney, and Paralegal Specialist Receive Attorney General's Award
Honored for The Investigation and Prosecution of Nxivm Leader Keith Raniere and Co-Conspirators Who Victimized Women Through Sex Trafficking and Other Crimes
Two Eastern District of New York Assistant United States Attorneys, a former Acting United States Attorney, and one paralegal specialist were among the 298 department employees recognized today by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland at the 69th Annual Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony. Fifty-four non-department individuals were also honored for their work. The annual ceremony recognizes Department of Justice employees and partners for extraordinary contributions to the enforcement of our nation’s laws.
“This year’s awardees have served selflessly to further the Department’s important work upholding the rule of law, keeping our country safe, and protecting civil rights,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “I am proud to recognize these individuals for their professionalism, skill, and leadership, and I am grateful for their service to our Department and our nation.”
“The groundbreaking work of our Eastern District honorees and law enforcement partners achieved justice for the women victimized by Nxivm’s leader Keith Raniere and his sophisticated associates who carried out their crimes for years, protected by a wall of secrecy, intimidation, and humiliation that the prosecution team ultimately demolished,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “This case serves as a model for using racketeering, labor and sex trafficking statutes to combat crimes that have caused victims significant harm. Today’s occasion is also an opportunity to once again praise the bravery of the victims in this case who, having put their trust in our extraordinary team, found the strength to testify against Raniere, regain control of their lives, and begin the long process of healing.”
The Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tanya Hajjar and Kevin Trowel, former Acting U.S. Attorney Mark J. Lesko, and Paralegal Specialist Teri Carby of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, together with the investigative team – FBI Supervisory Special Agents Anthony Bivona and Christopher Donohue; FBI Special Agents Delise Jeffrey, Michael W. Lever, Maegan O. Rees, and Michael J. Weniger; FBI Victim Specialist Laura B. Riso; Task Force Officer Charles B. Fontanelli; and Special Agents Megan Buckley and Christopher T. Munster, Homeland Security Investigations – were recognized for their efforts in dismantling a criminal enterprise led by Keith Raniere, whose members engaged in racketeering, sex trafficking, and forced labor, among other crimes.
For over a decade, Raniere and his co-conspirators led a criminal enterprise under the guise of various self-help organizations headquartered in Albany, New York, with centers operating elsewhere in the United States, Mexico and Canada. In late 2015, Raniere created a secret society called DOS, whose members were drawn from the self-help organizations. Women were recruited under the false pretense of joining a women-only mentorship group, later discovering that they had taken “vows of obedience” to women who had themselves pledged obedience to Raniere. Prospective DOS victims were required to provide “collateral” to Raniere and his co-conspirators, which included damaging confessions about themselves and their loved ones, whether true or not, rights to financial assets and sexually explicit photographs and videos. Collateral was used to coerce victims into providing labor and services, including sex acts with Raniere, for the benefit of Raniere and the criminal enterprise.
After securing the convictions of Raniere’s five co-defendants through guilty pleas, the team used a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to successfully prepare multiple victims for trial testimony. The team employed precedent-setting applications of the RICO, sex trafficking, and labor trafficking statutes to pursue justice for the victims and provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to ensure victim participation in all aspects of the prosecution.
Following a six-week trial, Raniere was held accountable for over a decade of crime and exploitation that had been concealed behind the guise of various “personal growth” programs. In June 2019, Raniere was convicted of racketeering conspiracy; racketeering involving predicate acts of sex trafficking, child exploitation, and obstruction of justice; and substantive offenses including sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. In October 2020, Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison.