NXIVM co-founder sentenced to 42 months in prison


A former nurse who co-founded and once ran the cult-like NXIVM group — where prosecutors say women were brainwashed, branded like animals and coerced into sex — was sentenced Wednesday to 42 months in prison, though she won’t be locked up until January.

Nancy Salzman, the former president and co-founder of NXIVM, must also pay a $150,000 US fine, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said. She has agreed to forfeit more than $500,000 US in cash, several properties and a Steinway grand piano.

More than three dozen Canadians were part of a lawsuit against the organization’s inner circle.

Vancouver’s Sarah Edmondson sued the leaders of NXIVM — along with two heiresses of the Seagram’s liquor fortune — for emotional and financial harm the actress claims to have suffered as a result of being intimidated and harassed, as well as being branded with the initials of group’s leader, Keith Raniere.

On Wednesday, Salzman was found guilty of crimes including conspiracy to commit identity theft and hacking into emails.

Salzman was ordered to report to prison by Jan. 19. Her lawyers said she has been caring for her ailing mother.

Sarah Edmondson shows the scar she says was left after she participated in a branding ceremony at a private residence with a small group of other women. (Supplied by Sarah Edmondson)

Canadian connections

At the end of January, a nearly 200-page court document revealed details about the extent to which Canadians were allegedly involved in NXIVM (pronounced nex-ee-um) and its offshoots. It claimed the group filed reports with Vancouver police to silence opponents.

At its height, NXIVM had thousands of members in New York, Vancouver and Los Angeles.

Edmondson, who belonged to the organization for 12 years, was a co-founder of the Vancouver chapter.

But she was also the first to go public about her recruitment and initiation into a secretive inner circle of female members described by prosecutors as “slaves” to Raniere, who was called “Vanguard” by NXIVM followers.

Raniere, 58, was convicted of sex trafficking in New York and sentenced last October to 120 years — or effectively life — in prison.

Under Raniere’s spell

Speaking in Brooklyn federal court, Salzman, 67, said she fell under Raniere’s spell when they started working together 20 years ago, and that she started rationalizing and overlooking the wrongdoing she saw around her.

She offered an apology to everyone she’s hurt. “I don’t know that I can ever forgive myself,” she said.

Salzman — known within the Albany, N.Y.-based group as “Prefect” — pleaded guilty in March 2019 to charges of racketeering conspiracy that involved conspiracy to commit identity theft and conspiracy to obstruct justice. She was one of the first in the group’s leadership to plead guilty to criminal charges.

Spied on perceived enemies

At that time, a tearful Salzman said she got mixed up with Raniere, a self-improvement guru and self-professed spiritual leader, because she wanted to help people improve their lives but that she ended up losing her way by helping spy on perceived enemies who sought to expose the group as a cross between a pyramid scheme and a cult.

At Salzman’s sentencing, Garaufis said she had positioned herself alongside Raniere “atop the NXIVM pyramid” and “left trauma and destruction” in her wake.

“In her misguided loyalty and blind allegiance to Keith Raniere, the defendant engaged in a racketeering conspiracy designed to intimidate NXIVM’s detractors and that inflicted harm on NXIVM’s members,” acting U.S. attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis said in a statement after Salzman’s sentencing.

The group attracted millionaires, including Seagram’s liquor heir Clare Bronfman, and Hollywood actors, including Allison Mack of TV’s Smallville.

Clare Bronfman, the Seagram’s liquor fortune heir and a wealthy benefactor of Keith Raniere, the disgraced leader of NXIVM, arrives to federal court on Sept. 30, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, where she was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Bronfman was sentenced a year ago to nearly seven years in prison.

Mack was sentenced in June to three years in prison. Salzman’s daughter, Lauren Salzman, was sentenced in July to five years of probation and ordered to perform 300 hours of community service for her role in the group.

Nancy Salzman’s crimes involved stealing identities of the group’s critics and hacking into their email accounts from 2003 to 2008, prosecutors said. She was also accused of conspiring to doctor videos showing her teaching NXIVM lessons before the recordings were turned over to plaintiffs in a New Jersey lawsuit against the group.

An NXIVM bio of Salzman posted on the internet said she was a consultant to New York state and major corporations “until she met Keith Raniere and discovered an approach to personal growth that yielded powerful and permanent results.”

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