By Brendan Pierson and Joseph Ax
NEWYORK (Reuters) – The daughter of a former leader of an alleged New York sex cult is set to testify on Friday at the trial of its founder, who is accused of forcing women into sex, urging them to starve themselves and having some branded with his initials.
Witnesses in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn have testified that the leader, Keith Raniere, presented himself as “some kind of god” and that female members of the group, Nxivm, a purported self-help organisation, appeared broken.
Lauren Salzman, whose mother, Nancy Salzman, was president of the group, and admitted to recruiting members into the upstate New York group, is expected to detail her role. Both Salzmans have pleaded guilty to taking part in the scheme.
If convicted of federal charges including sex trafficking and child pornography, Raniere faces life in prison. His lawyer has argued at trial that the women became members of Nxivm voluntarily and were never coerced into doing anything against their will.
Former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack and Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, also pleaded guilty before trial.
Jurors have heard from one woman who said she submitted unwillingly to Raniere’s sexual demands.
A 12-year Nxivm veteran, Mark Vicente, testified for several days this week about the inner workings of the group, explaining how Raniere’s recruits came to view him as “some kind of god,” after a sales pitch describing him as a genius of unparalleled insight.
Vicente told jurors he became concerned that Mack and other young women in the group had become too thin after following a severely restrictive diet at Raniere’s request.
When Vicente told Raniere that Mack seemed “broken,” Raniere responded, “I’m trying to break her,” Vicente testified.
Nxivm, which started under another name in 1998 and is pronounced “Nexium,” was based in Albany, New York, and operated self-improvement centres across North and Central America.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)