Anti-cult crusader Rick Ross told jurors in the Brooklyn federal court sex-trafficking trial of NXIVM guru Keith Raniere on Wednesday that he faced lawsuits lasting 14 years after he tried to deprogram a member whose family was concerned about the group’s teachings.
“They’re making decisions in a bubble and they aren’t really getting any critical input,” said Ross, who directs the New Jersey-based Cult Education Institute. “… My feeling was that it was a destructive program and it was hurting people.”
Prosecutors contend that NXIVM, founded by Raniere in the 1990s to market a personal-growth curriculum, became a racketeering enterprise that controlled members and sexually exploited women, and that one of its methods was to badger critics and opponents with abusive litigation.
Raniere, 58, has been on trial for six weeks on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and other crimes, including the establishment of a secret master-slave sect within NXIVM that gathered blackmail material from women and used it to coerce them to “seduce” Raniere.
Prosecutors are expected to rest their case Thursday after presenting evidence of a naked picture of a minor linked to Raniere to try to prove child pornography charges. Marc Agnifilo, Raniere’s lawyer, told reporters his client was not likely to testify. The jury is expected to get the case next week.
Ross said he was sued in 2002 for copyright infringement and other claims for publishing articles critical of thought-control aspects of NXIVM based on a leaked copy of the group’s “confidential” manual for its signature course, Executive Success Programs.
At one point, he said, he was approached by investigators who said they were representing a mother who was concerned about one of her children who wanted to hire him, but it turned out to be an effort orchestrated by NXIVM to get negative information on him.
“It was all fake,” he said. “The mother was acting. The whole thing was a setup.”
Despite the litigation, he said, he insisted on keeping the articles on his website as a public service, and eventually won a ruling that limited use of copyright material was permitted. The case “became a precedent for setting aside a confidentiality agreement in the public interest.”
Also Wednesday, a financial investigator completed testimony indicating that Raniere approved expenditures of more than $736,000 from the credit card and bank accounts of his wealthy longtime companion, Pamela Cafritz, in the 18 months after her death.
The money was spent on expenses ranging from clothes to pizzas and a chiropractor. Those expenditures are the basis of a charge of conspiracy to commit identity theft.
The trial resumes Thursday.