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Testimony: Cult leader Keith Raniere's GPA contradicts NXIVM claims of genius

Defendant Keith Raniere, center, leader of NXIVM, in

Defendant Keith Raniere, center, leader of NXIVM, in a courtroom drawing on May 7. Credit: AP/Elizabeth Williams

Keith Raniere, the NXIVM savant who sold himself to followers as one of the world’s smartest men, compiled a less-than-stellar  college record in the late 1970s, according to a transcript prosecutors displayed as they neared the end of their sex-trafficking and racketeering case Thursday in Brooklyn federal court.

After six weeks of testimony from one-time acolytes who said Raniere was idolized as a cross between Einstein and Gandhi, prosecutors displayed a NXIVM press release calling him “one of the world’s top three problem solvers” ranked “by the Guinness Book of World Records in the category of highest IQ.”

But FBI case agent Michael Wenigar then was asked about Raniere’s GPA on the late-1970s college transcript he compiled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, including a lot of Cs in courses like chemistry and embryology, an F in physiology, and a B in “Sanity, Madness and Man.”

The final score? “2.26,” Wenigar answered.

Raniere, 58, is accused of founding NXIVM in the 1990s to sell self-improvement courses for thousands of dollars but turning it into a sex cult that controlled and exploited women and eventually housed a secret master-slave sect in which women used blackmail to force other women to have sex with him.

He is charged with racketeering, conspiracy, sex trafficking and other crimes. Testimony, which included appearances by six ex-members, was expected to wrap up Thursday but was delayed as prosecutors used the latitude of broad racketeering and conspiracy charges to introduce evidence like the college records and scores of seized emails.

Wenigar, for example, walked the jurors through a series of messages in which NXIVM tried to gather private banking information from private investigators on so-called enemies — ranging from journalists and politicians to anti-cult advocate Rick Ross — but laundered communications through four separate levels to keep Raniere out of the chain. Altogether, the agent testified, Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman, a member of Raniere’s inner circle, paid more than $400,000 to gather the information from a Canadian firm and other sources. But Wenigar said most of the secret financial info was fake, and NXIVM was fleeced.

Also Thursday, prosecutors showed jurors — but not the court gallery — more than a dozen naked pictures of a girl who was allegedly a minor at the time they were taken, found on a hard drive with other nude pictures of women they say were Raniere's. He is charged with possessing child pornography.

The trial resumes Friday, when the prosecution is expected to rest. Raniere’s lawyer has signaled that he won’t testify, and U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis has told jurors they will likely return Tuesday to hear closing arguments.


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