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Judge halts cross-examination of weeping witness in sex cult trial

Lauren Salzman leaves federal court in Brooklyn on

Lauren Salzman leaves federal court in Brooklyn on Jan. 28. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

The Brooklyn federal judge running the trial of alleged NXIVM sex-cult leader Keith Raniere brought testimony to a sudden halt on Wednesday by abruptly ordering an end to the cross-examination of a weeping Lauren Salzman, a key government witness.

“You’re done!” U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis shouted at defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo, repeating the order before dismissing the witness and releasing jurors for the day.

Salzman was a member of NXIVM’s inner circle, a “first-line slave” in DOS, the secret master-slave group prosecutors say Raniere used to extort sexual services, and an ex-lover of Raniere who told jurors during 3-1/2 days of confessional testimony that she wanted to have his children but he chose other women.

She acknowledged shaping her entire life around her belief in NXIVM, Raniere and his philosophy of an “ethical” life, but pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate last month. She started weeping when Agnifilo pressed her on whether she felt like she was committing crimes while she was part of the group.

After the jurors left and Agnifilo objected to the intervention, Garaufis said he thought Salzman, 42, was a “broken person” and was having a “nervous breakdown.”

“You have your record, and if there’s a conviction you can appeal to the Second Circuit,” the judge told Agnifilo.

“I may not get everything right, but as a human being I made the right call,” he added later.

Raniere, 58, founded NXIVM as an Albany-based self-help company in the 1990s. It sold personal growth courses to an estimated 17,000 students. But prosecutors said he created the secret slave “sorority” to exploit true believers. He is charged with conspiracy, racketeering, sex-trafficking and other crimes.

Salzman is one of five former leaders who have pleaded guilty, including Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman and former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack. The trial, in its third week, is scheduled to resume on Thursday.

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