MANHATTAN, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral arguments from the attorneys of Keith Raniere and Clare Bronfman on Tuesday. Both were convicted for their involvement in NXIVM, a Clifton Park-based organization that drew national attention for operating as a “sex cult” that engaged in sex trafficking, forced labor, and racketeering.
Raniere, who was the founder of NXIVM, appealed his conviction. He is currently serving a 120-year sentence at a federal prison in Arizona.
His attorney, Joseph Tully, appeared remotely are went over his allotted 5 minutes. Tully argued that Raniere’s sixth amendment was violated because the prosecution cut off the defense’s cross-examination of the key witness.
“The defense did not get to ask all the questions the defense wanted,” said Tully.
He also argued that images of fetuses that were aborted were shown to the jury, which he said was prejudicial. Tully said the abortion evidence was not relevant to the case.
Tully also argued that the definition of “commercial sex act” was changed during the trial. He said a commercial sex act needs quid pro quo and that was not part of the definition.
Assistant United States Attorney Tanya Hajjar argued on behalf of the government that during the trial, the defense said they needed a certain amount of time and they went over that time. She said the defense also failed to identify what questions they would have asked the witness.
During the defense’s cross-examination, Hajjar said they asked open-ended questions to get favorable answers. As for the definition of “commercial sex act,” she said the slight change in wording did not affect the definition. Hajjar also said the abortion evidence was relevant to the child exploitation charges.
Bronfman’s attorney, Ronald Sullivan, asked the court to vacate her sentence. Bronfman was sentenced to 6 years and 9 months in prison for her role in NXIVM.
Sullivan said her sentence was “procedurally unreasonable” since she was sentenced more than what was written in the sentencing guidelines. He said she received two years more than the prosecution has asked for. Sullivan also said her sentence was disproportionate to the sentencing everyone else in the case received. He brought up the theory of willful blindness, which he said the government brought up for the first time during Bronfman’s sentencing.
Assistant United States Attorney Kevin Trowell argued that Bronfman received a higher sentence because her fraud conviction was part of a broader scheme. He brought up examples of similar cases and said those sentences were higher because of the bigger scheme. Trowell also said the judge took into account during her sentencing that Bronfman was not sorry and said she still supported Raniere.
There were a total of six NXIVM co-defendants, all of whom have been convicted and sentenced. Co-founder Nancy Salzman was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, Lauren Salzman was sentenced to five years probation, and bookkeeper Kathy Russell was sentenced to two years probation.
The Circuit Judges who heard the appeals were Jose A. Cabranes, Guido Calabresi, and Richard J. Sullivan. They reserved their decision for a later date.