Keith Raniere always wanted others to think of him as extraordinary.
That’s why he made up all those stupid stories about himself:
– He could speak full sentences at the age of 1.
– He was the East Coast Judo Champion at the age of 12.
– He tied the New York State record for the 100-yard dash.
And all the other nonsensical things that he told his adoring followers.
But, as federal prosecutors continue to pursue charges against sex perverts like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein, it’s quite possible that Raniere’s name will someday be used to describe the prosecutorial strategy that was used to bring him down.
Human Trafficking & RICO: a Potent Combo
Back in 2011, Kendal Nicole Smith, a law student at George Mason Law School, wrote a Law Review article that looked at the possibility of federal prosecutors utilizing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) in order to supplement prosecutions under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”).
At the time, such prosecutions were relatively rare – and were generally limited to cases that involved gangs such as MS-13 that were involved in human trafficking activities.
In the article, Smith pointed out some of the advantages that RICO would provide to prosecutors:
– Longer prison sentences that the underlying criminal acts would result in.
– Able to bypass statute-of-limitations issues for the underlying acts.
– Able to include acts that had already been part of a prior state or federal prosecutions.
– Potential forfeiture of assets.
She also pointed out that victims of RICO crimes could also bring civil actions against their perpetrators in order to receive financial restitution.
According to Smith, the first indictment alleging human trafficking as a foundation for a criminal RICO charge was filed on May 6, 2009 against eleven defendants who were involved with a company named Giant Labor Solutions (The indictment included 143 separate counts).
A subsequent superseding indictment in the case included charges of forced labor, aggravated identity theft, money laundering, visa fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion (The case was still pending at the time Smith wrote the article).
Smith concluded her article by noting that “RICO offers prosecutors a ready-made statute intended to combat organized crime and provides harsher penalties that serve as a greater deterrent to traffickers”.
Applying the Same Concepts & Principles to Lesser Cases
Although most of the early RICO/TVPA cases involved large criminal enterprises, Moira Kim Penza – and the other members of her Eastern District of New York (EDNY) prosecution team – utilized the same concepts and principles in prosecuting Keith Raniere.
While it is not known if this was the first instance in which federal prosecutors utilized these concepts and principles against a relatively small-scale operation, it certainly won’t be the last.
Already, we’ve seen federal prosecutors in the EDNY utilize similar tactics against R. Kelly.
The EDNY’s 5-count indictment against Kelly included charges for racketeering, forced labor, and alleged Mann Act violations (Kelly has also been charged separately in a 13-count federal indictment in Illinois – and on state-level charges in Illinois and Minnesota).
According to the EDNY indictment, Kelly and others engaged in an illegal scheme to “promote R. Kelly’s music and the R. Kelly brand and to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly”.
By structuring the charges against R. Kelly as a RICO case, federal prosecutors put themselves in a position where they can attempt to gain control of his entire music catalog and residual income.
And given the jury’s swift verdict in the Raniere case, they also increased the pressure on Kelly to take a plea deal rather than going to trial.
The Feds Were Likely Planning a Similar Strategy for Epstein
At the time he was arrested back on July 8th, Jeffrey Epstein was only indicted on two federal charges: Sex Trafficking and Sex Trafficking Conspiracy.
It seems inevitable, however, that federal prosecutors would have eventually expanded the case to include a RICO charge and a RICO Conspiracy charge.
Such charges would have allowed the feds to have gone after several of Epstein’s properties – including his Manhattan mansion, his Palm Beach estate, and his New Mexico ranch.
Although the feds can no longer bring such charges against Epstein because of his alleged suicide on August 10th, it’s possible that they will still bring such charges against Ghislaine Maxwell and others who were part of Epstein’s criminal enterprise.
The only hitch, of course, is that none of those individuals is worth nearly as much as Epstein was.
What about Harvey Weinstein?
Thus far, disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has only been charged with the state-level crimes of sexual assault, rape in the first degree, rape in the third degree, and a criminal sexual, act in the first degree.
Weinstein – who many consider to be the “Grandfather” of the modern-day movement for the prosecution of sex-related crimes – has been accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct by more than 80 women in California, New York, and England.
But, thus far, no federal prosecutor has stepped up to charge him with any federal crimes.
That could change – especially since his trial in New York has been postponed until January of next year.
Reports have circulated for more than a year that federal prosecutors were investigating whether Weinstein may have committed wire fraud or violated one or more other federal statutes in his attempts to muzzle his accusers.
The federal investigation is reportedly centered on Weinstein’s relationship with Black Cube, a private intelligence company that is primarily run by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies.
Benjamin Brafman, Weinstein’s lead attorney, has previously stated that he met with Manhattan federal prosecutors and told them Black Cube’s activities were supervised by prominent lawyers “who would never have authorized illegal activity of any kind.”
Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to be enough for the feds to close down their investigation of Weinstein.
Author’s Note: We’ve been following Harvey Weinstein’s case since he was first indicted – and we’re planning to do some more reporting on him as his case moves forward. In this regard, we believe the original charges against Weinstein contributed to the political climate that resulted in the EDNY investigating, indicting, prosecuting, and convicting Keith Raniere. it may be the only decent thing that Weinstein did in his entire life.
Thanks for that bit of legal analysis.
It’s an interesting point that Weinstein did set the stage (the NYT broke his story about 2 weeks before NXIVM’s), even though his case has been slower to come to trial.
I’m also heartened if the use of private investigators is being scrutinized in his case; it’s become an all too common subterfuge, frequently abused by Scientology, to have lawyers hire private investigators to cloak activity in attorney-client privilege, or for those investigators to engage in aggressive and deceptive “noisy investigations” as Scientology calls them, by doing things such as impersonating journalists. If there is conspiratorial activity that is, a certain sense, widespread, it’s that sort of very real thing that worries me.
And we can only hope the NDNY will build on EDNY’s precedent.
Nx ordered to reimburse trial costs of their private eye firm that settled lawsuit with anti-cult crusader Rick Ross.
I greatly enjoyed this article and appreciate the time you took to weave the legal ‘mumbo jumbo’ into a comprehensible whole.
One caveat “Lady Justice’s sword is double-edged”, whatever power you grant the government can be misused.
RICO is a very powerful law and the full force of it has yet to be completely explored.
Not only can RICO criminal charges be filed against the NXIVM defendants but civil RICO lawsuits can be filed in sex trafficking cases.
Already civil RICO charges have been filed against Harvey Weinstein, the Weinstein Company and high ranking executives and directors in the company.
These civil RICO lawsuits can bring triple damages.
The NXIVM defendants are not out of the woods by any means.
Their troubles might just be starting.
Weinstein will go to jail despite his wealth.
Their is an ocean of credible evidence against him.
Nobody will remember Raniere. Weinstein and Epstein have already overshadowed him.
Weinstein is so big that he overshadows everyone.
Setiously. He was a news minute with years of bad juju for everyone who had anything to do with him, dragging everyone down and him not caring but for the books and Lifetime movies about him. Such a selfish man.