US Attorney Richard Donoghue with Assistant US Attorney Moira Penza at press conference following Keith Alan Raniere's conviction.

Moira Penza Did Great Job Prosecuting Raniere – and Deserves Her Big Payday

Dianne Lipson was Frank Report’s correspondent at the trial of Keith Alan Raniere. She attended the entire trial and made daily reports for Frank Report, Artvoice and also for Tony Ortega, the renowned blogger who took on Scientology and operates the Underground Bunker.

We previously reported the change of jobs for Assistant US Attorney Moira Penza – she has gone into private practice – leaving the DOJ EDNY – after her noteworthy victory in the Raniere case.

Dianne also had a story about it – which first appeared on Ortega’s website under the headline Keith Raniere’s prosecutor gets her reward, parachutes to private practice. With Ortega’s kind permission, I am reprinting Lipson’s story on Frank Report.

It should be of interest to readers because it offers insight into how Penza performed at the trial from someone who was there and responsible for reporting her observations.

By Dianne Lipson 

Moira Penza, the lead government attorney on the team that convicted Nxivm leader Keith Raniere, has left the Department of Justice to re-enter private practice. She has joined the boutique law firm of Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz.

In her prosecution of Raniere, Penza made a significant contribution to women’s issues and the #MeToo movement, according to the Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz website:

In a groundbreaking prosecution, Raniere and his co-defendants were charged with racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, involving an array of crimes including child exploitation, sex trafficking, forced labor, identity theft, extortion, money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice, as well as stand-alone counts of sex trafficking and other crimes. Following a six-week trial, where Moira served as first chair for the government, Raniere was convicted of all charges. Moira’s prosecution of Raniere has generated worldwide media attention and has been credited with paving the way for other high profile sex trafficking prosecutions against powerful individuals.

It seemed from my observation that Penza took a personal interest in stopping the abuses of Keith Raniere and NXIVM.

Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult by [Oxenberg, Catherine]

In her book Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult, Catherine Oxenberg, mother of former DOS slave India Oxenberg, described her overwhelming relief when she was informed that prosecutors, along with the FBI, had “moved in aggressively” on NXIVM.

Catherine Oxenberg [l] was deeply appreciative of the efforts Moira Penza made to prosecute Keith Alan Raniere. Her daughter, India [r], was a virtual captive in the cult but managed to escape its clutches after Raniere was arrested.
Ms. Oxenberg’s lawyer, Art Middlemiss, added that “Assistant US Attorney Moira Kim Penza was particularly moved by your story.”

Oxenberg writes, ” It had taken a woman and a mother to understand. It had taken a woman to respond to my call for help.”

A moment in court stands out for me.

On May 14, in a discussion in open court when the jurors were not present, Raniere’s attorney Marc Agnifilo urged that Kristen Keeffe be called as a witness regarding her role in investigating NXIVM’s perceived enemies.

Ms. Keeffe, the mother of Raniere’s first child, is no longer involved in NXIVM. She has been in hiding, along with the child, in fear of the long reach of Keith Raniere and NXIVM.

Mr. Agnifilo argued, “So what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to bring in a mountain of controversial, very nuanced, very difficult evidence without calling the witness who actually did all this. . . . they should call [as a witness] Kristin Keeffe and put all this stuff in through her. . . . They’re making a judgment decision not to call her because they’re afraid of the cross, and maybe they should be. That’s the witness who did it.”

In Ms. Penza’s angry retort, she said, “Mr. Agnifilo is the one who’s afraid of Kristin Keeffe, because the defendant tortured her, and so that is, that’s why he hasn’t spoken to her.”

Ms. Penza’s furious emphasis on the word “tortured” make me feel how deeply she was invested in seeking justice for the sake of Ms. Keeffe and the other NXIVM victims.

Penza in High Heels

Assistant US Attorney Moira Penza in her turquoise suede high heels – with Deputy US Attorney Mark Lesko – leaving court. Both worked together on the trial of Keith Alan Raniere. {Photo Dianne Lipson.]

An amusing sidenote: Heels are not comfortable shoes, but most female attorneys wear sky-high heels in court.

A law student told me the reason for this is so they will appear taller in comparison to the men, and also to project confidence.

The attorney with the best heels was always Ms. Penza. She did not have a lot of shoes, but the ones she had were beautiful, fashionable, and very well cared for. One that really popped was a stunning pair of turquoise suede heels. Suede in a shade like that is hell to maintain, but hers were immaculate. The saturation of the color in the leather showed that they were really expensive.

Tanya Hajjar (m) and Moira Kim Penza (r) – Photo by Tom Gargiulo

At the Frank Report, Frank Parlato wrote that Penza said in an interview that the law firm she has joined has a commitment to advancing women.

Parlato speculates that Penza will now earn significantly more, going from an estimated salary of $175,000 at the DOJ to a possible $1 million per year between salary and partnership distributions at the new job.

I wish Moira Penza continued success in her new role, and I am happy that her brilliance, dedication, and hard work has been well rewarded. I have to admit, though it may be incorrect to say so, I also can’t help thinking that she will now have a lot more pretty shoes.

In other news, The Albany Times Union reports that Teny Geragos, an attorney on Raniere’s defense team, has applied to work as a prosecutor for the Eastern District, which was Penza’s previous role. Government prosecutor Tanya Hajjar has requested that a hearing be held to determine if Raniere has any objection to Geragos continuing to represent him in light of a possible conflict of interest on her part.

If this hearing takes place, it will be the first glimpse we will have of Raniere since he was convicted in June.

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  • One must keep in mind the prosecution had the “kink factor” to consider.

    I voiced that fear early on especially because the defense attorney, in interviews, attempted to use that defense by saying they were all consenting adults.

  • I’m just gonna answer the title because of how misleading it is…

    No, she didn’t do a great job.

    She was biased on one side of the defendant and didn’t understood that the case was about Raniere and only raniere.
    Everyone else had a guilty plea and a plea deal…

    She did a better job at deflecting the accusation on to others than Agnifillo could do!

    She refused to hear one of the witness because she would sound too much like a victim.

    She ignored several rules and could have brought this case to a mistrial.

    The rest of the team and the jury are the only Reason this case brought a guilty verdict.

    She was too busy asking unrelated question to see that.

    Praise the other prosecutor but Penza?

    And like it or not, going from DOJ to private law is a step down…period (it’s not disputable either…unless an idiot (an usually lawyer aren’t)

    If she moved from assistant attorney to attorney, that is a reward…but going back to private law, with a position not clearly stated…hardly a step up)

    BTW what the…shoes ? really? so that’s why she was good? you point 1 moment where she was “invested” while she was not!
    Raniere could have got away because of her careless actions.

    IF the other prosecutors and the jury (and some of the witnesses) weren’t there, Raniere would be acquitted.

    The judge had to recall her several time before trial because of what was happening…
    a reminder:
    Arrest in march and April , release of the “proofs” around november/december…

    She was dragging this case to the point were ,once again, the judge had to react.

    She was terrible , extremely clumsy …but she had nice shoes right?
    I guess i Don’t know my priorities.

    • DOJ attorneys aren’t paid nearly as much as private law firm partners, plus that position is a political one, so a new President usually means they have to look for new private jobs at a time when the market is flooded with other fired DOJ attorneys and you may not have had the best recent resume when being fired. It’s smart to get out when the gettin’ is good.

  • Nice tribute to Penza — she’s one of my new personal heroes and I, too, wish her a future shoe closet to rival Imelda Marcos.

    Sorry to see her leave public service though she’s already done the greatest public service imaginable in a single lifetime by ridding society of one Keith Alan Raniere!

    Thanks, Dianne!

  • Shoes? The main topic is her high-heeled SHOES? The color? The quality? Suede? Now Penza will be able to afford even more of them, and more expensive ones? How vapid. LOL

    The overwhelming evidence made this an easy case to win. There wasn’t even a defense, so she only had to present her case and not refute the other side’s case.

  • Just because Dianne attended the trial in person doesn’t really persuade me to accept her opinion, except to note her own biases towards Penza.

    i.e., Talking about her bravery for wearing ‘high heels’ (and noting how beautiful she thought those pink heels were) is rather silly since Penza CHOSE to wear those shoes, she wasn’t required to wear heels to court. It tells me that Dianne has become enamored with Penza and is extremely biased to see only the good in her, while ignoring the bad decisions she made at trial.

    I disagree with Dianne Lipson’s praise of Penza.

    I thought that the government won its case DESPITE Penza being first chair, not because of it.

    The government had a ‘no lose case’ and I thought that Penza’s extreme streamlining of the case — whittling it down to just a few witnesses — made Keith seem far less guilty than he really was.

    It boiled down to a few gals saying a few bad things, while denying the jury the MOUNTAIN of evidence that would have made Keith seem like the rodent & turd that he is.

    I’m surprised the jury convicted on all counts so quickly since Penza hung her entire case on just a couple witnesses.

    I thought she was a chickenshit for keeping Mack, Nancy and others off the witness stand.

    Why?

    Cuz the ‘excess baggage’ carried by Mack and other witnesses (i.e., the admission of their own countless bad deeds which would have come out during cross examination) would have cast even MORE negative light on Keith too, since he was the grandmaster of DOS and the de facto leader of ESP and NXIVM.

    Penza was a chickenshit and a coward IMO. She was afraid of her own shadow.

    That’s why she also chickened out and let Clare Bear buy herself a better-than-deserved plea deal.

    Penza was afraid of going to trial with Clare cuz she’s a coward, LOL.

    But the reality is that Clare would have been easily convicted at trial.

    Even an ambulance chasing douchebag (like Claviger) could have convicted Clare at trial.

    Even an intern (fresh out of law school) could have convicted Clare at trial.

    Even a drunk prosecutor suffering from the flu could have convicted Clare Bear at trial. 🙂

    The evidence was overwhelming. Clare should not have been given a sweetheart deal by Penza the chickenshit prosecutor.

    Prosecutors need spines and nerves of steel, both of which Penza is sorely lacking.

    I really think Penza was an okay prosecutor at best. Glad she’s gone.

    The next round of indictments need a prosecutor who won’t grant easy plea deals. 🙂

    • This was a fair comment, Frank. You’re just afraid to criticize certain people (like Penza and Dianne), which is why you deny approving these fair posts.

      You’re not journalist, Frank.

      You’re a pathetic kiss ass, looking not to offend your chosen buddies or heroes.

      You should stop deciding who can be offended and just decide if the comments are fair or not.

      Fuck you and I hope you get ASS CANCER, you cocksucker. 🙂

      I bid you a nice day. 🙂

  • One question remains unanswered: what about Penza’s promise to provide assistance with the investigation that, apparently in some legal fantasy, would lead to those quickly banished-from-the-EDNY indictments being brought to the NDNY?

    Is it possible her assistance was not required because no one is going to bother with those indictments? If so, then I guess all that’s left to say is Viva Executive Success.

    • “Is it possible her assistance was not required because no one is going to bother with those indictments? If so, then I guess all that’s left to say is Viva Executive Success.”

      If you’re correct and the prosecution ends in Brooklyn, then the whole NXIVM investigation is a sham.

      Sure Raniere gets taken down but he was just one person.

      A child in a man’s body.

      The real crimes of NXIVM were conducted by middle management.

      And in a few years, they will all be on the loose and ready to resume their criminal behavior.

  • The problem with the prosecution in this case is that it plea bargained too many charges away.
    Arguably Clare Bronfman and Nancy Salzman did great damage and over a long period of time victimized many people.
    And those two villains get away with little or nothing unless the NDNY or New York State pick up the ball and run with it.
    And enough of NXIVM’s top tier leadership will get away to reform the criminal gang and continue with business as usual.
    Keith Raniere, as bad as he is, is not the only gangster in NXIVM.

    • As long as that “top tier leadership” is Claire Bronfman, Nicki Clyne and Lauren Saltzman, I’m pretty sure the world is for the most part safe. Those who would pay good money for ersatz “self enlightenment”, on the other hand, will NEVER be safe, and if NXIVM doesn’t separate them from their money, another charlatan or group will. NXIVM is a new age version of the late Jimmy Breslin’s “gang that couldn’t shoot straight”, and if it weren’t for Sarah Edmondson thinking being on the front page of the New York Times was a good career move it might still be business as usual for Keith and his crew

      NDNY “picking up the ball and running with it”? Maybe, but you have to get over your notion that NXIVM “terrorized” the Capital District. I have friends who have lived in Clifton Park NY for nearly 20 years and had never heard of NXIVM and ESP.

      I wish Frank Report was a little more NYC-centric, and that Frank Report would turn its investigative eye towards NYC’s most dangerous crime family: the fauxgressive Mayor Bill deBlasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray. Ms McCray was entrusted with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for a mental health initiative (Thrive NYC) and can not seem to account for most of this money.

      I agree with the idea that there was too much plea bargaining done in the prosecution of Raniere, but you have to realize that a popular saying in Brooklyn, where Raniere was tried, is that “a fish rots from the head”.

    • If you live near a pig farm, keep watching the animals there. I have heard tell that the NDNY is going to make amends for everything bargained away — and more! — when those barnyard critters take flight. Keep watching.

    • Agree. This was such a slam dunk against Raniere & Co. The DOJ didn’t need Salzman’s testimony, they had plenty of evidence and other witnesses they could have pulled in. At the very least, the DOJ could have offered to drop the charges except at least one of the 15 year minimum charges and forced the defendants to either deal from that level or go to trial. Penza came off as a man-hating feminist.

About Frank Parlato

About Frank Parlato

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

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