This is the second in a series on the exchanges between defense attorney, Marc Agnifilo and Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis at Keith Raniere’s sentencing on October 27. These exchanges occurred while Agnifilo was making his presentation to the judge seeking leniency for his client.
In Part 1: Raniere’s Lawyer Agnifilo and Judge Garaufis Mix It up Over Raniere, we watched Agnifilo argue that Raniere had good intentions when he was with the women who now claim he abused them. We saw the judge rebut the defense attorney arguing Raniere’s sexual relationship with Camila when she was 15 and he was 45 was not well-intentioned.
It is never an equal playing field when a lawyer contests with a judge, especially when that lawyer is trying to persuade the judge to be lenient to his client. We saw Aginfilo backing down, trying to placate the judge, hoping against hope that he can make an argument that, at age 60, Raniere does not deserve life in prison, but rather a 20-year sentence.
Of course, he lost this battle. The judge sentenced Raniere to 120 years.
Agnifilo, clearly a superb lawyer, does his best with the cards he has been dealt. The judge has already made up his mind. Raniere is going to get life. But the defense lawyer is obligated to try his best.
One of the things that should be noted is that the biggest thing Raniere might have done to try to secure leniency, but did not, was to express remorse. To admit he was wrong or evil.
If nothing else, Raniere is consistent and defiant. Maybe others would have caved and cried for mercy, but he, facing almost certain life in prison, and possibly years in solitary, would not offer any note of surrender to his captors .
This he might have done for any number of reasons.
- It might be because doing so would potentially destroy any chance at an appeal.
- It might be due to his pure arrogance, defiance, or pride.
- It might be that he is delusional.
- It might be that he actually thinks he is well-intentioned, that he did not commit these crimes of conviction for they failed in the intent element, and, therefore, he is innocent.
- It might be because he believes that he was trying to help them, but something went askew that was not entirely his fault.
It does not matter at this point what his perspective is. What matters is that Agnifilo could not use remorse as part of his argument for leniency. He could not say his client was sorry for anything he did. His client was not admitting he did anything illegal. And, therefore, he has no remorse for any of the crimes of conviction.
Remorse might have been the only possible argument that Agnifilo could have made that might have possibly had the remotest chance of success with the judge.
So, what we are reviewing here is not a matter in question, but rather a foregone conclusion. Raniere is getting a life sentence. Agnifilo knows it and he knows the judge knows he knows it.
In Part 2 of this series, we also gain some more insights about the judge himself, including some subtle sarcasm.
At the end of Part1, Agnifilo had presented his argument that Raniere was well-intentioned with his students/lovers who now claim to be victims – for most of his female victims were his students as well as lovers.
The judge shut this argument down by bluntly telling Agnifilo that Raniere’s intentions with 15-year-old Camila were never good and could never be good based on him being 45 years old when he first had sex with her.
Momentarily stunned, Agnifilo goes right back to arguing about Raniere’s intentions, saying they were certainly good with the adult women. Agnifilo’s argument is that it is only recently, long after they left him, that these women have decided they are victims.
As we shall see in Part 2, the judge rebuts this by bringing up the litigation that Raniere, funded by Clare Bronfman [and her sister Sara Bronfman], waged against his victims, some of whom are former lovers and/or students.
In order to explain and clarify some of the context, I will make some comments, which will be [in bold and brackets.]
Judge Garuafis is referred to as THE COURT.
Raniere is in the courtroom, seated at the defense table, facing the judge. Most of the victims who spoke are also still in the courtroom.
THE COURT: I am not going to tolerate spending time as to what his intent was when he seduced a 15-year-old girl [Camila]. We are not going there. It is just — it is an insult of the intelligence of anyone who listens. And I just want you to understand, I am not tolerating it. So go on.
AGNIFILO: The point I’m trying to make, Judge, is he did a lot of good things in his life. That’s at the heart of a ‘3553 factor.’
[Federal statute 18 § U.S.C. 3553, states the court must consider certain factors in determining a defendant’s sentence. These are deterrence, protection of the public, rehabilitation and punishment, and to promote respect for the law while reflecting the seriousness of the offense.]
He did a lot of good things to the curriculum. I’m sure Your Honor read all of the letters we submitted from people who still support him and believed in what he is doing. And they are not flying monkeys. They’re nice people. They’re good people, just like the people who have decided to leave NXIVM and have a different view.
They’re all nice people. They’re all people who wanted to improve themselves and to improve humanity. That’s who they all are, including the people who wrote those letters saying that all the wonderful things that he did, all of the wonderful things he did with the community.
The Tourette’s project, we have letters on that, Judge. We have letters from people who had Tourette’s, and who no longer suffer from the — from the effects of Tourette’s, and they credit the — Keith Raniere and Nancy’s [Salzman] work in that regard. And that’s what they say. They wrote these letters to the Court, and I think that’s a very important factor.
Another factor, and we go through this in our sentencing memorandum, is the Mexican Peace Initiative. The Mexican Peace Initiative, we have letters from certain people who lived in Mexico who have first-hand information about the work that Keith Raniere and others did to try and stop the kidnappings in Mexico, including someone who lived in a small, rundown, poor community in Mexico for a period of 18 months and tried to show this small town in Mexico that they could sort of organize a community and take care of each other and live together and make their lives better.
And this was all inspired by Keith Raniere.
And my point, Judge, and I think it’s an important point, I think it’s a very important point, just what we had this morning, is that people believed in this work. They believed in him, and now they [the victims who spoke] feel betrayed. And now they look back at what happened back then through a different lens, and I don’t think it’s accurate, is my point.
I don’t want to — I’m not going to get into the details. I don’t know that every statement that was made this morning to Your Honor was factually correct. I don’t think they all were. And so we don’t need to dissect each one, because the important thing is this is how these people feel. But my point is they don’t feel this because Mr. Raniere was cruel to them at the time. They view him as having been cruel now. That’s what –
THE COURT: Well, that is not entirely accurate. It may be that some of what they say is erroneous, it may be insincere, it may be excessive, or it may be untrue. But what about the situation where your client used the financial resources of a multimillionaire [Clare Bronfman – and factually her sister, Sara Bronfman-Igtet] to go after in litigation many people who had no resources in order to destroy their reputation, to have them declare bankruptcy, to have them put in jail because they would not go along with his approach to the way the world should work, the way NXIVM should work, the way these programs should work?
And he and Ms. Bronfman chased them down wherever they were, in the State of Washington, in Mexico, or wherever they happened to be — or Florida. According to these victims they were being not only harassed, they were being further victimized because of the fact that they did not continue to be interested in the program. That was then. That is not now. Some of it [the litigation] may be continuing. But what about that?
MR. AGNIFILO: I — I —
THE COURT: He was using — according to them, and clearly she was in a position, Ms. Bronfman, was in a position to provide the resources to do it, he was using those tools, the use of lawyers, and the use of proceedings to victimize people who felt at the time, they realized or believed, that they were being victimized, you know, what about that?
THE COURT: He [Raniere] didn’t just say to these people, ‘You know, I did my best with you. I tried to help you. Go with God.’ He did not do that. What he did was he went after them.
AGNIFILO: I have a response.
THE COURT: Yeah, I am waiting.
AGNIFILO: So, in May of 2017, and I don’t need to name names, because I named them in my sentencing memorandum —
THE COURT: You can name names.
AGNIFILO: Sarah Edmondson and two other people broke into the NXIVM computer from Vancouver. We have the data. We have the information. And, apparently, Clare Bronfman went to Vancouver and tried to bring a criminal investigation for computer tampering.
THE COURT: Well, do you mean —
AGNIFILO: — because there was computer tampering.
THE COURT: [this looks like beautiful sarcasm]— something like what was arranged for Daniela to create the malware to break into Edgar Bronfman’s computer [at Raniere’s command]? That kind of —
THE COURT: — that kind of behavior? Is that the same idea?
AGNIFILO: No, it’s not the same idea. I think the idea was that Sarah didn’t want her friends or certain people she cared about to stay in NXIVM, and so she went into the computer and she eliminated – she changed the computer files so that their credit cards wouldn’t be billed. I mean, it’s very specific information, you know. And at the end of the day, Vancouver did or did not, you know, bring an investigation and certainly didn’t bring any charges. So that’s what happened with that.
[Agnifilo is focused on a single incident among the dozens of cases where Bronfman and Raniere went after adversaries either civilly or criminally or both. No charges were filed against Edmondson, despite Bronfman making a criminal complaint.]
What happened with the information that was NXIVM’s information that people got when they took the courses is it was published on a website [Frank Report], and that might be a violation of intellectual property rights.
And there was a long litigation, we discussed it at the trial at length, and that was something that happened because they reasonably believed — lawyers, with good lawyers — and one thing that I want to add that Kristin Keeffe in her letter to Your Honor mentioned someone named Steve Coffey. [Raniere and Bronfman’s very well-connected Albany lawyer].
Steve Coffey was a lawyer, an independent lawyer, a highly regarded lawyer, at a law firm in Albany [O’Connell and Aronowitz] and, former, I think, Albany County prosecutor and he made a lot of these decisions. [about who to sue and how to sue them.]
I mean, this is not, you know, Clare on her own or Keith on his own [deciding to sue people]. Do I think personally that they would have benefitted by adult lawyer supervision at the time? Yeah, I do.
[Agnifilo is blaming Steve Coffey for not being ‘an adult’ and encouraging Keith and Clare to pursue more lawsuits than they should have, because he should have known better, he should have put the brakes on them.]
I think they [Raniere and Bronfman] could have really benefitted from adult lawyer supervision. And say [Agnifilo means an ‘adult,’ honest, ethical lawyer should have said to Coffey and the other lawyers for Bronfman-Raniere], “You know what? You guys are burning a lot midnight oil over a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter, and you’re creating a lot of problems.”
[At this point Judge Garaufis can hear no more. He has to shut down Agnifilo for he knows a little bit himself about how lawyers work.]
THE COURT: And what the client does — pardon me, if I exercise my independent judgment here — what a client does if a lawyer says that and the client just wants to harass and attack and has the resources to do it, that lawyer — that client goes and finds a lawyer who will do it, because there’s got to be a lawyer out there who is willing to take the money, take the fee, and will do what the client wants and not exercise independent judgment. That’s just the way of the world.
So, you know, I think it’s naïve to say that adult lawyer supervision might prevail. Not if you are a — not if you’re someone with a lot of money and you are looking to harass somebody with legal process, which may or may not be justified. Some of it may be justified. I am not saying it is not or it is.
But it is pretty hard for some lawyers to turn down a retainer from a multimillionaire, someone with deep pockets who wants to go after somebody because he or she feels he has been wronged or he wants to get back at them. We could discuss this all day. So let’s go on.
[That issue did not go well for the defense.]
THE COURT: So the next issue.
[Agnifilo does not move on to the next issue, but continues to argue that the litigation that sought to destroy Raniere’s enemies – formerly his lovers and students – was partially justified as a self-defense measure.]
AGNIFILO: Yes, Judge. I think part of the reason that happened [the many, many lawsuits initiated by Raniere and funded by the Bronfman sisters] is I think this [Nxivm] community felt like it was being attacked. And what we — I think we saw in some of the trial evidence is we saw Keith and Kristin [Keeffe] for a while because we had their emails, and Keith and Clare for a while because we have some of their emails; what appears to be reasonably believing that people are trying to undo them.
[There was trial evidence submitted of emails of Raniere, Keeffe, Bronfman and Emiliano Salinas discussing the need to spy on various people, including federal judges, reporters, consultants, Nxivm critics, former Nxivm members and Raniere lovers, because Raniere said there was a conspiracy against him, to destroy him and deprive them of justice. He wanted to find out the bank accounts of these people to show, he said, that they had been bribed. The Bronfman sisters hired and paid a Canadian private investigation firm, Canaprobe, about $1 million. It turned out that Canaprobe defrauded them, giving them phony reports about the bank accounts of federal judges and others. The Bronfman sisters wound up suing Canaprobe. Sara and Clare were never charged for illegally spying on federal judges and others. Steve Coffey’s firm handled some of the spying, using the Canaprobe firm, it has been alleged, to avoid US laws against invasion of privacy. This writer is one of the numerous people who was spied on. See a list of some of the people Bronfman-Raniere spied on with Canaprobe here.]
You now, there might be an aspect of paranoia to it. There might be. I mean, some of that I felt was showcased in the evidence. There were times when Keith thought people were following him or outside his house or whatnot.
[It is not known if there really were people after Raniere. Kristin Keeffe said that he made up these stories to justify his spying on others, the filing of criminal complaints, and the relentless civil litigation. She said his purpose was to keep everyone in Nxivm concerned and worried about him, and to foster feelings of doing anything to be protective for him, convinced he was the victim and that his goodness and purity were the natural enemy of evildoers in the world.]
So, you know, yes, I think they were looking to protect themselves.
Do I think they brought too much litigation? Absolutely. But, you know, here we are all these years later. So I don’t know that that, you know, is really — one of the factors I think is the most important for sentencing.
[With this remark, Agnifilo concluded his argument on the litigation being justified. Overall, this did not go over well, it seems, with the judge. But there was little Agnifilo could do.
As we remarked before, the judge had it well settled in his mind that Raniere’s relationship with 15-year-old Camila was obscene, and his lawsuits against his former lovers, students, and business associates belied any argument that Raniere was well-intentioned.
So far, Agnifilo was unable to persuade the judge that Raniere deserved any leniency at all. And we see the spectacle of the judge debating and debunking Agnifilo’s arguments as he makes them, one by one.
However, as we shall see in the next part of this series, Agnifilo will make an argument that no one has ever made on behalf of Raniere before. He will actually speak about what he thinks is a deep psychological deficiency in Raniere, something I am quite certain Raniere did not approve. Stay tuned.]