The key cooperating witness in the federal prosecution of Keith Alan Raniere, Lauren Salzman, is scheduled to be sentenced on July 28, 2021.
Here is the text of Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis’ order:
Full docket text:
ORDER: Defendant Lauren Salzman’s sentencing hearing is SCHEDULED for Wednesday, July 28, 2021 at 11:00 a.m.
The court DIRECTS the parties to adhere to the following schedule with respect to their pre-sentencing submissions:
Ms. Salzman shall file her objections, if any, to the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) by June 21, 2021; the Government and Probation Office shall file their responses to Ms. Salzman’s objections by July 2, 2021; Ms. Salzman may file a reply by July 9, 2021.
Additionally, the Government shall make its sentencing submission by no later than July 16, 2021; and Ms. Salzman shall make her sentencing submission by no later than July 23, 2021.
The Government shall submit any Victim Impact Statements by no later than July 16, 2021 and shall inform the court by July 23, 2021 whether any victims wish to attend the sentencing hearing and, if so, which of them wish to speak at the hearing.
Ordered by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis on 5/28/2021. (Freund, Zachary)
Just as Allison Mack will have a busy June with the flurry of documents that need to be filed by the defense, prosecution and the Probation Department during the lead up to her sentencing, Lauren will be facing a similar July. Mack is scheduled to be sentenced on June 30.
If the judge continues to adhere to setting sentencing one month apart for the remaining two as yet unscheduled sentencings – of Kathy Russell’s and Nancy Salzman’s – we might see all six NXIVM defendants sentenced by the end of September.
It took more than two years for this sentencing date for Salzman to be set. She pleaded guilty to two felony counts — racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.
Her plea deal came on the heels of her mother’s, who fared on paper a little better than Lauren, walking away with a single felony – Racketeering Conspiracy.
In making her plea deal, Lauren chose to sign a cooperation agreement and testified for the prosecution during the Raniere trial which took place in May-June 2019.
In exchange for her “truthful testimony” against Raniere, the prosecution agreed to inform the sentencing judge that Lauren provided truthful testimony and assisted the prosecution of Raniere – and, perhaps most significantly, not to recommend a specific sentence.
Typically, prosecutors recommend sentences to the judge that are higher than they expect to get, as an antidote to the defense who argue for lighter sentences.
In Lauren’s case, the only recommendations the judge will get will come from the defense attorneys and the Probation Department. The Probation Department is technically under the judiciary and is supposed to be separate and distinct and acting independently from the prosecution.
When Lauren testified she told the jury about her cooperation agreement, informing them that she faced up to 20 years in prison for her charges. [Actually, she faces up to 40 years, for the judge could sentence her to consecutive sentences – both racketeering charges come with a 20 year maximum sentence.]
It was on the witness stand that the public learned about Salzman’s story of her 20-year relationship with Raniere, starting in 2001.
She became one of Raniere’s closest women – and participated in numerous consensual sexual activities with him. She testified that this occurred sometimes with him alone and also with other women, notably the late Pamela Cafrirz, who has been described as the keeper of the harem.
Raniere nicknamed Lauren as “Forlorn” or “Lorn” because, he said, she had a self-indulgently sorrowful disposition.
During the trial, Lauren told a “forlorn” story of how Raniere kept promising to father a child with her – but only when she achieved the “ethical standard” approximating his, thereby demonstrating she was worthy.
Since Lauren believed Raniere had achieved a uniquely high ethical standard, he was the sole arbiter of whether she ever achieved the standard, which, she disclosed, he never felt she did.
Salzman came to work full-time for the company, then called Executive Success Programs, a few years after its inception. Her mother, Nancy, was the titular head, and Lauren soon became a teacher, recruiter and, in time, a member of the executive board.
She was in charge of education for NXIVM.
She bought a house and built a room for a nursery in it with the hope that she would be judged worthy to be the mother of Raniere’s child.
She lost the chance at motherhood with Raniere for several years, she testified, because she happened to roughhouse with another man at a volleyball game. The roughhousing involved her jumping on top of the other man on the volleyball court in a playful manner.
During her testimony, Salzman said that she was a member of Raniere’s “inner circle” which she noted included 25 people. She also testified that before they had engaged in any sexual activity, Raniere offered to help her evaluate what her perfect weight was – and, in order to do that, the scientifically minded Raniere required to see her in her underwear.
She also testified that when Raniere first started to pay attention to her, she was living at her mother’s house. Raniere advised her to move out of her mother’s house, but not to tell her mother it was his idea. At the same time, he advised her mother to push Lauren to move out of the house but to not tell Lauren it was his idea.
Soon after she had her own apartment, Raniere was able to persuade the bright, young attractive woman to abandon her earlier dream of seeking a husband and having children and instead, to be part of something much more rarefied – to be part of his harem – where it seems, he suggested, she would be his number one woman – since it was she that he proposed to have a child with.
In February 2017, Salzman became the last of the “first line” masters to be invited into DOS. She soon became DOS’s top recruiter. In fact, it was one of her recruits, Sarah Edmondson, who was the first to break the vow of secrecy and tell the Frank Report of the existence of DOS.
Lauren was with Raniere when he was arrested in Mexico on March 26, 2018. On July 24 of that same year, she was arrested herself.
She also testified that she was with Raniere during the harrowing moments when several men, some of them in the uniform of the Mexican Federal Police, took Raniere in handcuffs from the Mexican seaside villa that he and several of his slaves were residing in.
It was an ironic change of fortune. On that very day, Salzman was to participate with four other women in a “recommitment ceremony” to relaunch DOS, which had ceased to brand women or recruit since Frank Report revealed its existence in June 2017.
As part of the ceremony – and indicative that DOS really was, at least in part, a sex cult – the five women recommitting were to jointly perform fellatio on Raniere, the leader of DOS.
The upshot of the ruined ceremony is that instead of experiencing an event to ring in the rebirth of DOS, Raniere’s life of freedom and sexual encounters with women ended. He was expelled from Mexico, arrested in the US, failed to win the judge’s consent to be granted bail, was convicted at trial, and was sentenced to 120-years in federal prison.
His loyal financier, Clare Bronfman, was sentenced to 81 months for far less serious charges than Salzman pleaded guilty to.
However, unlike Bronfman, Salzman was a cooperating witness and her role in the trial was powerful and emotional.
During her cross-examination by Raniere’s defense attorney, Marc Agnifilo, Salzman began to weep inconsolably and Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis chose to stop Agnifilo from questioning her further.
The weeping occurred after Agnifilo began a line of questioning that was clearly designed to impeach her by showing that the reason she pled guilty and was now testifying against Raniere was to get her out of the trial – and save her from a lengthy prison sentence and not because she or Raniere was guilty. He did this by attempting to elicit from her that she did not have criminal intent.
On the witness stand, as she wept and appeared to be near a breakdown into hysteria, Lauren was about to, and arguably did admit that she had no criminal intent. Intent is one of the elements needed to prove the crime of racketeering.
Her admission might have unhinged her cooperation agreement, which required her to admit she knowingly, willfully and intentionally committed racketeering acts as part of the criminal enterprise that was run by Raniere and his 25-member inner circle.
The very last question she was asked on cross-examination was: “What was your intention when you were in DOS?”
Salzman said, “My intention was to prove to Keith that I was not so far below the ethical standard that he holds that I was – I don’t even how far below I am. I was trying to prove my self-worth, and salvage this string of hope of what I thought my relationship might some day be, and I put it above other people, helping them in their best interest. That’s what I did when I was in DOS.”
At this point, the judge interrupted and said “Okay, that’s it. We are done.”
After Lauren was excused, Agnifilo said to the judge, “I don’t know why Your Honor cut off my cross-examination.”
Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis responded:
“If you want to know, you went way over the line as far as I’m concerned with regard to this witness. You could have asked your questions and moved on to the next question, but you kept coming back, and I am not going to have someone have a nervous breakdown on the witness stand in front of – – excuse me, this is not DOS. This is not the allegations. This is a broken person, as far as I can tell.
“And whether she’s telling the truth, whether the jury believes her. I think it’s absolutely necessary that there be a certain level of consideration for someone’s condition And that’s really what this was. You had plenty of – if you have other things to say, you could have gone on and said them. But what I had here was, I had a crisis here. And not in my courtroom.
“I have to sentence this defendant and what you did was, basically, ask her to make legal judgments about whether what she did in pleading guilty was farcical that she took somebody else’s advice, some lawyer, so she could get out from under a trial. I thought that really went pretty far beyond the pale, frankly.”
Agnifilo: Your Honor, I –
Judge: I took her guilty plea, sir. All right?
Agnifilo: I am not trying to argue with you. I am not trying to argue with you.
Judge: Then don’t argue with me.
Agnifilo: No –
Judge: You can take your appeal if you should not be successful. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I thought it was extremely excruciating. When I tried to cut off the line of questioning, you just went right back to the line of questioning. You could have gone on to something else. You could have. I may not get everything right up here, but I will tell you, as a human being, it was the right decision. Alright? And before I’m a judge, I’m a human being. And that goes for everybody in this room, and it includes you and the Government. And I am not going to allow someone to be placed in this circumstance and that let it continue. I am the one who is disappointed. I’m done.”
According to Raniere’s appeal filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the cutting off of Lauren Salzman’s testimony is a major issue that demands the reversal of Raniere’s convictions.
In that appeal, Raniere’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, wrote: “The district court’s abrupt termination of defense counsel’s cross-examination of Salzman before the jury interfered with Defendant’s right to a fair trial and his right to confront the government witness, including on the subject matter of whether Salzman pled guilty because she was actually guilty.
“Defense counsel promptly moved for a mistrial on account of the district court cutting off his cross-examination, identifying a number of areas of cross that Defendant was unable to confront the witness with including: (1) the impact of her potential jail term on her decision to cooperate; (2) certain other facts she learned in discovery that caused her in hindsight to view Defendant and DOS differently that she did at the relevant time; (3) certain specific portions of the tape recordings she heard of meetings between Defendant and other DOS members, and (4) other aspects of her plea agreement and her cooperation.”
Bonjean continued in the appeal, “Defense counsel’s line of questioning was appropriate and proper. Indeed, the court directed the witness to answer the question posed by defense counsel over the government’s objection prior to ending the examination. The district court judge later suggested that defense counsel had done something inappropriate by asking the witness questions probing whether she truly intended harm in connection with the charges to which she pled guilty. The court appeared overly concerned that the witness might answer defense counsel’s questions in a manner that contradicted her guilty plea and suggested that defense counsel should have shared that concern.
“Quite to the contrary. Defense counsel had every right, indeed an obligation, to test the veracity of Salzman’s testimony, including through bias and motive. The district court did not enjoy the discretion to curtail cross-examination so as to prevent the jury from hearing facts bearing on the witness’s credibility…
“The district court impermissibly intervened in the fact-finding process during a central line of cross-examination. The prejudice suffered by the Defendant was exacerbated where the jury was left with the false impression that defense counsel had done something so improper as to justify the draconian punishment of forfeiting his cross examination along with a tongue-lashing by the court. In reality, defense counsel was doing his job, cross-examining a cooperating witness in an attempt to discredit her.”
Today, Raniere sits in USP Tucson, a sex offender prison. Clare Bronfman was last known to be residing at the Federal Detention Center in Center City, Philadelphia.
How severely or leniently the judge will mete out punishment for Lauren Salzman, a woman he said appears to be a “broken woman”, is something we shall likely have to wait until the end of July to learn.
The fact that the government is not going to weigh in on her sentencing probably means they will not be soliciting victims to speak at her sentencing hearing as they did for Raniere and Bronfman.
That might be most helpful to her. However, that does not mean purported victims are not permitted to speak. Any person who considers herself to be a victim of Salzman may request the right to speak at sentencing. And they can also write letters directly to judge Garaufis to express their experience with — and feelings about — Lauren.