The opinions of Suneel Chakravorty are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher. Frank Report will undertake to provide an analysis of the topic of this story after Suneel completes the presentation of his evidence.
By Suneel Chakravorty
As promised, here is my article on the bias I allege Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis exhibited in the prosecution of Keith Raniere.
As a fair warning to readers who may be upset by my audacity, as an American citizen, in daring to question a federal judge for bias, you may want to stop reading now. I believe that Judge Garaufis was not only biased he was part and parcel of the prosecution’s team, a prosecutor in robes, not an independent judge at all.
That is my opinion. I intend to prove it. Read on at your own risk.
Raniere was captured in Mexico, brought to the US within 24 hours, and arrested on an information supported by an affidavit of FBI Special Agent Michael Lever. He was placed in pretrial detention and assigned to the Metropolitan Detention Center [MDC] in Brooklyn, NY.
Raniere was indicted on sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit forced labor, along with Allison Mack.
The judge denied a speedy trial request for a trial date in mid-July. Why? Because the prosecution wasn’t ready. They were supposed to be ready because the honest rule of due process requires that the prosecution to be prepared for trial at the time of indictment. You indict a man because you have the evidence against him and are ready to proceed. You don’t indict a man and then figure out how to convict him.
These niceties of due process and fair play did not matter to this judge. He set a trial date for October 1, 2018, well beyond the 70 day speedy trial requirement.
In one of his three separate decisions to deny Raniere bail, Judge Garaufis revealed his bias when he called NXIVM a “secretive, cult-like organization.” That is not for a judge to decide, and certainly not before trial. He could have said “self-help organization” or just “NXIVM.” He revealed bias again when he said, “Nxivm or DOS acolytes.” He could have said, “NXIVM members, or DOS members.”
An acolyte has a religious/cult-like meaning – for an acolyte is a person assisting a celebrant in a religious service or an assistant or follower. The prosecution’s desire was to make NXIVM into a cult, with a criminal enterprise comprised of fervent followers or acolytes of Raniere. This was expressed in such pejorative language by helpful Judge Garaufis, well before the trial.
To further aid the prosecution, Judge Garaufis denied bail three times, ensuring Raniere could not adequately prepare.
It is impossible for a defendant in a complex case to prepare for trial while in custody. He does not have ready access to a computer; he cannot get documents easily, or copy them, or even see all the evidence. The prosecution stated that there were enough documents in this case to fill up multiple floors of a library.
But a man in pretrial custody cannot access these documents; he cannot aid his attorneys in assessing documents, cannot attend meetings with attorneys and his own defense witnesses, or work side by side with his legal team, explaining the facts of his case.
Instead of going to visit attorneys, the attorneys must come to him. Every visit made to prison by attorneys is complicated and burdensome. They have to leave their offices hours early and travel in heavy New York traffic, go to the jail, check-in and wait for the prisoner to come to a cramped room for meetings, while being watched by guards peering through the glass windows, limited to what they can bring to the cell. Having to speak in soft tones so as not to be overheard by the guards. Hours-long visits cannot be made comfortable by refreshments or a chance to get up and stretch one’s legs.
Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, NY.In MDC, a pretrial defendant cannot just call or be called by an attorney for a simple, quick question that might elucidate an essential aspect of the defense and save the attorney hours of work.
By denying him bail, Judge Garaufis ensured victory for the prosecution.
The prosecution filed a superseding indictment, adding four co-defendants – Clare Bronfman, Nancy, and Lauren Salzman, and Kathy Russell and added other charges, including racketeering conspiracy.
The prosecution did not want to stick, however, with the Oct 1 trial date, arguing they could not be ready, though they should have been since they indicted the defendants.
They asked for a January trial date. Raniere, already in MDC for four months, argued to keep the October date. The judge moved the trial to January 7, 2019.
It wasn’t long before the prosecution sought another delay for the trial, this time to March 18, 2019. Raniere again sought what was by now hardly a speedy trial requesting the Judge to stick to the January date. Judge Garaufis granted the government’s request and set trial for March 18, by which time Raniere would be in prison for almost a year.
The new year came, and none of the co-defendants were in negotiations for plea deals. The prosecution asked the judge for another delay, as they sought to prosecute one of the highest-profile cases in America.
Raniere argued to keep the March trial date. His attorney, Marc Agnifilo, wrote, “The Government’s adjournment bag is now empty. There are no more defendants to add, there are no more superseding indictments on which to ruminate. It has to try the case. No more excuses.”
The judge granted the government request, setting the trial date for April 29.
FBI Special Agent Michael Lever “found” nude photos of Camila, taken when she was allegedly under the age of 18, on the hard drive case agents had seized 11 months earlier but had failed to turn over to FBI Evidence Control for months.
The attorneys for the defendants were informed and understood that there would be a second superseding indictment forthcoming.
The case would no longer be a case of white, affluent, middle-class, educated adult “victims,” the case was now about the exploitation of a child incapable of consent. Her name was Camila.
The Government filed its second superseding indictment, adding charges of possession of child pornography and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child.
The defense counsel was permitted only a glimpse at the hard drive that allegedly contained the contraband photos, at the DOJ offices, but could not retain a copy to conduct independent forensic analysis since the pictures were alleged to be illegal.
Raniere moved to sever the newly added child pornography and sexual exploitation charges from the trial set in April, arguing that the defense would need to retain a forensic expert to review the evidence, and the trial was 26 days away.
On the same day, the judge accepted a plea from Nancy Salzman for racketeering conspiracy.
Her allocution had no men’s rea, Latin for “guilty mind,” a requirement for racketeering conspiracy charges.
An element of the crime is intent, a desire to do wrong, to commit a crime. You cannot be a racketeer accidentally. You might commit other crimes without intent but not racketeering. It is plain black letter law: You have to commit more than one predicate act of racketeering, and you had to intend to do harm – at the time of the racketeering. You cannot lack intent when you did the acts then decide retroactively that you did do wrong – because perhaps you are facing 20 years and want to get out of a trial.
But Judge Garaufis did not require the element of intent for Salzman. Here is the pertinent part of what Nancy said to the judge with keywords bolded:
“Judge Garaufis, I want you to know that I am pleading guilty because I am, in fact, guilty. It has taken me some time and some soul searching to come to this place.
“When I began working with NXIVM, I believed that we would be helping people. I still believe that some of what we did was good. The problem began when I compromised my principles and did things which I knew or should have known were wrong. I justified them to myself by saying that what we were doing was for the greater good.
“Now, having had time to step back from the community I was immersed in for nearly 20 years, I accept that some of things I did were not just wrong but criminal.”
March 18 -22
Bronfman, Russell, and Mack filed motions to sever their trial from Raniere, arguing that the Cami charges would make it impossible for them to have a fair trial since child exploitation, which none of the co-defendants were charged with, is considered one of the most infamous crimes in America.
The judge denied Mack, Bronfman, and Russell’s motions to sever, insisting that Bronfman and Russell, who had no sex-related charges, would face the same jury as a man who allegedly engaged in sex trafficking, forced labor, racketeering, and now the exploitation of a child.
Likewise, Raniere’s request to sever the trial on the newly brought child sex charges was denied. His request for a delay, something always freely offered to the prosecution so that Raniere could undertake the time-consuming and complex task of forensic analysis of the Cami photos, was denied.
Lauren Salzman entered a plea of guilty. The judge accepted her plea of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy with no men’s rea in her allocution.
Here is what she said:
“I am pleading guilty today… acknowledging that I committed acts which I knew or should have known were absolutely wrong.
“Over the years… I truly believed that I was helping to empower people to live their best lives. However, I and others engaged in criminal conduct, which I blindly followed and rationalized as furthering the underlying principles in which NXIVM was formed.”
She had no intent to be a racketeer. No, she had an epiphany – after the government threatened to prosecute her for crimes resulting in her spending the rest of her life in prison, and with the child porn and a hostile judge, she knew what she had to do – retroactively commit the crime. But realizing afterward that she committed a crime she did not intend to commit and saying she should have known it was a crime. is not racketeering. It fails on the element of intent.
The judge also accepted a plea from Allison Mack, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. There was no men’s rea in her allocution either.
Here is what she said:
“I am prepared to take responsibility for acts in which I was involved, some of which I now recognize were wrong.
“… I dedicated years of my life to an organization in which I and others truly believed, NXIVM…. I truly believed that I had found a group of individuals who believed, as I did, and who were interested in trying to become better people and, in doing so, make those around them better. And when I came to that realization, misguided though it was, my purpose shifted from trying to help myself to helping other people. Through it all, I believed that Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people and that my adherence to his system of beliefs would help empower others and help them.
“I was wrong. And I now realize that I and others engaged in criminal conduct. My misguided beliefs and dedication of what I believed were the principles underlying NXIVM, Keith Raniere’s teachings, resulted in my agreeing to support the criminal enterprise that is alleged in the indictment.”
In none of the allocutions, the defendants admit they intended to do wrong. They were trying to do good.
They are not guilty of racketeering, a crime you have to intend to commit. They may be guilty of other crimes but not racketeering. These were coerced pleas, of convenience, to avoid lengthy prison sentences, and they knew they would be lengthy because they knew they were before a biased judge who would sentence them to very long sentences if they were found guilty by a jury he was sure to guide, lead and bring home the bacon for the prosecution.
The attorneys knew this judge, and they knew if they did not want to get fried in the pan, they better take a plea deal, and they did.
Less than two weeks before the trial, the prosecution had not turned over forensic reports of the Cami pictures, despite being asked repeatedly by the defense. This made it impossible to defend against the child sex acts since the defense had more than a reasonable suspicion that these photos might not be authentic.
In a year and two months, the judge had sided with the government on every pre-trial issue of importance, bar none.
Judge Garaufis was unwilling to order the government to provide this vital forensic discovery, delay the trial or sever the child charges. After granting postponements again and again for the prosecution, now that it was slam dunk time for the prosecution, and there was no doubt that Raniere would be convicted, it was full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.
One Name Means She’s a Victim
With Raniere as the sole defendant, Judge Garaufis added the final pretrial touch on the day before trial.
At the prosecution’s request, over defense objection, and without even addressing Raniere’s objections, the judge required all the parties and witnesses to refer to individuals designated by the prosecution as “victims” by their first names only.
This novel ruling revealed Judge Garaufis’ strong emotions about Raniere’s guilt. He forced the parties to refer to whomever the government designated as “victims” by first names. This would signal to the jury that Raniere was presumed guilty. This bizarre ruling that the government decided who got to be named by first names only would condition the jury from the start of the trial that specific individuals were victims and individuals whose first and last names were used were co-conspirators. This was based on the prosecution’s determination and was ratified by the judge – before the government even proved a conspiracy.
Perhaps the judge thought it would save the jury a lot of time during deliberations if they could just be told in advance that there was a crime and it is legitimized by the requirement by the judge for everyone to use only their first names for the victims and in contrast, co-conspirators would be fully named.
Allowing the prosecution to identify victims and co-conspirators before proving its case was Judge Garaufis’s way of telling the jury it should assume a crime occurred.
Astonishingly the judge even ordered that two famous people who had self-identified in public must be referred to by their first names only. Why?
Why was India Oxenberg referred to only as India when she already planned to star and produce a docuseries on Starz.
Sarah Edmondson was set to star in an HBO docuseries on NXIVM, had starred in a CBC podcast series, was writing a book, and appeared on the front page of the NY Times. Why did the judge require only her first name used?
Easy. Because otherwise, the jury might get confused and think Sarah and India were bad ones, that they were con-conspirators. First names only = victim. It was not about the protection of victims from retaliation. Raniere knew all the names. It was not even to protect them from humiliation, it was merely and solely to signal to the jury who was bad and who was good, almost like different jerseys for different teams, and we know which team the judge was playing for.
Judge Garaufis was a prosecutor in robes. And Raniere was set for his show trial, with his conviction assured.
Next, in this series, I will discuss the judge’s bias during the trial.
Please do not read if your confirmation bias against Raniere is anywhere near what the judge had – but no, I need not worry. No one can have more bias against Raniere than this judge.