US District Judge Raner Collins has denied a motion for a preliminary injunction made by Keith Raniere, an inmate at USP-Tuscon.
The injunction would have required the prison to treat Raniere’s power of attorney, Suneel Chakravorty, as a legal professional, permitting him the same privileges as a lawyer, permitting him confidential visits, unmonitored phone calls and correspondence.
Chakravotry, who the BOP currently bans from contacting Raniere, is not a licensed lawyer. According to Raniere, Chakravorty is a “paralegal and manager of the legal team,” working to overturn Raniere’s conviction.
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) allows licensed attorneys to employ paralegals, clerks, and assistants to carry out confidential legal tasks with inmates with legal visitation and correspondence privileges, provided an attorney listed on a BOP-approved visitation/correspondence roster consents to supervising the assistant, takes responsibility for their actions and certifies they are competent.
Raniere has nine approved attorneys on his approved contact list with the BOP.
In denying the injunction, Judge Collins ruled Raniere did not show proof that Chakravorty was certified by any of them.
Judge Collins wrote, “There is no evidence that attorney [Joseph] Tully or any other of Plaintiff’s attorneys has provided the Warden of USP-Tucson with a signed statement certifying Mr. Chakravorty’s ability, that the attorney has pledged to supervise Mr. Chakravorty’s activities, or that the attorney accepts personal and professional responsibility for Mr. Chakravorty’s activities that may affect the institution, prisoners, and staff.”
Raniere’s Request for Relief and Lawsuit
Raniere, who was convicted in 2019 on multiple charges, including sex trafficking, forced labor, and racketeering conspiracy, filed a lawsuit in May 2022 against United States Attorney General Merrick Garland, BOP Director Collette Peters, USP-Tucson Warden Gutierrez, and other BOP officials, claiming they interfered with his right to counsel, naming especially Chakravorty.
In addition to Raniere’s “robust access” to attorneys, the BOP argued that banning Chakravorty is for “legitimate penological interests,” claiming he poses a security risk.
Suneel Chakravorty, who the BOP deems a “security risk.”
Court’s Decision and Deferment to Prison Administrators
The BOP cited the reasons they chose to ban Chakravorty.
At Raniere’s sentencing on October 27, 2020, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ordered, as part of his probation upon release, that Raniere “shall not associate in person, through mail, electronic mail or telephone with any individual with an affiliation to Executive Success Programs, Nxivm, DOS or any other Nxivm-affiliated organizations.”
Chakravorty took courses and served as a coach for NXIVM and Executive Success Programs until the companies closed in May 2018.
A BOP official argued that “if it is dangerous for Raniere to have access to these individuals once released, it is also a security risk to allow access to these individuals while incarcerated.”
Judge Collins agreed.
He wrote: “It is undisputed that Chakravorty was involved in NXIVM and ESP, and as a condition of Plaintiff’s release, the New York District Court ordered that Plaintiff’ ‘shall not associate… with any individual with an affiliation to Executive Success Programs, Nxivm, DOS or any other Nxivm-affiliated organizations.'”
Raniere argued the BOP “not has the authority to decide who was or was not a member of the now-defunct NXIVM or DOS, nor to ban them on that basis.”
He also argued that the ban on his contact with NXIVM affiliates applies only to his post-release, scheduled to occur in 97 years, in June 2120.
Raniere argued the BOP does “not have the authority to re-interpret the terms of the sentencing order.”
Judge Collis wrote, “Plaintiff is correct that these judge-imposed restrictions only apply to Plaintiff’s conditions of release, but that does not prevent prison administrators from imposing similar restrictions during custody, where, as here, prison officials have relied on their own investigations at two different facilities to determine that a particular individual poses a security risk. The Supreme Court has long recognized that, in matters of prison security, courts must defer “to the informed discretion of prison administrators… to make the difficult judgments concerning institutional operations.”
Judge Collins recited Chakravorty’s relationship with Raniere while in custody at the Brooklyn MDC and USP-Tuscon.
Judge Collins listed:
A BOP Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) began reviewing Raniere’s phone communications with Chakravorty on July 15, 2020.
Raniere and Chakravorty discussed recording prison-initiated phone calls for use in podcasts and other media outlets.
They discussed organizing “a group of women to show up regularly and dance provocatively for inmates to view through their cell windows.”
Raniere followers dancing outside his cell at MDC Brooklyn Detention CenterRaniere informed Chakravorty about “the [MDC] staff work schedules and indicated his protesters should wait outside for the staff and offer donuts and coffee as they exit the facility, because “we are all in this together.”
The BOP determined “Raniere’s manipulative behavior continues to manifest from behind the prison through the help of Suneel Chakravorty. Inmate Raniere’s actions would place the safety and security of staff and the public at risk,” and recommended removing Chakravorty from Raniere’s approved contacts.
On July 2020, the BOP suspended calls between Raniere and Chakravorty.
Raniere entered “Issac Edwards” into his contact list. The BOP reported Raniere provided a fabricated address for Edwards, and the phone number was from a burner phone.
The BOP later alleged that Issac Edwards was Chakravorty.
When the BOP transferred Raniere to USP Tuscon, he again succeeded in placing Chakravorty on his approved visitors and phone call list.
On May 2, 2021, the BOP denied Chakravorty visiting privileges at USP Tucson because he had previously represented, in a letter to the New York District Court, that he did not have a relationship with Raniere before his incarceration and that his first conversation with Raniere was while he was in prison after his criminal trial.
BOP’s policy permits only visitors who knew the inmate before his incarceration.
Raniere’s hopes to communicate with Chakravorty are not dead.
Though the judge denied his injunction, the lawsuit is ongoing. Raniere is entitled to discovery, depositions, and ultimately a jury trial, which could take place as early as 2024.
Raniere’s only pending motion, a Rule 33 Motion for a new trial, may be resolved this year.
If the judge grants a new trial, or an evidentiary hearing, to determine the merits of Raniere’s claims, his need for meetings and calls with Chakravorty will be heightened. On the other hand, if the judge denies the motion, the door may shut forever, with Raniere behind the tall barbed fences of USP-Tucson.
Chakrarvorty’s work as a paralegal may be done.