NEW YORK — Lawyers for the jailed founder of a purported self-help group under investigation for sex-trafficking in New York say he's being persecuted by the government's "morality police."
The accusation was made in court papers filed late Tuesday seeking the release of Keith Raniere on $10 million bond.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have accused Raniere of forming a barbaric secret society within NXIVM (pronounced NEX'-ee-um), a group that over the years has attracted a following of minor celebrities and wealthy people. The prosecutors allege the sub-group branded brainwashed victims with Raniere's initials during initiation ceremonies that turned them into sex slaves for Raniere.
In the court papers, the defense lawyers renewed claims that the alleged victims were never abused.
"Through this case, the United States Government seeks to curtail the ways in which independent, smart, curious adults may legally search for happiness, fulfillment and meaning," the papers say. "By condemning (the group) as a criminal enterprise and the teachings of Keith Raniere as fraudulent and criminal, the Department of Justice has made itself the morality police."
If Raniere goes to trial, his followers will testify that his teachings actually "improved their lives or gave their lives greater meaning," the papers add.
Raniere, 57, has been behind bars since he was captured in Mexico and brought to the U.S. in March. Along with posting $10 million bond, his lawyers said he would pay for private security guards that would watch him at all times.
Prosecutors have argued Raniere should stay locked up because he's a flight risk. They had no comment about the bail request on Wednesday.
Television actress Allison Mack — best known for playing a teenage friend of Superman in the CW network's "Smallville" — also is charged with helping Raniere in the scheme. She's free on $5 million bond.
NXIVM's Mexican affiliate is headed by Emiliano Salinas, a son of that country's former president. Authorities also say Raniere has been bankrolled by Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune. Both have said they were unaware of the alleged abuses.
A judge has set an Oct. 1 trial date.