By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK, March 13 (Reuters) - A former associate of self-help guru Keith Raniere, who is expected to face trial on sex trafficking and other charges later this year, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to taking part in a criminal conspiracy with him.
Nancy Salzman, who was president of the Raniere-founded organization Nxivm, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy in Brooklyn federal court before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. Before accepting the plea, Garaufis noted that Salzman had not reached a plea deal with prosecutors.
"When I began working with Nxivm, I believed that we would be helping people," Salzman said. "I still believe that some of the things we did were good.
Salzman fought back tears as she said she regretted the pain she had caused her daughter Lauren Salzman, who has also been charged with taking part in Raniere's organization but has pleaded not guilty.
Salzman admitted hacking into the email accounts of Nxivm critics and overseeing the destruction of videos showing Nxivm teachings, which should have been turned over as evidence in a civil lawsuit.
"By my plea of guilty, I hope to at least begin atoning for my actions," she said.
Raniere was arrested in March 2018 and accused of running a secret society within Nxivm, known as DOS or "the sorority," in which women were branded with his initials, blackmailed and coerced into having sex with him.
According to prosecutors, members were required upon joining DOS to provide so-called "collateral" that could be used against them if they tried to leave, including compromising information about family and friends, nude photographs and rights to their assets.
Marc Agnifilo, a lawyer for Raniere, has said his client's sexual relationships with members were consensual.
Actress Allison Mack, Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman and Nxivm member Kathy Russell have also been charged with taking part in Raniere's scheme. All have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors have said Raniere and his associates ran "pyramid-structured" schemes, including selling expensive courses, to bring in money and new members.
Only Raniere and Mack are accused of sex trafficking. Other defendants face charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, wire fraud and identity theft.
Raniere was known within Nxivm as "Vanguard," and Salzman was known as "Prefect," according to court papers.
Albany, New York-based Nxivm on its website calls itself "a community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human." (Reporting by Brendan Pierson; Editing by Tom Brown)
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