It took less than five hours for a jury this June to convict Keith Raniere of everything he’d been charged with – sex trafficking, forced labor, posession of child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child, obstruction of justice and more.
Before that, it took federal prosecutors a few months to file charges against Raniere, the leader of an alleged sex cult, after The New York Times reported that members of the group were getting physically branded, like cattle, with his initials.
And before all that — before the books, podcasts and documentaries on the cult and its leader — it took a local reporter who saw something strange on a town hall planning board agenda and started reporting.
The Albany (New York) Times Union’s coverage of Raniere and his alleged cult, Nxivm (pronounced nex-ee-um, like the medicine) began in 2003. It included Raniere’s attempt to build a headquarters, countless lawsuits against detractors and defectors, his questionable business, his history of preying on minors and the group he built around himself. A reporter working at Metroland, an alt-weekly in Albany, uncovered Raniere’s tactics for persuasion, how he silenced critics and his obsession with a former girlfriend.
But nothing stopped Raniere or the group until that 2017 New York Times story.
“Why Nxivm founder Keith Raniere is only now being tried … is a lingering mystery,” said an editorial in the Times Union in May. “Officials here didn’t merely drop the ball; they never even picked it up.”
But local reporters did. One after another after another.
In 2003, Dennis Yusko stopped by city hall in Halfmoon, New York, to see the town planning board agenda. The Times Union reporter noticed something unusual — an architect’s futuristic rendering of a large building.
Yusko did a little reporting and found the community was already collecting signatures against the group’s proposed headquarters. He wrote his first story on Nxivm in July of 2003.
“Raniere, 42, is a colorful figure by all accounts. The Brooklyn-born ‘genius’ said in past interviews with the Times Union that he dropped out of high school at age 16 to enter Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, where he simultaneously earned undergraduate degrees in math, physics and biology,” Yusko reported. “Raniere garnered local attention in 1988 when he qualified at age 27 for the elite Mega Society — a step above Mensa — by demonstrating an IQ of 178.”