Federal authorities raided two homes near Albany, New York, that were associated with a cultlike group called Nxivm, in which women were branded with a symbol that contained its leader’s initials, according to media reports.
The raids followed the arrest Sunday of Nxivm’s leader, Keith Raniere, on charges that he forced female followers to have sex with him. Raniere, who is known to his followers as “Vanguard,” is expected to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on sex-trafficking charges.
One of the raids on Tuesday took place in Half Moon, New York, at the home of a former psychiatric nurse, Nancy Salzman, who founded Nxivm along with Raniere, according to news reports. Another area home was also raided.
Nxivm denies it is a cult, and it has described itself as a “self-help” organization. But former members have said that Raniere demands cultlike obedience from followers.
Authorities began investigating Nxivm after The New York Times published an article in October detailing how women who belonged to a secret sorority within Nxivm were branded by a doctor who used a cauterizing device to sear a symbol into their lower abdomens.
To gain admission to the sorority, women were required to give their recruiter naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such “collateral” might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.
Federal authorities described Raniere, 57, as the ultimate master of the sorority and charged that women were forced to have sex with him because they feared that their collateral would be released if they did not.
Reports about the raids were broadcast or published by several Albany outlets including News 10, an ABC affiliate, and a newspaper, the Albany Times Union.
Salzman could not be reached for comment.