Jan. 29 (UPI) -- A federal lawsuit in New York accuses Nxivm founder Keith Raniere of conducting illegal psychological experiments on members and operating as a pyramid scheme.
The lawsuit was filed by more than 80 alleged victims who said they experienced physical, emotional and financial abuse at the hands of Raniere and 14 other associates of the purported self-help group.
Nxivm programs involved two components including "a self-esteem eroding curriculum designed to break down students' resistance to Raniere's and Nancy Salzman's radical reframing of ethics, morality and gender roles and relations among other things," according to the lawsuit.
The second component involved "an inherently dangerous form of psychotherapy called 'Exploration of Meaning' (EM), which was administered by so-called EM Practitioners (EMPs), all of whom were unqualified to practice psychoanalysis, psychology or mental health counseling."
Some Nxivm members were subjected to illegal procedures including a "human fright experiment" where they were "subjected to scenes of escalating violence including actual, extremely graphic footage of the brutal beheading and dismemberment of five women in Mexico," after being told they would watch a video of a talk from Raniere.
The lawsuit also details allegations of fraud, stating that Nxivm's leaders drew from "methods used in pyramid schemes" to take people's money and make it "physically and psychologically difficult, and in some cases impossible, to leave the coercive community."
Plaintiffs alleged that more than 16,000 people took Nxivm courses but fewer than 100 ever saw earnings from its businesses and fewer than 25 received substantial earnings within Nxivm.
"Most of the earnings were received by the small group collectively known within the organization as the 'Inner Circle," the lawsuit states.
Raniere, 58, was convicted on one count each of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and attempted sex trafficking in a lawsuit that said he conducted a scheme to force women into a sexual slavery cult.