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NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere was beaten in prison by fellow sex offender, lawsuit says

The incident allegedly took place at the federal penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona.
Image: Keith Raniere
Keith Raniere, center, during the first day of his sex trafficking trial in New York on Oct. 27, 2020.Elizabeth Williams / AP file

Convicted NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere was attacked by a fellow inmate and sex offender before he was wrongly punished for the incident, his attorneys said in a lawsuit.

Raniere was in the dining hall at U.S. Penitentiary Tucson in Arizona at 6:50 a.m. July 26 “when he was assaulted by inmate Maurice Withers with a closed fist on Mr. Raniere’s head and face,” his lawyers wrote in the suit against the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons.

It is not clear what led to the alleged assault or whether the inmate was aware that Raniere had been convicted on multiple charges of running a cultlike group that kept women as virtual sex prisoners to service him. The organization, called NXIVM, was the subject of HBO’s docuseries “The Vow.”

According to an amended complaint filed this month, Raniere suffered a black eye, swelling, nausea and dizziness for more than a week after the alleged attack. His requests for ice packs to treat the swelling and pain were allegedly denied.

“Mr. Raniere did not fight back,” according to court papers. “Mr.  Raniere has limited knowledge of the assault.”

Raniere was “given a disciplinary ticket for ‘fighting’” and placed in the prison’s Special Housing Unit. Withers, who is accused of the attack, is serving 18 years for convictions linked to a sex trafficking operation.

Attorney information for Withers was not available.

“Due to SHU placement, Plaintiff was denied contact legal visits with his attorneys and forced to either yell through plexiglass or be handcuffed and shackled to a belly chain to communicate with his attorneys,” Raniere’s legal team said.

A bureau official declined to discuss the specifics of Raniere’s claims.

“For safety and security reasons the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not provide information about conditions of confinement or internal security practices for any particular inmate,” spokesperson Donald Murphy said in a statement Thursday.

“The BOP is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all inmates in our population, our staff, and the public. Humane treatment of the men and women in our custody is a top priority.” 

The disciplinary ticket against Raniere was dismissed on Aug. 23, but the assault and prison response are part of a “pattern of retaliation” against the plaintiff for “exercising his constitutional rights to challenge his criminal conviction,” his lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison following his 2019 conviction on charges of federal sex trafficking, racketeering and possession of child pornography.