The Department of Justice manipulated evidence in the sex trafficking trial of convicted cult leader Keith Raniere, a group of ex-FBI experts backed by famed attorney Alan Dershowitz claimed Thursday.
Raniere was convicted in 2019, but now the group of six former FBI forensic experts claims the government framed him on the charge of possession of child pornography. They held a virtual press conference on Thursday, joined by Dershowitz, who is representing Raniere, former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, and several others.
“If true, this is a historic level of corruption,” Dershowitz said. “There must be immediate action.”
The forensic experts said they examined the government’s evidence and concluded that the “digital evidence devices” used to convict Raniere were “significantly manipulated.”
The child porn charge related to nude images of a 15-year-old on Raniere’s camera and computer. Prosecutors used timestamps on the photos to prove she was underage, but the cyber experts concluded “with scientific certainty” that the files on the camera’s memory card and the external hard drive were backdated to alter the timeline relative to her age.
They also claimed some damning photos were planted on a hard drive to make them look like backups.
“It is clear that the photos in this case were planted there,” former FBI Senior Forensic Examiner Stacy Eldridge said.
On top of this, several FBI employees are documented to have committed “atrocious” violations of FBI forensic protocols, they said.
“The alteration of evidence and serious breaches of evidence-handling protocols are indisputable, and they all aligned with the government’s narrative at trial,” the experts said.
Former FBI Forensic Examiner William Odom said that in his 25 years of digital forensic investigations including five years with the FBI, “the amount of premeditation to perform this fraud — I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“None of us have ever in our careers claimed to have witnessed government tampering, much less the scale of tampering we have seen in this case,” the six experts said in their joint statement.
Dershowitz called for an evidentiary hearing and said that appropriate relief might include a new trial or even dismissal of the indictment due to “outrageous government conduct.”
Raniere founded and led NXIVM, a multi-level marketing company in Albany, New York. In June, 2019, he was convicted by a federal jury of charges including racketeering, sex trafficking, and possession of child pornography.
Over two decades starting in the late ’90s, NXIVM attracted thousands of followers including celebrities and social elites through its personal development seminars. Raniere was arrested in 2018 after accusations of systemic sexual abuse of the cult’s female members. He is currently imprisoned at U.S. Penitentiary Tucson in Arizona.
Cummins, who from 2001 to 2006 was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, called for an investigation and said the credibility of the DOJ and FBI is at a low point.
“In recent years a variety of unrelated revelations have left the DOJ and FBI’s reputation in tatters. Their credibility is in question. It would be a historic finding if it were determined that someone tampered with the evidence in this case,” Cummins said.
The FBI responded to a request for comment by stating that, “we have no comment on this matter.”
Currently, the case is a post-conviction case that would have to return to trial court in order for the evidence concerns to be evaluated, according to Raniere’s lawyer Joseph Tully.