An American self-help guru accused of presiding over a secretive society of female sex slaves branded with his initials has been arrested in Mexico after fleeing from New York state.
Keith Raniere, 57, co-founder of the group called Nxivm, was returned to Texas on Monday, according to prosecutors, and is due to appear in court on Tuesday.
He is charged with sex trafficking and conspiracies that could see him jailed for between 15 years and life if convicted.
The criminal complaint, filed by prosecutors in Brooklyn, alleges that Raniere – who gave himself the title “Vanguard” – set up a series of self-help workshops, with five-day courses costing as much as $5000.
However, women were told that the best way to advance was within a secret group of “slaves” and “masters”.
The complaint says Raniere stood at the top of the pyramid, and women were expected to have sex with him.
The FBI and Mexican police tracked him down on Sunday at a luxury villa on the Pacific coast, following his escape to Mexico with an unnamed heiress after The New York Times exposed the organisation last October.
William Sweeney, FBI assistant director-in- charge, said the allegations amounted to a “disgusting” abuse of power over the women.
“He allegedly participated in horrifying acts of branding and burning them, with the co-operation of other women operating within this unorthodox pyramid scheme,” he said.
The complaint alleged that many victims took part in videotaped ceremonies where they were branded in their pelvic area with a symbol featuring Raniere’s initials.
Inductees were also allegedly required to provide “collateral” such as damaging information about family and friends, nude photographs or rights to assets, which they feared they would lose if they did not go along with the rules.
Some were forced to follow low-calorie diets as Raniere preferred exceptionally thin women, prosecutors said.
Raniere denied many of the allegations when they were reported by the New York Times.
“Over the past months, there have been extensive independent investigations performed, by highly qualified individuals, and they have firmly concluded that there is no merit to the allegations that we are abusing, coercing or harming individuals,” he wrote in a letter published on the group’s website.
“These allegations are most disturbing to me as non-violence is one of my most important values.”
Allison Mack, the award-winning actress, is among the group’s following and has appeared in YouTube videos with Raniere.