Raniere’s legal team a revolving door as ‘El Chapo’ and Epstein lawyers take over

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Former NXIVM leader Keith Raniere sits in Arizona prison as part of his 120-year sentence for turning some adherents to his cult into sex slaves branded with his initials and sexually abusing a 15-year-old. His defense remains active, with new lawyers taking the reins.

A group of lawyers who once planned to appeal Raniere’s conviction have withdrawn from the case. Lawyers Martin Tankleff and Steven Metcalf II joined the convicted sex trafficker’s legal team in February, taking over for Marc Agnifilo, who sat beside Raniere during his trial.

A court filing by Tankleff and Metcalf on July 12 states that there was a “a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship,” and that it’s their understanding newly retained counsel has agreed to take over the issue of restitution, and all other aspects of representation of the defendant.

That “newly retained counsel” includes lawyers Jeffrey Lichtman and Marc Fernich. Lichtman has represented notorious drug lord “El Chapo,” and Fernich was a defense attorney for Jeffrey Epstein. The pair wrote to Judge Nicholas Garaufis, also on July 12, submitting an agreement with the previous counsel that they will now take over the case.

NEWS10 reached out to both Lichtman and Fernich for statements on their taking on Raniere’s case.

“Personal autonomy and individual choice, however unorthodox, are essential values. To the extent Keith’s prosecution infringed those values, I hope to help vindicate them. Government shouldn’t be in the business of policing morality.”

Mark Fernich, Attorney

“Changing lawyers is hardly a groundbreaking event especially on a relatively minor legal issue such as the determination of restitution. Changing to lawyers with 60 years of combined practice in the federal courts is even less of an event. Keith simply wants to achieve the best result he can and the change in representation obviously reflects that.”

Jeffrey Lichtman, Attorney

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are letting Judge Garaufis know that legal fees for Fernich and Lichtman are being paid by another defendant in the case, Clare Bronfman, who was sentenced in September 2020 to 81 months in prison for her role in NXIVM. Bronfman, known as the “money” behind the cult, was sentenced for conspiracy to conceal and harbor aliens for financial gain and fraudulent use of personal identification information.

“Raniere was previously advised of, and waived, a nearly identical potential conflict relating to Bronfman’s payment of Raniere’s legal fees,” the letter from the Acting U.S. Attorney reads. 

Prosecutors are requesting “in an abundance of caution” that the Court obtain Raniere’s waiver of this potential conflict immediately prior to the sentencing hearing regarding restitution. That hearing is scheduled for July 20, 2021.

Court documents do not say specifically how this arrangement of Bronfman paying for Raniere’s lawyers is operating.

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