A convicted child sex trafficker has accused the FBI of doctoring evidence in his case, which is under appeal.
Keith Raniere, the former leader and founder of NXIVM, was sentenced to 120 years in October 2020 after a federal jury found him guilty of sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, and racketeering. Raniere’s alleged crimes have been the subject of multiple documentaries, including HBO’s August 2020 series, The Vow.
An appeal hearing is set for May 3 for Raniere, but the defendant said on April 28 that he has come into possession of evidence that could overturn his entire case. According to Raniere, the FBI manipulated digital photos to make it appear as if he had photographed a female under the age of 18.
“Specifically, there is evidence that computer data related to digital photographs taken of a nude female were materially altered to make it appear that these photographs were taken in 2005,” Raniere’s motion said. “The government used the year 2005 to establish the female as being under the age of eighteen, making the photographs contraband.”
Raniere’s motion contains sworn statements from three digital forensic experts, including one who worked for the FBI for 20 years.
Retired FBI special agent Richard Kiper, who was a computer forensic examiner for the bureau from 1999 to 2019, said in his sworn statement that he believes there was evidence tampering in Raniere’s case.
“In my 20 years serving as an FBI agent, I have never observed or claimed that an FBI employee tampered with evidence, digital or otherwise. But in this case, I strongly believe the multiple, intentional alterations to the digital information I have discovered constitute evidence manipulation,” Kiper said.
“My analysis demonstrates that some of these alterations definitely took place while the devices were in the custody of the FBI. Therefore, in the absence of any other plausible explanation, it is my expert opinion that the FBI must have been involved in this evidence tampering.”
Among his findings, says Kiper, are dates, file names, and timestamps of digital photos being altered while in FBI possession. He also said photos were manipulated to appear as though they came from Raniere’s computer hard drive when they were actually placed there manually.
In addition, Raniere’s motion included sworn statements from Steven Abrams, an attorney and retired digital forensics expert, and computer scientist Wayne Norris.
They agreed with Kiper’s findings.
“Dr. Kiper’s third finding is that the filesystem access data metadata was overwritten on Sept. 19, 2018. I agree. This sort of mishandling of digital evidence is common among lay people. I regularly observe attorneys mishandle their client’s evidence produced in discovery in this manner, but this sort of mishandling of evidence is unexpected from the FBI,” said Abrams.
“This is either a rookie mistake or a purposeful act of digital sabotage.”