Facing years in prison for funding ‘cult’ NXIVM, Seagram’s heiress still stands by the band and its founder


Seagram alcohol heiress Clare Bronfman could face up to five years in prison on Wednesday.

Prosecutors say Bronfman’s millions funded the NXIVM aid company – which they call a criminal enterprise – as well as its founder Keith Raniere, who was convicted of sex trafficking and child exploitation.

But in the weeks leading up to her conviction, in a letter she wrote to a judge, Bronfman refused to disown NXIVM – or Raniere.

“There is no doubt that Raniere would not have been able to commit the crimes for which he was convicted if it were not for powerful allies like Bronfman,” reads a government report before. sentence.

“Even now – after Raniere’s convictions for sex trafficking, forced labor, foreign trafficking and child exploitation – Bronfman continues to support Raniere,” the report said.

Bronfman, 41, pleaded guilty in April 2019 to conspiracy to cover up and harbor people who were not legally in the United States for financial gain – and fraudulent use of identity documents. She has spent the past two years in house arrest.

The heir to Seagram’s liquor fortune will be the first NXIVM member to be convicted in the federal case that resulted in Raniere’s conviction for sex trafficking, racketeering, sexual exploitation of a child and human trafficking .

Four other co-defendants who were high-ranking members of the organization pleaded guilty last year to racketeering charges in connection with the case.

Prosecutors claim Bronfman poured tens of millions of dollars into the organization, but her defense claims, despite her financial backing, that she was unaware of the criminal activities Raniere was convicted of. But in the months after former members of the NXIVM left the group and spoke publicly about allegations of abuse, prosecutors said Bronfman was involved in the attempt to threaten former members with silence.

“I never believed I was supporting anything bad or wrong, I never wanted to protect anyone from criminal behavior, I never intended to intimidate people. Bronfman wrote in an Aug. 28 letter to US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. “I do not have and I do not support anyone who abuses or uses violence against anyone. “


In the court file, Bronfman said she was “deeply sorry” for the pain caused by the two charges to which she pleaded guilty. Defense attorneys demanded that Bronfman be sentenced to three years’ probation, saying she took “full responsibility” for what she did.

Bronfman was a member of the board of directors of NXIVM, an Albany, NY-based company that turned Raniere’s philosophies of self-improvement into intense one-day seminars that cost thousands of participants.

An entire community has grown around the teachings of NXIVM, with members known as “Nxians” frequently meeting in Albany to take more classes and even celebrate Raniere on her birthday at an annual event in Albany. ‘a week called “V-week,” after Raniere’s nickname: Vanguard.

Members who spoke negatively of the group were shunned, witnesses testified at Raniere’s trial. NXIVM executives have hired lawyers and private investigators to investigate the group’s criticisms.

High-ranking members of the community ranged from heiresses like Bronfman to actors.

Much of NXIVM’s teachings were shaped by a woman named Nancy Salzman, according to the testimony of a trial witness for Raniere, who was the president of the company, and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to racketeering. His daughter, Lauren, was a rising member of the company and pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges.

Within NXIVM, there was a secret society of women called DOS, which prosecutors said members were urged to join after being told it was a women’s empowerment group.

Allison Mack, a “Smallville” actress, helped create an NXIVM program for actors and appeared in NXIVM recruiting videos. Prosecutors say she also helped recruit DOS “slaves”, and later pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.

Bronfman believed in the teachings of NXIVM so strongly that it injected more than $ 116 million into the organization, according to a conviction report by prosecutors, often in the form of investment loans or patenting for programs of Raniere.

Prosecutors say Raniere recruited people into the organization and exploited them “for power, for profit, for sex.”

Prosecutors also say DOS women have been asked to give “collateral”, potentially embarrassing or incriminating documents such as nude photos or letters with confessions and even rights to financial assets in order to prevent them from. disclose details about the group, according to a conviction. note.

The recruited women were called “slaves” who had to take a vow of obedience to their “masters”. Unbeknownst to most of the women, the leader of the secret group was Raniere himself, and some of the women had to take nude photos and have sex with Raniere.

Some have even been branded, with Raniere’s initials etched forever on the pelvic region of their body. Bronfman admitted that some of her closest friends were members of the DOS, but says she was unaware of the existence of the secret society and was not aware of allegations of abuse until former members begin to speak.

Once the former members began speaking publicly, prosecutors said Bronfman helped Raniere write threatening letters that were sent to the women. “Bronfman hired a psychologist, private investigators and a public relations firm in an effort to rehabilitate DOS’s public image,” a government condemnation memorandum read.

Bronfman’s defense team said in court documents that Raniere and others “continued to keep things from him” even after DOS went public, and that they discovered many details about the group during the Raniere trial. Raniere’s attorney said his dealings with NXIVM members were consensual.


A window into Bronfman’s state of mind as she heads towards her conviction is the letter she wrote to Garaufis, who oversaw Raniere’s trial and will determine her sentence.

In the letter, Bronfman apologizes for the case of an anonymous woman to whom his accusations relate, but says she will not disown Raniere or NXIVM, saying “For me, NXIVM and Keith have changed my life greatly for the best. ”

She also wrote that she did not disown DOS because, according to the information she had, “it made no sense for me to do so”.

“I was never told of anything sexual or harmful of any kind, and they assured me and professionals that: there was no harm; no one was forced to do anything; and on the contrary, people were experiencing improvements in their lives as a result of joining DOS, ”Bronfman wrote.

Janja Lalich, a sociology professor who has spent decades helping people escape and recover from their involvement in manipulative groups such as cults, attended Raniere’s trial and worked with several former members. from NXIVM. Prosecutors called NXIVM a “sectarian-type group.”

Lalich said she generally believed that people who were part of manipulative groups, such as cults, should be given lighter sentences if they were involved in criminal activities associated with the group.

“When you are so anchored in something, your free will is actually affected by the will of the leader.

There should be a way for the courts to take that into account and maybe lighten a sentence, ”Lalich told CNN.

But, she said, the fact that Bronfman refused to give up on Raniere and NXIVM shows that she is still brainwashed by Raniere and didn’t realize she had been manipulated.

For this reason, Lalich believes Bronfman should not be given a lighter sentence.

“Clare still hasn’t given up on the ghost. Does she deserve this mitigation? Not in my opinion. I think she has to pay for what she did and she has to bite the bullet.

One of the reasons Bronfman said she wouldn’t disown Raniere or NXIVM is because they helped her overcome her fears and flaws.

“For the first time in my life, I was not afraid to be with people. I built meaningful friendships and was surrounded by people who were looking to improve their lives, ”Bronfman wrote.


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