Clare Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune, has been sentenced to nearly seven years in prison, more than the five-year sentence prosecutors had recommended.
Bronfman, 41, daughter of late philanthropist and Seagram's CEO Edgar Bronfman, is one of the leading members of NXIVM, a cult-like self-improvement group accused of holding women captive, and coercing them into having sex with the group's leader, Keith Raniere.
What was Bronfman's Role in NXIVM?
Raniere was convicted of sex trafficking, racketeering, sexual exploitation of a child and human trafficking charges last year. He was also accused of forming a secret sorority of brainwashed "slaves" who were branded with his initials and forced to have sex with him.
Bronfman served as a member of the cult for 15 years before joining its executive board and bankrolled the secretive organization with tens of millions of dollars to run the group's intensive self-improvement classes and cover legal expenses when a lawsuit was filed against them.
NXIVM was based in upstate New York but gained popularity across the globe. It espoused a philosophy of self-improvement but investigators found that over the years it became a vehicle for recruiting, grooming and even branding female sex slaves for Raniere.
Bronfman Pleaded Guilty to Fraud and Forced Labor Charges
In April 2019, Bronfman admitted in a guilty plea that she harbored someone who was living in the U.S. illegally for financial gain and fraudulently using the identity of a deceased person on behalf of Raniere. As part of the plea agreement, Bronfman agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and forfeit $6 million from a fortune, which prosecutors have said is worth $200 million.
Counsel representing Bronfman argued that she should be given a lenient sentence as she was not directly involved in the more serious allegations against NXIVM and that she has underlying health conditions that could make her more vulnerable to coronavirus if incarcerated.
However, prosecutors said she should be given a harsher punishment because "Raniere would not have been able to commit the crimes with which he was convicted were it not for powerful allies like Bronfman."
US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said in his reading of her 81-month sentence, that while she was not convicted of racketeering, sex trafficking and other charges as Raniere was, her case was "not about an isolated incident of credit card fraud or a run-of-the-mill case of harboring illegal aliens for financial gain."
"Ms. Bronfman's crimes were not committed in a vacuum," Garaufis said. "They were committed in connection with her role in NXIVM and her close relationship with Raniere, and I believe that it would be inappropriate for me to consider them divorced from that context."