Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman charged in connection with alleged sex cult NXIVM

An heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune has been charged with racketeering in connection with the operations of a cult-like group whose leader has been accused of sex trafficking.

Bronfman and 5 others accused of racketeering related to operations of cult-like pyramid group

Clare Bronfman leaves court on Tuesday in New York City. Bronfman and three other people associated with the NXIVM organization had been charged with racketeering conspiracy. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

An heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune has been charged with racketeering in the United States in connection with the operation of a cult-like group whose leader has been accused of sex-trafficking.

Clare Bronfman is one of six people accused of a variety of racketeering offences in relation to the operation of NXIVM, according to a superseding indictment sworn in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York.

She is accused alongside NXIVM leader Keith Raniere, Smallville actress Allison Mack and three others of working to achieve the aims of a pyramid-like scheme that used shame, guilt and blackmail to recruit and groom sexual partners for Raniere.

"Among the means and methods by which the defendants and their associates participated in the conduct of the affairs of the enterprise were the following," the indictment reads.

"Promoting, enhancing and protecting the enterprise by committing, attempting and conspiring to commit crimes, including but not limited to identity theft, harbouring of aliens for financial gain, extortion, forced labour, sex trafficking, money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice."

NXIVM leader Keith Raniere is accused of sex trafficking in relation to allegations that a number of women were coerced into acting as his sex slaves. (Cathy Pinsky/Pinsky Studios)

Dead person's credit card

Bronfman has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She was released on house arrest Tuesday after signing a $100 million bail bond.

"Clare Bronfman did nothing wrong. NXIVM was not a criminal enterprise but instead was an organization that helped thousands of people," her lawyer, Susan Necheles, said in a statement. 

"The charges against Clare are the result of government overreaching and charging an individual with crimes just because the government disagrees with some beliefs taught by NXIVM and held by Clare. This is not how things should be done in America."

Both Raniere and Mack have previously pleaded not guilty to charges they coerced women into joining a secret society within the group to become sex slaves.

Some were branded in their pubic areas with a symbol that prosecutors claim contains Raniere's initials.

The latest indictment accuses Bronfman of conspiracy to commit identity theft, encouraging and inducing illegal entry into the U.S. and money laundering.

According to a document, filed in a bid to deny bail, prosecutors claim the allegations arise "out of a scheme to obtain usernames and passwords of people believed to be NXIVM's enemies so their emails could be monitored."

Prosecutors claim Bronfman also used wire transfers to make an illegal alien appear wealthy, in order to obtain an investor visa. 

Some of NXIVM's female members were branded in their pubic areas with a symbol that prosecutors claim contains Raniere's initials. (Sarah Edmondson)

She's also accused of "facilitating Raniere's use of a dead person's credit card" by paying off the monthly bill with the dead person's bank account.

The scheme was allegedly done to help Raniere — known as Vanguard to his followers — from paying taxes.

The charges date back to 2006 and include alleged activity as recent as March 2018.

The indictment also includes charges against three other high-ranking NXIVM members: bookkeeper Kathy Russell, president Nancy Salzman and Salzman's daughter, Lauren, who served on the executive board.

Lauren Salzman is accused of human trafficking in relation to a victim who was both a former sexual partner of Raniere's and part of his inner circle. 

"The victim was confined to a room as punishment after she developed romantic feelings for a man who was not Raniere," the court documents read.

"While in the room the victim went for months-long stretches without any human contact. After nearly two years in the room, the victim left the room and, as threatened, she was driven to Mexico without any identification documents." 

Independently wealthy

The U.S. court filings describe Bronfman as a "woman of extraordinary wealth with access to significant assets in several places around the world."

She's the daughter of former Seagram's chair Edgar Bronfman Sr., whose father and brother built the $2.6 billion Montreal-based liquor empire.

Prosecutors claim her virtually unlimited financial resources and history of frequent international travel make her a high flight risk.

Smallville actress Allison Mack leaves after a hearing in Brooklyn federal court in May. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

They also claimed Bronfman, if allowed out on bail, is a significant risk for obstruction of justice. They claim evidence compiled during the investigation indicates she has gone to "significant lengths to compile information and threaten litigation" against Raniere's enemies and critics. 

Earlier court filings have described her relationship with Raniere.

"She has financed the defendant repeatedly over the years, including providing him with millions of dollars and paying for private air travel costing up to approximately $65,000 a flight," prosecutors wrote in March.  

"She has also paid for numerous lawyers to bring suits against NXIVM critics."

As part of a series of exhibits Raniere filed in an unsuccessful attempt to get bail, he included a cancelled Airbnb receipt booked on his behalf in Montreal in Bronfman's name.

The 57-year-old claimed he tried to enter Canada in October 2017 but was turned back by immigration authorities.

Bronfman's website says she spent years as an internationally ranked equestrian show jumper and also notes her work with Raniere and her position on NXIVM's executive board.

In a statement posted to her website in December 2017, Bronfman said "there have been many defamatory accusations made and I have taken them seriously. Determining the truth is extremely important to me, and I can say firmly that neither NXIVM nor Keith have abused or coerced anyone."

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About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.