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Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman sentenced to almost 7 years in NXIVM sex-slave case

Seagram's liquor heiress Clare Bronfman
Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman leaves a Brooklyn courthouse in April 2019.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

A wealthy benefactor of Keith Raniere, the disgraced leader of a self-improvement group in Upstate New York convicted of turning women into sex slaves who were branded with his initials, was sentenced Wednesday to almost seven years in prison in the federal conspiracy case.

Seagram’s liquor fortune heir Clare Bronfman was taken into custody to begin her 81-month sentence immediately after her appearance in federal court in Brooklyn.

Bronfman, 41, admitted in a guilty plea last year that she harbored someone who was living in the U.S. illegally for unpaid “labor and services” and that she committed credit card fraud on behalf of Raniere, the 60-year-old leader of NXIVM.

In a letter to the court last month, Bronfman wrote that she “never meant to hurt anyone” but that she had done so “and for this I am deeply sorry.” Still, she said she couldn’t disavow Raniere because “NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better.”

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At trial, prosecutors told jurors that Raniere’s organization in Upstate New York operated like a cult whose members called him “Vanguard.” To honor him, the group formed a secret sorority composed of brainwashed female “slaves” who were branded with his initials and forced to have sex with him, the prosecutors said.

Bronfman’s lawyers have argued that she deserves lenience because she had no direct involvement in the most disturbing allegations and has a health condition that could put her at greater risk for a coronavirus infection if incarcerated. But in court papers, prosecutors argued that she deserved a serious punishment, because “there can be little doubt that Raniere would not have been able to commit the crimes with which he was convicted were it not for powerful allies like Bronfman.”

An heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune and three other people were arrested on Tuesday in connection with the investigation of a self-improvement organization accused of branding some of its female followers and forcing them into unwanted sex.

Bronfman had long been affiliated with NXIVM, giving away tens of millions of dollars to bankroll Raniere and his program of intense self-improvement classes. She also paid for lawyers to defend the group against a lawsuit brought by its critics.

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Along with Bronfman, Raniere’s teachings won him the devotion of Hollywood actresses, including Allison Mack of TV’s “Smallville.” Mack also has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

As part of a plea agreement, Bronfman agreed to forfeit $6 million from a fortune prosecutors have said is worth $200 million. They also are seeking a $500,000 fine.


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