Seagram Heiress Clare Bronfman Sentenced to More Than 6 Years for Role in NXIVM
Clare Bronfman, a billionaire heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, was sentenced Wednesday to a prison term of 6 years and 9 months for her role in the cult-like NXIVM group.
Bronfman is the daughter of the late Canadian billionaire, former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., and a member of NXIVM’s executive board. She was immediately taken into custody and put behind bars following the sentencing. She was also fined $500,000.
The 41-year-old, who provided key financial support for NXIVM, pleaded guilty in April 2019 to harboring an illegal alien for unpaid labor. Bronfman also admitted to having committed fraud on behalf of disgraced NXIVM founder and leader Keith Raniere by using a deceased woman’s credit card. She agreed to forfeit $6 million.
The NXIVM group, founded in 1998, masqueraded as a self-help company that ran “executive success program” courses and other self-help curricula that claimed to give students the ability to achieve their personal and professional life goals by overcoming mental blocks. Since its founding, the group has seen at least 17,000 enrolled in its classes. Raniere has been convicted of turning women in the cult-like group into sex slaves.
Bronfman is the first to be sentenced among five of her NXIVM co-defendants, who were previously convicted on various charges and are now awaiting sentencing: Raniere, former “Smallville” TV actress Allison Mack, former bookkeeper Kathy Russell, NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, and her daughter, board member Lauren Salzman.
“Defendant Bronfman twisted our immigration system to serve a reprehensible agenda, and engaged in flagrant fraud to the detriment of her victims and in the service of a corrupt endeavor,” Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme said in a statement. “With today’s sentence, she has been held accountable for her crimes.”
The prison sentence of 6 years and 9 months exceeds the three years probation her defense team sought and the five years the government wanted for Bronfman, who had been under home confinement.
Her lawyers had argued she deserved leniency because she was not directly involved in the most disturbing allegations against NXIVM or Raniere. They also said that she has a pre-existing health condition that could make her more vulnerable in prison to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
Bronfman Admits to ‘Mistakes’
The hearing in Brooklyn, New York, lasted more than three hours and featured emotional statements from several victims.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis repeatedly scolded Bronfman for standing by Raniere and the upstate New York organization, even after the evidence showed that she became aware of his sex-trafficking scheme.
With that knowledge, she “could have distanced herself from him,” the judge said. “Instead, she chose to double down on her support of Raniere.”
Before hearing her sentence, she read a statement to the court where she said she was thankful for the prayers of her supporters. “It doesn’t mean I haven’t made mistakes because I have made mistakes,” she also said.
In particular, between October 2015 and January 2018, Bronfman recruited people into NXIVM-affiliated organizations, and then obtained a visa or other immigration status for them “based on false or fraudulent representations,” the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.
The department noted that Bronfman had recruited one woman (“Jane Doe 12”) from Mexico to work for a fitness-related NXIVM-affiliated company, where documents submitted to secure a work visa for the woman said she was being hired as a management consultant with a salary of $3,600 per month. However, Bronfman only paid the woman $4,000 over more than a year. The court on Wednesday imposed $96,605 in restitution to be paid to “Jane Doe 12.”
Bronfman had long been affiliated with NXIVM, giving away tens of millions of dollars to bankroll Raniere and his programs of intense self-improvement classes. She also paid for lawyers to defend the group against a lawsuit brought by its critics.
Court documents also previously revealed Bronfman was part of an illegal campaign contribution scheme to “exceed contribution limits” to a 2008 presidential primary campaign for “political influence.”
“Today, Clare Bronfman is the first of many to be sentenced for the crimes she committed in furtherance of NXIVM’s objectives. While her fate in no way removes the trauma NXIVM’s victims will likely continue to suffer, it does highlight the government’s efforts to bring to justice all of those involved in a series of illegal acts carried out for the benefit of this organization,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney said in a statement.
“She recently wrote to the judge telling him that NXIVM and Keith Raniere had changed her life for the better. She will now have more than six years behind bars to contemplate that sentiment, and decide once and for all if it’s as easy to accept as she once believed it to be.”
NXIVM leader Raniere was convicted in June 2019 on all seven charges brought against him, which include racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, possession of child pornography. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison scheduled for Oct. 27.
According to court filings (pdf), Raniere in 2015 created a secret society within the group called DOS, an acronym for “dominus obsequious sororium” in Latin, which roughly means “master of the slave women.” Raniere, the “highest master” of DOS, forced other members, who were all female, to have sex with him. Many of the members were branded with a cauterizing pen while naked and being filmed.
The Associated Press and Bowen Xiao contributed to this report.