Seagram’s Heiress Pleads Guilty In NXIVM Sex Slave Case
NXIVM leader Keither Raniere could be the only member of the group to stand trial in the case at this point.
BY ETHAN HARFENIST
Clare Bronfman leaves a federal courthouse with attorney Mark Geragos Photo: Associated Press
Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman on Friday pleaded guilty to her role in NXIVM, which is thought to be a secretive sex cult that branded and groomed women for its leader, Keith Raniere.
Bronfman, 40, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit identify theft in a Brooklyn federal court, the Daily Beast reports. Bronfman was one of the group’s largest donors, and also served as its operations director at one point.
The plea means the 40-year-old Bronfman, the daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., will avoid going to trial early next month with Raniere. Prosecutors say Bronfman was bankrolling Raniere's group at a time when he had a secret harem of sex slaves who were branded with his initials.
With NXIVM’ bookkeeper, Kathy Russell, 61, is expected to enter a guilty plea to one count of racketeering conspiracy, according to the Daily Beast. It would make them the fourth and fifth defendants to plead guilty in the case, meaning Raniere would be the only one to stand trial in the case.
Sentencing is set for July 25.
On April 8, TV actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty to charges she manipulated women into becoming sex slaves for the group’s spiritual leader.
Mack, 36, wept as she admitted her crimes and apologized to the women who prosecutors say were exploited by Raniere and NXIVM.
“I believed Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people and I was wrong,” Mack told a judge in federal court in Brooklyn as she pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.
Court papers allege NXIVM formed a secret society of women who were branded with Raniere’s initials and forced to have sex with him. Defense attorneys have insisted any relationship between Raniere and the alleged victims, including an unidentified actress and other women expected to testify against him at trial, was consensual.
Mack said that at Raniere’s direction, she obtained compromising information and images of two unidentified women – called “collateral” within the group – that she threatened to make public if they didn’t perform “so-called acts of love.”
The jury questionnaire covers several topics, including asking candidates for their opinions about “rich individuals” and people who “engage in relationships with multiple sexual partners” and whether they “believe that people under the age of 17 should be able to consent to sex with adults.”
Another woman charged in the alleged conspiracy, Lauren Salzman, admitted in a guilty plea that she held a woman from Mexico hostage in an upstate home for more than two years under threat of having her deported “if she did not complete labor requested by myself and others.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.