Wednesday 15 August 2018

Drinks giant heiress on $100m bail for 'sex cult' prosecution

Clare Bronfman, an heiress of the Seagram’s liquor empire. Photo: Reuters
Clare Bronfman, an heiress of the Seagram’s liquor empire. Photo: Reuters

Harriet Alexander

A multi-millionaire heiress to the Seagram liquor empire has been arrested and charged with running a criminal enterprise, as part of proceedings against members of the Nxivm "sex cult".

The group garnered headlines for an initiation ritual that reportedly included branding founder Keith Raniere's initials on women, attempts to recruit celebrities, and accusations by prosecutors that members were turned into sex slaves for Mr Raniere.

Clare Bronfman (39) a UK-educated aspiring Olympic show jumper, was ordered by a judge in Brooklyn to be held under house arrest on $100m (€85m) bail.

Her lawyer, Susan Necheles, entered a not guilty plea.

"Clare Bronfman did nothing wrong. Nxivm was not a criminal enterprise but instead was an organisation that helped thousands of people," she said.

"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.

"We are confident that Clare will be exonerated."

Also appearing before federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis were her fellow defendants Mr Raniere, arrested in Mexico in March, and 'Smallville' actress Allison Mack, a senior figure in the group, who was detained in April.

They will be in the dock along with Ms Bronfman and three more women arrested on Tuesday - co-founder Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren, and their bookkeeper Kathy Russell.

Ms Bronfman was first introduced to Nxivm, which sells itself as a self-help and empowerment group, by her sister Sara 15 years ago.

The sisters even managed to convince their father Edgar to join.

He rapidly grew disillusioned, however - reportedly when he learned Ms Bronfman had lent the organisation $2m.

In 2003, he told 'Forbes' magazine the organisation was "a cult" and he wished his daughters had never got involved.

Ms Bronfman rose through the ranks, and in the summer of 2010 organised a seven-day celebration of Mr Rainere's 50th birthday. The retreat, held in upstate New York, cost up to $2,120 and billed as "the prototype and blueprint for a new era of civilised humanity".

Ms Bronfman, the event co-ordinator, wrote "the very purpose of VWeek is to get the chance to experience a civilised world... [and] craft a more fulfilling, purposeful life".

In November of the same year, 'Vanity Fair' reported that as much as $150m (€128m) was taken out of the Bronfmans's trusts and bank accounts and handed over to Nxivm.

The sums included $66m (€56m) allegedly used to cover Mr Raniere's failed bets in the commodities market, $30m (€25.6m) to buy property and $11m (€9.4m) for a 22-seat private plane.

Ms Bronfman's father died in December 2013, aged 84. Her British mother Georgiana had divorced him in 1983, and is married to actor Nigel Havers.

According to the charges announced this week, Ms Bronfman allegedly committed identity theft of at least two women and illegally brought another woman into the country.

Indictments also include 10 counts of racketeering to the sex trafficking charges already pending against Mr Raniere and Ms Mack, who prosecutors say helped Mr Raniere recruit sex slaves.

Ms Mack pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labour last month.

Mr Raniere's lawyers also denied the allegations. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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