Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman has pleaded guilty to federal charges for her role in the sordid NXIVM sex cult.
NXIVM was founded by Keith Raniere in New York as a self-help group, although it has since been likened to a sexual pyramid scheme. Some members were allegedly brainwashed to the extent they were branded with Raniere’s initials and held as sex slaves.
Earlier this month, “Smallville” actress and co-defendant Allison Mack sobbed as she pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of racketeering for her role in NXIVM.
Mack admitted she coerced women into giving her embarrassing information and photographs, known within the group as “collateral,” in order to blackmail them into going along with NXIVM and Raniere’s demands.
His harem were held to bizarre, rigid standards that included a restrictive diet of 900 calories to maintain dangerously thin figures (their weight was recorded daily) and being forbidden from shaving or waxing their body hair.
The Seagram legacy
Canadian distiller Seagram Company was founded in 1855 and developed some of the world’s most famous spirits brands, including Chivas Regal Scotch and Captain Morgan rum. Its spirits division was sold to Pernod Ricard and Diageo in 2000.
Bronfman allegedly gave away $US100million of her fortune to NXIVM and also paid for lawyers to defend the group against a lawsuit brought by its critics.
Bronfman is the 40-year-old daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr.
She and her sister Sara joined NXIVM in the early 2000s when it was still a small group offering self-help workshops. While Sara eventually drifted away from the cult, Clare’s unwavering devotion to Raniere eventually estranged her from her family.
During a hearing in Brooklyn Federal Court, Bronfman recounted growing up in a family of great wealth and generosity, but straying from those values when she joined the cult’s executive board.
“I was afforded a great gift by my grandfather and father,” she said. “With the gift comes important, tremendous responsibility. It does not come with an ability to break the law; it comes with greater responsibility to uphold it.
“I failed to uphold the following laws set forth by this country, and for that I am truly sorry.”
Bronfman admitted in her plea that she harboured someone who was living in the US illegally for unpaid “labour and services” and that she committed credit card fraud on behalf of Raniere.
Her sentencing has been set for July 25, where she faces 21 to 27 months in prison. She has also agreed to forfeit $6 million of her fortune as part of her plea.