Clare Bronfman, Seagram's heiress who backed NXIVM, set for sentencing Wednesday

Jon Campbell, New York State Team
·3 min read

A Seagram's liquor heiress whose enormous wealth provided financial muscle to cult-like group NXIVM and its leader, Keith Raniere, is due for sentencing Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court.

Clare Bronfman, who remains a devoted Raniere follower, used her millions to fund a wave of lawsuits, private investigations and smear campaigns against those who dared to leave NXIVM's grip after she joined the Albany-based organization in the early 2000s, according to prosecutors.

Bronfman pleaded guilty in April 2019 to two felonies in connection with the federal case against Raniere and his key followers, admitting to harboring immigrants and shielding them from detection for financial gain by requiring them to do work for NXIVM and paying them little, if anything, in return.

She also admitted to presenting false identification for her role in using the credit card of a deceased NXIVM and Raniere devotee.

Her sentencing is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m.

"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," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo. "Bronfman spent millions of dollars of her inherited fortune on Raniere’s endeavors."

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Clare Bronfman, left, leaves federal court, Tuesday, July 24, 2018, in Brooklyn. 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.
Clare Bronfman, left, leaves federal court, Tuesday, July 24, 2018, in Brooklyn. 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.

NXIVM was a purported self-help group based in the Albany suburb of Clifton Park. Its followers paid thousands of dollars for basic classes based on the teachings of Raniere, a Rockland County native who went by the title "Vanguard."

Raniere was convicted of seven felonies last year after it became known he was secretly leading a sorority of women who called each other "master" and "slave" and were branded with his initials on their pubic area.

The sorority, known as DOS, has been likened to a sex cult, and the women were required to give up nude photos and damaging information as collateral if they ever tried to leave.

Raniere, who is awaiting sentencing in a Brooklyn federal prison, and NXIVM have re-entered the spotlight in recent weeks as the subject of the HBO documentary series "The Vow."

In one episode, the series documents how Bronfman and her sister, Sara, were able to convince the Dalai Lama to travel to Albany for a NXIVM-related event in 2009, showing video footage of Raniere and NXIVM leaders meeting privately with the spiritual leader of Tibet.

Keith Raniere
Keith Raniere

Bronfman, 41, is the daughter of the late Edgar Bronfman, the former president and CEO of the Seagram beverage company.

She has refused to disavow Raniere and his teachings even after his conviction, writing a letter to U.S. District Judge Nicolas Garaufis last month crediting Raniere with improving her life.

“Many people, including most of my own family, believe I should disavow Keith and NXIVM, and that I have not is hard for them to understand and accept,” Bronfman wrote. “However, for me, NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better.”

Bronfman's attorneys are seeking a sentence of three years of probation. They also alerted the judge this week that Bronfman is dealing with a "possibly serious liver ailment."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn is seeking a five-year prison sentence for Bronfman, as well as a $500,000 fine. Bronfman's plea deal also included an agreement to pay $6 million in forfeiture.

In her own sentencing memo, Bronfman's attorneys made the case she had no knowledge of the group of branded women.

"Clare would never knowingly fund a sex cult, and she renounces human trafficking and sex trafficking unequivocally," a recent court filing reads.

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This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Clare Bronfman, Seagram's heiress who backed NXIVM, set for sentencing