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Clare Bronfman was sentenced to 81 months in prison on Wednesday for her role in NXIVM, a self-help group that feds say operated as a pyramid scheme and sex-trafficking cult. The nearly seven year punishment is even more than the five years prosecutors sought. She is the first of six of the organization’s prominent members to be sentenced.
Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune, helped bankroll NXIVM for years. In April 2019, Bronfman pleaded guilty to charges including identity theft and immigration fraud. She denied knowing anything about sexual abuses within the group’s secret women-branding sorority.
“Today, Clare Bronfman is the first of many to be sentenced for the crimes she committed in furtherance of NXIVM’s objectives,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney said in a statement. “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. 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.”
In a letter to a Brooklyn federal judge last month, Bronfman, 41, declared “NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better.” Raniere was convicted for a multitude of crimes, including sex trafficking, forced labor, alien smuggling and child exploitation offenses.
While some are surprised at Bronfman’s refusal to disavow the NXIVM founder, psychologist and Yahoo Mental Health Contributor Dr. Jen Hartstein explained why disavowing Raniere could be hard for Bronfman.
“Many people, when in a group like NXIVM, suffer from psychological manipulation,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “There is a coercive control from the leader of the [group], which causes those involved to pledge devotion to him [or] her and their rules. Often, those involved are isolated, lonely and looking to connect to someone who can make them feel a part of something. It is hard to believe that that person would do anything to harm them in any way.”
Harstein added, “It can be very hard to undo the programming that someone has had when being part of a group like NXIVM. It requires helping that individual let go of the beliefs that they had, and to really see the damage that was done. It requires a lot of psychotherapy to educate the member on the negative and harmful teachings that they might have experienced.”
Bronfman was a high-ranking member of NXIVM’s Executive Board and spent millions of dollars of her inherited fortune on Raniere’s endeavors for over a decade, prosecutors stated. Along with nearly seven years in prison, the court imposed a fine of $500,000 and ordered that restitution to be paid to one victim.
Bronfman, who has spent the last two years on house arrest, was remanded into custody after the hearing. Her attorney told CNN she plans to appeal immediately.