Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty last week to charges related to her involvement in a sex-trafficking operation doubling as a prominent self-help organization, The New York Times reported.
Bronfman was accused of using her significant wealth as a beneficiary of the Seagram’s fortune to help bankroll Nxivm, which was co-founded in the 1990s by Keith Raniere. While Nxivm purported to offer life coaching resources, authorities allege that in reality the organization was a kind of cult in which some women were groomed, coerced into sex, blackmailed and even physically branded, with Raniere as the ringleader.
Bronfman pleaded guilty to helping someone illegally enter the country and of falsifying documents, while Nxivm bookkeeper Kathy Russell simultaneously admitted she committed visa fraud. The plea deals mark the newest developments in a case that has ensnared a Hollywood actor and garnered headlines around the globe. CNN reported that Bronfman was remorseful during a statement she gave at the plea hearing on April 19.
“Your honor, I was afforded a great gift by my grandfather and father. With the gift comes immense privilege, and more importantly, tremendous responsibility,” CNN reported her saying. “It does not come with an ability to break the law, but a greater responsibility to uphold it.”
Bronfman, who is the youngest daughter of former Seagram’s chairman Edgar Bronfman, originally joined Nxivm in 2002, according to the New York Post. She reportedly hoped the organization’s mentoring services could help her secure a spot on the U.S. Olympic equestrian team, but in time, she became more involved. By 2010, she and her sister, Sara Bronfman, had invested as much as $150 million in the organization.
Authorities said Raniere and others pressured women to have sex with him, and some were branded with a symbol that included Raniere’s initials. Numerous women were also threatened with the release of embarrassing information to prevent them from revealing the truth of the organization’s secrets, the Times reported prosecutors saying.
In July of 2018, Raniere, Bronfman and others involved in Nxivm were arrested and charged with a number of different crimes, including extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Raniere remains under indictment and his attorney maintains that they will be going to trial, the Times reports.