Seagram's heir faces sentencing in branded sex slave case
NEW YORK (AP) - A wealthy benefactor of Keith Raniere, the disgraced leader of a self-improvement group in upstate New York convicted of turning women into sex slaves who were branded with his initials, faced sentencing Wednesday in the federal conspiracy case.
Seagram’s liquor fortune heir Clare Bronfman appeared in federal court in Brooklyn. The stakes are high. Her lawyers want a judge to give her three years' probation instead of prison time, while prosecutors say she deserves five years behind bars.
Bronfman, 41, admitted in a guilty plea last year that she harbored someone who was living in the U.S. illegally for unpaid “labor and services” and that she committed credit card fraud on behalf of Raniere, leader of the group called NXIVM.
In a letter to the court last month, Bronfman wrote that she “never meant to hurt anyone, however I have and for this I am deeply sorry.” Still, she said that she couldn’t disavow Raniere because “NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better.”
At trial, prosecutors told jurors the 60-year-old Raniere’s organization, NXIVM operated like a cult whose members called him “Vanguard.” To honor him, the group formed a secret sorority comprised of brainwashed female “slaves” who were branded with his initials and forced to have sex with him, the prosecutors said.
Bronfman’s lawyers have argued she deserves leniency because she had no direct involvement in the most disturbing allegations and has a health condition that could put her at greater risk for a coronavirus infection if incarcerated. But in court papers, prosecutors argued she deserved a serious punishment since, “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.”
The defendant had long been affiliated with NXIVM, giving away tens of million of dollars to bankroll Raniere and his program of intense self-improvement classes. She also paid for lawyers to defend the group against a lawsuit brought by its critics.
Along with Bronfman, Raniere’s teachings won him the devotion of Hollywood actresses like Allison Mack of TV’s “Smallville.” Mack also has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
As part of a plea agreement, Bronfman agreed to forfeit $6 million from a fortune prosecutors have said is worth $200 million. They also are seeking a $500,000 fine.
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