Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Canadian-based Seagram’s liquor company, was arrested on Tuesday in connection with her ongoing work with self-help group NXIVM and charged with racketeering conspiracy.
Once an international equestrian competitor, Bronfman is the 39-year-old daughter of the late billionaire and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr. In addition to Bronfman, NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman a.k.a. “Prefect,” 64, her daughter Lauren Salzman, 42, and bookkeeper Kathy Russell, 60, were accused of the same crimes. According to a court information officer with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s Eastern District told Rolling Stone, all four women have pleaded not guilty.
The information officer also sent Rolling Stone a press release describing the superseding indictment that was unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn, which essentially lumps the charges with those filed against NXIVM’s co-founder Keith Raniere AKA “Vanguard,” 57, and TV actress turned staff member Allison Mack, 35. They had been charged earlier this year with “racketeering conspiracy involving an array of crimes, including identity theft, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.” (Both have denied the allegations.)
The 24-page indictment describes how Raniere and his “inner circle” – namely Bronfman, the Salzmans, Russell and Mack – allegedly operated an organized criminal enterprise and recruited members, both in New York and overseas, in order to line Raniere’s pockets between 2003 and 2018.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Richard P. Donohue, is leading the government’s case. “This Office and the FBI will continue to investigate and prosecute those who prey on others to such destructive effect,” Donohue wrote in the press release.
The indictment included allegations that Raniere and Bronfman used a dead woman’s credit card and banking information for the personal expenses of Raniere and the mother of his child; that Raniere and Lauren Salzman were involved in sex trafficking and obtaining “property and services from their slaves through fraud and extortion”; and that Nancy Salzman conspired with Raniere to alter records regarding a civil lawsuit by NXIVM against a former member. All six individuals face up to 20 years for racketeering conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy and wire fraud charges, and a maximum of 15 years for the identity theft conspiracy charge. Raniere and Mack pleaded not guilty to previous charges.
In an emailed statement to Rolling Stone, her defense attorney, Susan Necheles, wrote that Bronfman did nothing wrong. “Nxivm was not a criminal enterprise but instead was an organization that helped thousands of people,” Necheles wrote. “The charges against Clare are the result of government overreaching and charing an individual with crimes just because the government disagrees with some beliefs taught by Nxivm and held by Clare.”
Necheles added: “This is not how things should be done in America. We are confident that Clare will be exonerated.”
The charges come after The New York Times published a story in October 2017 on former NVIXM members, who claimed they wanted to join a community they believed empowered women. Instead, they were allegedly made to hand over “naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such ‘collateral’ might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.” One woman told the Times that she was told to undress and was then restrained by three others on a table, while Lauren Salzman told her to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.” The woman said she then received a two-inch-square tattoo on her hip as part of her initiation.
After the Times published their story, Brooklyn prosecutors launched an investigation and collaborated with Mexican authorities to arrest Raniere in March at a luxury villa near Puerto Vallarta. His initial appearance was in Fort Worth, Texas, after which he was transported to a federal court in Brooklyn and has faced charges of sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy. A criminal complaint against Raniere accused him of taking part in an “organized criminal group” that names him the “master” of up to 20 “slaves” at a time who were forced to provide “acts of care” and have sex with him. A month later, FBI agents arrested Mack, an actress known for her role as Chloe Sullivan on the TV show Smallville. Prosecutors alleged that she was paid for her efforts to recruit “slaves” to have sex with Ranier.
NXIVM’s website describes its “mission is to raise human awareness, foster an ethical humanitarian civilization, and celebrate what it means to be human.” Over 16,000 individuals have taken courses with NXIVMsince the late 1990s, according to The Times. As of Tuesday, the site’s homepage displayed a message to its members: “It is with deep sadness that we inform you we are suspending all NXIVM/ESP enrollment, curriculum and events until further notice” and explains that the move “is warranted by the extraordinary circumstances facing the company at this time.”
All six defendants are set to appear in court in Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon.