Clare Bronfman, Seagram’s heiress, released on $100M bond amid Nxivm ‘sex cult’ investigation

Clare Bronfman leaves federal court on July 24, 2018, in Brooklyn, New York. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Clare Bronfman, the heir to the Seagram’s fortune, was released on a massive US$100 million bond Tuesday following her arrest for her suspected involvement in the alleged “sex cult” Nxivm.

Pronounced “Nexium,” the supposed “self-help” group has been accused of forcing its female members into unwanted sex and even branding the women. Former Smallville actor Allison Mack, along with Nxivm’s leader, Keith Raniere, were both arrested within weeks of each other in March and April of this year.

Allison Mack arrives at the United States Eastern District Court for a bail hearing on May 4, 2018 in Brooklyn, NY. Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Bronfman, 39, the daughter of late billionaire philanthropist and ex-Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., and three others were arrested and charged with racketeering conspiracy. Nancy Salzman — Nxivm’s longtime president — along with her daughter Lauren Salzman, and another Nxivm employee, Kathy Russell, were also charged.

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Mack and Raniere’s charges are more sinister than Bronfman’s. They each face three charges: sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labour conspiracy. Both have pleaded not guilty.

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Bronfman, a member of Nxivm’s executive board (her Linkedin profile even lists the organization under her work experience) and alleged financial provider for Nxivm, was also charged with conspiracy to commit identity theft.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released after agreeing to post the enormous bond. She was put under house arrest and has been ordered to wear an ankle monitor.

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“As alleged, this long-running conspiracy crossed multiple avenues of criminal activity, which included, among other things, electronic monitoring; identity theft; extortion; victim smuggling; and illegal trafficking of a victim after a period of unlawful confinement,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, in a statement. “The details of these alleged crimes become more and more grim as we continue to dig deeper into the conduct of this organization and its intended mission.”

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Authorities allege Bronfman and Raniere worked very closely and “conspired to commit identity theft arising out of a scheme to obtain the email usernames and passwords of perceived enemies and critics of Raniere in order to monitor their electronic communications.”

Additionally, the government accused her of further identity-theft crimes, involving the use of credit card and banking information belonging to one of Raniere’s sexual partners after her death in November 2016.

“Bronfman sent Raniere regular emails documenting expenses charged to the woman’s credit card for Raniere’s ‘review and approval,'” reads the court documents. “Those expenses included payments to a chiropractor for Raniere’s benefit, as well as thousands of dollars’ worth of clothing and shoe purchases for the mother of Raniere’s child.”

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Bronfman’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, told the Associated Press that the charges were “overreaching,” and that she’s “confident that Clare will be exonerated.”

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“[The charges are] the result of government overreaching and charging an individual with crimes just because the government disagrees with some beliefs taught by Nxivm and held by Clare,” she said.

Necheles initially tried to get Bronfman a lower bond, arguing that her client willingly surrendered. Ultimately, Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that she was a flight risk based on her vast wealth — somewhere in the region of US$200 million.

Bronfman also owns an island in Fiji and a private jet.

In June, a New York federal judge denied Raniere bail based on Bronfman’s immense wealth.

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In earlier court filings, the government detailed how Bronfman gave away tens of millions of dollars of her fortune to support Raniere and his group, including paying for private air travel at a cost of $65,000 per flight. It also said Bronfman has “paid for numerous lawyers to bring suits against Nxivm critics.”

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In a website post last year, Bronfman called the secret society a “sorority” that “has truly benefited the lives of its members, and does so freely.” She added, “I find no fault in a group of women (or men for that matter) freely taking a vow of loyalty and friendship with one another to feel safe while pushing back against the fears that have stifled their personal and professional growth.”

The idea within Nxivm is to continually perpetuate the cycle; each master is supposed to bring in slaves, and then to grow into a master themselves, they need to recruit their own slaves.

Each circle was “like a little family,” Mack said to the New York Times’ Vanessa Grigoriadis.

Earlier this year, Raniere posted an open letter to the Nxivm website (now deleted), ruing “the picture being painted in the media” about his group and denying any accusations levied against him.

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“Over the past months, there have been extensive independent investigations performed, by highly qualified individuals, and they have firmly concluded that there is no merit to the allegations that we are abusing, coercing or harming individuals,” it read in part. “These allegations are most disturbing to me as non-violence is one of my most important values.”

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Raniere and Nxivm have been the subject of criticism for years, dating back to at least 2012 when the Times Union of Albany published a series of articles examining the organization and allegations that it was like a cult.

Other rumoured celebrity members include former Battlestar Galactica star Nicki Clyne and Canadian actor Kristen Kreuk. Clyne has not commented publicly on her involvement, while Kreuk acknowledged hers, saying she’s “disturbed and embarrassed to have been associated” with Nxivm.

As of this writing, Bronfman has not publicly commented on her arrest.

A trial date for the Mack and Raniere has been set for Oct. 1. There is to be a pretrial hearing on Wednesday in Brooklyn, NY.

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