An already bizarre case accusing secretive self-help group NXIVM of upstate New York of engaging in sex-trafficking took another strange turn Wednesday thanks to firebrand attorney Michael Avenatti and a courtroom scene caused by a wealthy defendant he’s tried to represent.
At a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, prosecutors confirmed that Avenatti appeared on behalf of liquor fortune heiress Clare Bronfman at a closed-door meeting last week that also included Mark Geragos, another high-profile lawyer representing Bronfman.
When U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis asked Geragos whether he and Avenatti had told prosecutors Avenatti was being brought into the case, he responded, “That’s exactly what happened.”
The revelation came only two days after Avenatti, the lawyer best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels, was arrested on charges accusing him of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike. He wasn’t in court Wednesday and didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Geragos has been linked to the Nike case by reports naming him as the unidentified co-conspirator mentioned in court papers. Asked outside court Wednesday if he was cooperating in the case, he said no, but declined comment on whether he was the alleged co-conspirator.
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Bronfman, a daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing her of bank-rolling a cult-like organization that brainwashed and branded women who served as sex slaves for its spiritual leader.
Under stern questioning by the judge Wednesday about which lawyers are actually representing her and whether she knew if Geragos was involved in the Nike case, Bronfman turned pale, staggered away from the bench and collapsed into a chair. An ambulance was called, but she later left the courthouse on the arm of Geragos.
The judge adjourned the hearing but told lawyers Bronfman would need to come back to court Thursday to give some answers.
“You’re going to tell me who the lawyers are,” he said. “You’re going to tell me when they were retained.”
Nancy Salzman, the co-founder of NXIVM, pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy on March 13. Salzman now faces 33 to 41 months in prison at her July 10 sentencing. Her home was raided in March 2018 by the FBI.
Meanwhile, Raniere has been hit with child pornography charges. Both Mack and Raniere have pleaded not guilty.
— With files from Chris Jancelewicz