Prosecutors are hoping to send a strong message in their case against a key financier of the controversial self-improvement group NXIVM, which housed a clandestine sex cult, and have recommended she spend five years behind bars for her involvement in the operation.
Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, who prosecutors say essentially bankrolled NXIVM and its co-founder Keith Raniere, had accepted a plea deal that called for her serve 21 to 27 moths behind bars. However, it was a non-binding agreement and on Monday, prosecutors argued that the plea agreement guidelines "dramatically understate the seriousness of Bronfman’s criminal conduct and the unique need for deterrence presented in this case.”
Prosecutors said in the filing obtained by Oxygen.com that Bronfman used her “extraordinary wealth and social status” to fund the criminal enterprise, led by Keith Raniere, for more than a decade, helping to recruit members into the group and spending “millions of dollars” of her fortune to support Raniere’s endeavors, including efforts to undercut those who sought to expose his sordid conduct.
“She pursued Raniere’s accusers and critics by dispatching powerful teams of lawyers, private investigators and public relations firms to attempt to discredit them and dredge up information that could be used to undermine their claims,” prosecutors wrote. “Even now—after Raniere’s convictions for sex trafficking, forced labor, alien smuggling and child exploitation offenses—Bronfman continues to support Raniere.”
Bronfman has already pleaded guilty to two counts of superseding information, according to the memorandum. One count charged that between October 2015 and January 2018, Bronfman conspired with others to conceal, harbor and shield from detection illegal aliens for “financial gain.” The other alleged that between November 2016 and March 2018, Bronfman unlawfully transferred and used a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit tax evasion.
The heiress reportedly requested a non-custodial sentence of three years of probation in the case, however, prosecutors contend such a sentence would ignore “the seriousness of her crimes” and have asked the judge to sentence her to five years behind bars and a $500,000 fine.
“The court should reject Bronfman’s request for special treatment and instead impose a sentence that will demand respect for the law,” prosecutors wrote.
According to the memorandum, Bronfman “conspired to recruit and secure immigration status for numerous individuals so that they could work in one or more Nxivm-affiliated organizations,” but paid these recruits “very little money” and instead required them to “pay back” the cost of their visas.
While she claimed to award these women “scholarships” or presented employment letters with significant wages attached, prosecutors argue that Bronfman had “no intention of providing her victims with a living wage” and instead forced them to be dependent on her and Raniere.
The lengthy court filing details the specific allegations against the wealthy heiress, including her alleged attempts to silence critics or detractors of the organization, including reporters, vocal critics of NXIVM or Raniere, Raniere’s ex-girlfriends, former members of NXIVM, attorneys and even federal judges.
These efforts were heightened, according to prosecutors, after the existence of a secret subgroup within NXIVM, known as DOS, became public knowledge. Women who agreed to become part of the secret society had to give damaging collateral to gain entry to the group, ensuring their silence. As “slaves” the women had to pledge life-long obedience to their “masters.” Some of the women were physically branded with a symbol resembling Raniere's initials and were coerced into sex with the self-styled guru.
“After the existence of DOS became known within the Nxivm community, Bronfman quickly and aggressively took action to attempt to dredge up damaging information about Raniere’s accusers and discredit them,” prosecutors wrote. “Bronfman sent these sex trafficking victims threatening letters and attempted to have criminal charges filed against them—a pattern of behavior she had previously engaged in.”
After Raniere’s arrest in Mexico in 2018, prosecutors said Bronfman funded a criminal defense fund to pay for his legal fees and the legal fees for other members of the group.
Bronfman’s legal team has argued that she should receive probation in the case because she has already suffered “reputational harm to her family, professional harm to her business relationships and business prospects; loss of privacy; loss of business opportunities … and loss of friends and family,” according to the court documents.
Her team also argued that her pre-trial release conditions resulted in her “banishment from her home and entire community in Albany.”
But prosecutors described her residence as a “full-service luxury” apartment with concierge, fitness center and rooftop.
“Many defendants are not able to post security sufficient to warrant pretrial release at all, and few are able to live in luxurious accommodations like Bronfman’s,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors argue that the consequences she noted “are not ones that would be appropriately considered in fashioning an appropriate sentence.”
Prosecutors also contend that Bronfman still “remains loyal” to Raniere, even after his conviction. Raniere was found guilty in June 2019 on racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and other felony charges, Forbes reports.
Raniere is set to be sentenced on Oct. 27.
In Bronfman’s case, the defense will need to reply to the prosecutor’s sentencing memorandum by Sept. 22.
Defense attorney Duncan Levin told The New York Post that he had “every confidence in the court to reach a just result.”
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