Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman whined in federal court on Tuesday that the conditions of her house arrest were too strict — but the judge presiding over her racketeering trial mocked her request and threatened to send her back to jail if she didn’t comply with the conditions he imposed.
“It’s gonna be my way or she goes to the MDC,” said Brooklyn federal judge Nicholas Garaufis, referring to the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal jail in Brooklyn.
Still, the afternoon didn’t go all bad for the heiress, who owns an island in Fiji. Garaufis granted Bronfman’s request to be allowed out of her home three times a week, for 90 minutes, so she could go to a gym, or for a jog.
Outside of court following the appearance, Bronfman’s lawyer, Susan R. Necheles, said she was bullish on her client’s chances of acquittal.
“You’ll notice in the indictment there’s only three things she’s alleged to have done wrong,” Necheles said. “They have nothing to do with NXIVM. We’re confident she’s done nothing criminal.”
Bronfman, 39, was arrested by the FBI in July and charged with conspiracy to commit identity fraud and racketeering. The charges relate to her involvement with NXIVM, a purported self-help group prosecutors contend is a criminal sex-cult, one that branded female followers and forced some of them into undesired sex, they allege.
Bronfman plead not guilty at her arraignment. She faces up to 20 years in prison.
The indictment charging Bronfman also accuses NXIVM’s alleged leader, Keith Raniere, and "Smallville" actress Allison Mack, the group's alleged co-leader, of sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and forced labor — crimes that carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years in prison and a possible life sentence behind bars.
Prosecutors say Raniere was known within NXIVM as “The Vanguard,” and that he and Mack created a secret society of NXIVM members called DOS. Prosecutors call DOS “an organized criminal group,” structured like a pyramid, “with levels of ‘slaves’ headed by ‘masters.’” Raniere, prosecutors say, was at the top, “the highest master.”
Mack served as Raniere’s lieutenant, who presented the cult “as a women’s empowerment group or sorority,” according to prosecutors. She is accused of helping to recruit, starve, enslave and brand women, while ensuring their silence with blackmail in the form of damaging information or criminal confessions the women were required to provide as a condition of entry.
“Under the guise of female empowerment, she starved women until they fit her co-defendant's sexual feminine ideal,” a prosecutor, Assistant United States Attorney Moira Kim Penza said at Mack’s arraignment.
Bronfman was a member of NXIVM’s executive board and alleged financial backer of the organization. The former international horse-jumping competitor was part of Raniere's “inner circle” of loyalists who “committed a broad range of serious crimes from identity theft and obstruction of justice to sex trafficking, all to promote and protect Raniere and NXIVM,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statementwhen he announced the charges.
Bronfman, specifically, is accused of helping to consolidate Raniere's power over NXIVM by obtaining “usernames and passwords of people believed to be NXIVM’s enemies so their emails could be monitored,” as well as by leading “efforts to discredit DOS victims,” by paying for lawyers to file abusive, costly lawsuits meant to intimidate critics.
Bronfman is also accused of facilitating a foreign national's fraudulent entry into the United States, and helping Raniere use a dead person’s credit card.
Following her arrest, the daughter of late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr. posted $100 million bond and agreed to house arrest in a Manhattan apartment that allowed her outside only to make court appearances, meet with lawyers or as otherwise approved in advance, according to court records.
The $100 million bond is among the highest sum ever required of a defendant appearing in Brooklyn federal court.
But on Monday, Bronfman’s lawyer wrote the court, asking that her client be allowed to travel freely in Manhattan up to to 96th Street, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Bronfman’s presence, she argued, is guaranteed by the $100 million bond, which has now been secured by $50 million in real estate and other assets — the loss of which would expose Bronfman’s sister “to financial ruin.”
Garaufis rejected that request.
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