A Seagram's heiress and member of an alleged criminal sex cult is bankrolling the defense of other group members in a potential conflict of interest, federal prosecutors say.
Prosecutors say Clare Bronfman, 39, is the "primary contributor" to an irrevocable trust fund that is paying the legal fees for members of the group NXIVM, a self-described self-help group that is now facing allegations of sex trafficking, according to NBC News.
Bronfman, who owns houses in Fiji and California, is the daughter of billionaire Edgar Bronfman, who once ran the U.S. arm of the famed liquor brand.
Prosecutors believe the significant money Bronfman has dropped to help pay for other member's legal fees could present a conflict of interest because "it may subject an attorney to undesirable outside influence and raises an ethical question as to whether the attorney's loyalties are with the client or the payer," according to a new federal court filing.
Legal fees for several of the witnesses in the case are also being paid for by either Bronfman or the trust, which prosecutors said has already led to significant concerns.
For instance, in one case, a lawyer who was being paid by Bronfman allegedly told a witness called to testify before a grand jury to invoke the 5th Amendment on the witness stand or he wouldn't be "comfortable" representing the witness, according to the New York Post.
Bronfman, who served on the board of NXIVM, is just one of six members who are facing charges in the racketeering case.
Prosecutors have alleged that the group's founder, Keith Raniere, coerced members of a secret society within the group, known as DOS, to be his sex slaves. Many of the women were branded with what prosecutors say are Raniere's initials.
Allison Mack, an actress who once starred in "Smallville" is also charged in the case and allegedly helped recruit DOS members. Her attorneys asked in a court filing Monday that the charges against her be dropped after claiming that, although she recruited members into the group, she didn't know they were being coerced into having sex with Raniere, NBC News reports.
The filing argues Mack's "conduct simply does not fit the crimes with which she is charged."
Judge Nicholas Garaufis has yet to weigh in on prosecutors' claims that Bronfman's funding of other members' defense is causing a conflict; however, Raniere's attorney, Marc Agnifilo denied the claims.
"As I informed the court at the inception of the case, an irrevocable trust has been created with an independent trustee and legal fees are paid from the trust. To the extent that Ms. Bronfman put some, most or all the money into the trust, she has absolutely no control over how the trustee pays out on the legal fees," Agnifilo told NBC News.
Bronfman's attorney, Susan Necheles, has yet to respond to the latest court filing.
[Photo: Associated Press]
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