Liquor Heiress Charged in Sex Cult Case

Prosecutors say Bronfman used fortune to protect leader
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 25, 2018 2:04 AM CDT
In this courtroom drawing, Clare Bronfman, is arraigned at federal court in New York, Tuesday, July 24, 2018.   (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)
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(Newser) – Liquor heiress Clare Bronfman was among four people arrested Tuesday as part of an investigation into what prosecutors say was a sex trafficking organization masquerading as a self-help group. Bronfman, the 39-year-old daughter of late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges and was freed after agreeing to pay $100 million, which is half of her estimated $200 million fortune, the AP reports. She is accused of using her fortune to assist and protect the NXIVM group and leader Keith Raniere, the BBC reports. Prosecutors say female recruits were expected to have sex with Raniere and were branded with his initials.

Bronfman and other members of the group's inner circle "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," US Attorney Richard Donoghue said Tuesday. Bronfman has described the group as a "sorority" that truly benefits its members. Her lawyer, Susan Nechele, described the charges as "overreach" from a government that disagrees with the group's teachings. Organization co-founder Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren, and bookkeeper Kathy Russell were also arrested on racketeering charges and released on bail Tuesday. Raniere and Smallville actress Allison Mack were indicted on sex trafficking charges in April. (Read more cult stories.)

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