Bronfman Hearing

Peter Haskell/WCBS 880

Seagram's Heiress Clare Bronfman Charged In NXIVM Cult Case

July 24, 2018 - 3:05 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- A wealthy heiress from a prominent family was in federal court in Brooklyn Tuesday afternoon in connection with the NXIVM group, which is accused of recruiting sex slaves.

As WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman’s deep pockets allegedly funded NXIVM, and now, she is charged with racketeering conspiracy.

The 39-year-old was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. She was one of four people being charged Tuesday.

Bronfman is a daughter of billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr. At one point, she was worth an estimated $250 million.

What would have been a simple bail hearing was complicated by the defendant’s wealth. The judge insisted on a $100 million bond and home confinement.

Branfman wore jeans, a T-shirt, and blue flip-flops.

With her attorney outlining Bronfman's $200 million in assets, the judge interrupted incredulously, "You bought an island?"

For many years, Branfman has been involved in financing NXIVM and supporting its co-founder, Keith Raniere.

Toni Natalie said she was a sex trafficking victim, and described what she alleged was Branfman’s role.

“She’s funds this. She’s the person that’s funding this criminal enterprise,” she said. “Without the Branfman money, most of this would never happen.”

Supporters said NXIVM is a women’s empowerment group. Critics say it is a sex slave cult.

Raniere was charged earlier this year along with a NXIVM adherent, the actress Allison Mack, with coercing followers into becoming "slaves" to senior members of the group.

Founded in 1998, NXIVM promoted Raniere's teachings as a kind of mystical, executive coaching designed to help people get the most out of life. Enrollees in its Executive Success Programs paid handsomely for his advice. The organization also drew criticism from people who likened it to a cult.

But last year, the accusations took a new twist, with women who were part of a NXIVM subgroup coming forward to say that they had been physically branded with a surgical tool against their will.

Prosecutors said in court papers that Raniere created a society within NXIVM called "DOS" — an acronym based on a Latin phrase that loosely translates to "Lord/Master of obedient female companions." Women were required to provide damaging material about their friends and family, naked photos and even sign over their assets as a condition for joining, they said. Many were branded with his initials, they said.

They have denied the allegations. Bronfman has said she had no knowledge of wrongdoing.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)