US heiress in sex cult case pleads guilty

Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman is one of several people charged in connection with a group where women were branded and forced to have sex with the founder. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman is one of several people charged in connection with a group where women were branded and forced to have sex with the founder. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman has pleaded guilty to harbouring an illegal immigrant and enabling credit card fraud as part of an alleged sex cult based in upstate New York.

Bronfman, 40, last Friday entered her plea to the two criminal counts before US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

She is one of several people charged in connection with a secretive organisation called Nxivm, which federal prosecutors have described as a racketeering body.

Bronfman admitted she knowingly harboured a woman brought to the United States on a fake work visa to obtain that woman's labour for herself and Nxivm.

She also said she helped Nxivm's founder, Keith Raniere, use a deceased woman's credit card.

As part of her plea, Bronfman agreed to forfeit US$6 million (S$8 million), and not to appeal against any prison sentence of 27 months or less.

She said she was "truly remorseful". "I wanted to do good in the world and help people," she said. "However, I have made mistakes."

Bronfman's lawyer, Mr Mark Geragos, said after the hearing his client did not have an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors.

Actress Allison Mack, known for her role on television show Smallville, pleaded guilty earlier this month to blackmailing two women in connection with Nxivm.

Former Nxivm president Nancy Salzman and her daughter, Lauren Salzman, pleaded guilty in March.

Another Nxivm member, Kathy Russell, also pleaded guilty last Friday to falsifying a visa application for another person associated with Nxivm, leaving Raniere as the sole defendant in an upcoming trial.

Raniere, 58, was arrested on sex trafficking charges last March and is being held without bail.

Prosecutors accused Raniere of running a cult-like secret society within Nxivm in which women were branded with his initials and forced to have sex with him.

Last month, prosecutors unsealed new charges accusing Raniere of sexually exploiting a minor and coercing her to produce child pornography.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'US heiress in sex cult case pleads guilty'. Print Edition | Subscribe