New York

Millionaire Liquor Heiress Pleads Guilty in NYC Sex Cult Case; Alleged Bookkeeper Expected to Plead Guilty: Sources

Clare Bronfman, the 39-year-old daughter of late philanthropist and Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman, issued a tearful apology in court Friday

What to Know

  • The heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune pleaded guilty Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. Another woman is expected to plead guilty
  • The pleas are in connection to the alleged NXIVM sex-trafficking cult case
  • Bronfman, 39-year-old daughter of late Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman, was charged with money laundering and identity theft

The heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune has pleaded guilty to two charges in connection with the alleged NXIVM sex-trafficking cult case.

Clare Bronfman, the 39-year-old daughter of late philanthropist and Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman, issued a tearful apology in court Friday as she admitted she housed and concealed a woman she brought into the country illegally to use as unpaid labor for NXIVM. 

She also admitted to using a dead woman's identity and credit card to help NXIVM avoid paying taxes.

Bronfman told the judge that she had wanted to help people through NXIVM but ended up dishonoring her family.

"Your honor, I was afforded a great gift by my grandfather and father," Bronfman said. "With the gift, comes immense privilege and more importantly, tremendous responsibility. It does not come with an ability to break the law."

She added: "For this, I am truly sorry."

As part of a plea agreement, Bronfman agreed to forfeit $6 million. She faces up to 27 months in prison at sentencing on July 25.

NXIVM’s alleged bookkeeper, Kathy Russell, is also expected to plead guilty in connection with the case, sources say.

Bronfman was charged with money laundering and identity theft as part of her support for NXIVM. She surrendered to the FBI and pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges.

NXIVM garnered headlines for an initiation ritual that includes branding, its attempts to recruit celebrities and accusations by prosecutors that members were turned into sex slaves for leader Keith Raniere.

The plea means Bronfman will avoid going to trial early next month with Raniere.

According to court documents, Bronfman allegedly committed identity theft of at least two women and illegally brought another woman into the country.

Russell, who was charged with Bronfman, had also previously pleaded not guilty.

A former competitor in international equestrian show jumping competitions, Bronfman is accused in an indictment of taking a number of steps to help NXIVM's founder exercise control over members of the upstate New York group, including identity theft, interception of electronic communications and money laundering.

She was part of an "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 statement.

According to the New York Times, a hearing following Bronfman's arrest last year gave a glimpse of her considerable wealth. According to the report, her lawyer said Bronfman was worth around $200 million, with about half of the fortune tied up in trusts supervised by Goldman Sachs, and the remainder in real estate in New York, California and Fiji, including an island she bought for $47 million.

Raniere was arrested in Mexico and was brought to the U.S. to face charges that he, along with an adherent, the “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, coerced followers into becoming slaves to senior members.

Mack pleaded guilty earlier this month to racketeering and related conspiracy charges.

Raniere is expected to go to trial later this month. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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