A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced an heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune to 81 months behind bars for providing financial support to the NXIVM sex cult.
The penalty handed down to Clare Bronfman, the 41-year-old daughter of late philanthropist and Seagram's CEO Edgar Bronfman, was more than the five years sought by prosecutors in the disturbing case.
Bronfman admitted in a guilty plea last year that she harbored someone who was living in the U.S. illegally for unpaid “labor and services” and that she committed credit card fraud on behalf of Keith Raniere, who was convicted last year of turning women in his group into sex slaves who were branded with his initials.
"Bronfman twisted our immigration system to serve a reprehensible agenda, and engaged in flagrant fraud to the detriment of her victims and in the service of a corrupt endeavor,” Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said in a statement.
“With today’s sentence, she has been held accountable for her crimes.”
Prosecutors had wanted U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis to sentence Bronfman to five years in prison, arguing that her financial support was the underpinning of the group NXIVM, pronounced "nexium."
She gave tens of millions of dollars to NXIVM, which operated a program of intense self-improvement classes.
But defense lawyers had asked for just probation, arguing that Bronfman had no direct involvement in NXIVM's most troubling activities. Furthermore, Bronfman's attorneys said she has pre-existing health conditions that make her particularly at risk for coronavirus if she's sent to prison.
Bronfman claimed in a letter to the court last month that she “never meant to hurt anyone, however I have and for this I am deeply sorry." She also maintained that “NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better.”
"She recently wrote to the judge telling him that NXIVM and Keith Raniere had changed her life for the better," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement.
"She will now have more than six years behind bars to contemplate that sentiment, and decide once and for all if it’s as easy to accept as she once believed it to be."
As part of a plea agreement, the beverage heir has already agreed to forfeit $6 million from a fortune prosecutors have said is worth $200 million.
Raniere and NXIVM are best known for the involvement of "Smallville" actress Allison Mack in the group's leadership structure.
Last year, Raniere was found guilty of multiple charges including racketeering, sex trafficking and possession of child pornography related to his group which operated near Albany.
Both Raniere and Mack are awaiting sentencing.