Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman, NXIVM bookkeeper plead guilty in sex cult case

Bronfman faces a maximum of 25 years in prison but the government's sentencing guidelines suggest 21 to 27 months instead.
Image:
Clare Bronfman, right, a member of NXIVM, an organization charged with sex trafficking, leaves Brooklyn Federal Court, on April 8, 2019, in New York.Mark Lennihan / AP file

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By Tom Winter and Doha Madani

Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman and a bookkeeper pleaded guilty in federal court Friday for their involvement in a purported sex cult.

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 its leader, Keith Raniere.

Bronfman, 40, the daughter of late Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman, was charged with money laundering and identity theft as part of her support for NXIVM. She faces a maximum of 25 years in prison, but the government's sentencing guidelines suggest 21 to 27 months based on Bronfman's plea.

The Seagram's heiress has also agreed to forfeit $6 million and pay more than $96,000 in restitution to an unnamed victim.

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She is scheduled to be sentenced July 25.

Bronfman's attorney Mark Geragos said Friday afternoon that Bronfman did not have a signed cooperation agreement to testify against Raniere as part of her plea deal.

"I think it's been an arduous experience for her to have to go through this," Geragos said of Bronfman after court. "I don't think she ever in a million years, and anybody who knows her, ever expected she would end up pleading guilty to two felonies."

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

NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell pleaded guilty Friday to one count of visa fraud. Russell, 62, faced up to 10 years in prison, though sentencing guidelines in her plea agreement recommend six months to a year.

Earlier this month, former "Smallville" actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering charges connected to NXIVM.

Mack, 36, is facing up to 40 years in prison after she admitted to committing offenses that included extortion and forced labor in her role as a high-ranking member of NXIVM, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York.

The defendants are being charged for their roles in running the controversial group led by Raniere, who prosecutors say operated a master-slave ring within the organization. Raniere is expected to go on trial later this month.

David K. Li contributed.