Nxivm: Seagram whisky heiress Clare Bronfman pleads guilty to role in 'sex cult'

Conrad Duncan

The heiress to a multibillion dollar fortune has pleaded guilty to charges related to a "cult-like" group which allegedly forced women to become sex slaves and branded them with the initials of its leader.

Clare Bronfman, heir to the Seagram alcohol fortune, admitted to harbouring an undocumented immigrant for unpaid “labour and services” and committing credit card fraud on behalf of Keith Raniere, the leader of a group called Nxivm.

Prosecutors have accused Raniere of running Nxivm as a cult, in which women were allegedly branded with his initials and forced to have sex with him.

Bronfman, who is the daughter of late billionaire Edgar Bronfman Sr, has agreed to forfeit $6m (£4.62m) from her fortune, which is believed to be worth $200m (£154m).

Her father was the chairman of Seagram - an alcoholic beverages company that became defunct in 2000.

Bronfman told the judge that she had wanted to help people through Nxivm, which branded itself as a self-improvement group, but ended up dishonouring her family.

"Your honour, I was afforded a great gift by my grandfather and father," she said.

"With the gift, comes immense privilege and more importantly, tremendous responsibility. It does not come with an ability to break the law.”

“For this, I am truly sorry.”

Bronfman is believed to have donated tens of millions of dollars to fund Nxivm.

She faces more than two years in prison at her sentencing on 25 July.

However, her guilty plea means she will not have to go to trial early next month with Raniere.

Prosecutors say Raniere ran a secret sect within Nxivm called DOS that “operated with levels of women ‘slaves’ headed by ‘masters’”.

“Enslaved women” in the group were reportedly ordered to refer to Raniere as “Vanguard”.

He has also been accused of being in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl and possessing child pornography.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his lawyers have insisted any relationships between Raniere and his alleged victims were consensual.

An accountant for Nxivm, Kathy Russell, also pleaded guilty on Friday to a fraud charge.

The guilty pleas come after Allison Mack, an actress known for her role in the Superman TV series Smallville, pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges related to Nxivm earlier this month.

Nxivm’s former president Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren Salzman also pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy last month.

Agencies contributed to this report