‘Violated Once Again’: Prosecutors Reveal Heiress’ Vicious Attempts to Silence NXIVM Victims

Pilar Melendez
·7 min read
Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

As Clare Bronfman awaits sentencing for her role in NXIVM, prosecutors on Monday alleged the Seagram’s heiress went to extreme lengths to protect the sex cult’s leader—including sending “threatening letters” and attempting to file criminal charges against women who alleged they were branded and manipulated into master-slave relationships.

“When I was at my most vulnerable, Clare Bronfman traumatized me,” one former NXIVM member wrote in a lengthy detention memo filed Monday.

In the memo, prosecutors detail Bronfman’s continued loyalty to the purported self-help group’s founder, Keith Raniere, and argue that she should receive a harsher prison sentence for her “obsessive” attempts to investigate and intimidate perceived critics of NXIVM. Bronfman, 40, who was once NXIVM’s operations director and one of its largest donors, pleaded guilty last August to conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain and fraudulent use of identification. Prosecutors asked the judge to give her a 60-month sentence, restitution for victims, and make her pay a $500,000 fine at her Sept. 30 hearing.

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“Bronfman spent millions of dollars of her inherited fortune on Raniere’s endeavors. She pursued Raniere’s accusers and critics by dispatching powerful teams of lawyers, private investigators, and public relations firms to attempt to discredit them and dredge up information that could be used to undermine their claims,” the memo to U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said, claiming that even now “Bronfman continues to support Raniere.”

Raniere, 60, was convicted last June of seven offenses ranging from sex trafficking to racketeering conspiracy after prosecutors argued he had founded a criminal enterprise that allowed him to have sex with underage girls, force women he impregnated to have abortions, and command his “slaves” to illegally monitor his enemies. He is currently facing a life sentence.

Bronfman was one of five women who was charged with Raniere in 2018, alongside co-founder Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren, a top lieutenant; Smallville actress and alleged second-in-command Allison Mack; and the group’s bookkeeper, Kathy Russell. While all five pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, Salzman was the only one to testify against Raniere.

In the sentencing memo, prosecutors detail how Bronfman tried to discredit Raniere’s critics and show her unfailing loyalty for NXIVM, which began in 1998 and amassed an estimated 17,000 members, luring them in with $5,000 workshops that promised to give followers the skills to promote a path to “greater self-fulfillment.” Prosecutors, however, say it was an illegal pyramid scheme, sucking in new recruits who were made to recruit others, that also relied heavily on Bronfman’s unlimited bank account.

Prosecutors allege that Bronfman provided millions to NXIVM and Raniere’s various investment interests, including giving him $67 million because he “wished to invest in the commodities market...with no expectation that he would ever be in a position to pay her back (he didn’t).”

In 2017, several women in NXIVM came forward stating they were lured into the master-slave program, DOS, under the guise of a purported secret women’s empowerment group. In reality, they claimed, the women were forced to have sex with Raniere, blindly obey their “masters,” and brand themselves with his initials near their crotch with a cautery pen—without anesthesia.

Prosecutors allege that starting in July 2017, Bronfman received “approximately five emails from DOS victims requesting the return or destruction of their collateral,” or the blackmail material that DOS slaves would be forced to provide in a vow of obedience to Raniere and their “masters.”

NXIVM Founder Convicted of Running Sex Cult That Turned Women Into His Slaves

While Bronfman did not respond to these emails by longtime NXIVM members, prosecutors state Bronfman did contact the New York City Police Department and the Vancouver Police Department in an effort to have criminal charges filed against Sarah Edmondson, one of the initial whistleblowers. Bronfman claimed that Edmondson had “hacked” NXIVM servers, but investigators did not find any evidence to support her allegations and quickly dropped the case.

Two months later, after Bronfman and Raniere caught wind of a New York Times exposé about DOS, the pair “drafted threatening letters which were then sent, verbatim, to DOS victims by attorneys in Mexico that Bronfman had retained,” according to the memo. Prosecutors said Bronfman’s aggressive attempt to “dredge up damaging information” and send threatening letters was “a pattern of behavior she had previously engaged in.”

“The letters warned the DOS victims, among other things, that they were ‘connected’ to ‘criminal investigations involving fraud, coercion, extortion, harassment, stalking theft of trade secrets...criminal conspiracy, computer crimes, and corporate espionage’ and that their ‘best course of action’ was to ‘repair all damages to parties you have acted against, reconciling with them,’” the memo states.

Prosecutors say one DOS victim received two “ominous and intimidating” letters from a law firm in Mexico that threatened her with “serious legal consequences, including criminal prosecution,” if she spoke out against the proposed self-help group or spoke with others who had left NXIVM.

“Receiving these letters shook me to my core...It had been more than a year since I left DOS and NXIVM, and I felt violated once again, wondering if they would ever just let me go and allow me to move on with my life,” the identified DOS victim said in the memo. “If Clare never had anything to do with DOS, and if DOS had nothing to do with NXIVM, why did she deploy such an underhanded intimidation tactic to scare me into remaining silent?”

Bronfman also allegedly hired a psychologist, private investigators, and a public relation firm to “rehabilitate the public image of DOS,” but made no attempt to contact any of the women who had spoken out about their abuse. After The New York Times article was published, investigators opened a case into NXIVM—at which point Bronfman released a statement characterizing the secret organization as a “sorority” that “truly benefited the lives of its members.”

Seagram’s Heiress Clare Bronfman Pleads Guilty in NXIVM Sex-Cult Case

“At no time—not once in the two years after the ‘details about DOS’ were made public in the press, during the course of a well-publicized criminal trial, after the guilty pleas of her co-defendants who were First Line members of DOS and after conviction at trial of Keith Raniere—has Bronfman wavered in her support and loyalty to Raniere,” the memo states.

In her own sentencing memo filed last month, Bronfman claimed that she did not know the disturbing “details relating to DOS” until after Raniere’s Mexico arrest in 2018 and his subsequent trial last year—where several women detailed the manipulation and fear they endured at the hands of Bronfman.

The heiress, however, characterized “her participation in protecting DOS as ‘unproven and untrue innuendo,’” the memo states. Prosecutors also slammed Bronfman’s argument that she penned the threatening letters to several women because she had sought “legal counsel to help stop” what she believed was criminal behavior under Mexican law.

Noting that it was Bronfman and Raniere who drafted the letters, and that the DOS victims who received them had no involvement with NXIVM’s outpost in Mexico, prosecutors also stressed that the Seagram’s heiress probably used the foreign legal counsel because “few United States-based attorneys would have agreed to sign or send such letters.”

“The only reason for Bronfman and Raniere to send these letters to sex trafficking victims was to attempt to threaten and intimidate them, efforts which succeeded,” the memo states.

‘Vulnerable and Exposed’: NXIVM Slave Says Founder Tied Her Up and Humiliated Her During Sexual Assault

Prosecutors also revealed that Raniere, who is currently in Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn awaiting sentencing in October, is “aware of Bronfman’s continued loyalty and support.” In one November 2019 jailhouse call with a woman whose sisters were in a relationship with Raniere, including one who was locked in a room for two years as punishment, the NXIVM founder asked how Bronfman was doing.

“She’s very good, she’s very good with you,” the woman said. “I don’t think her view of me has changed at all. If anything it’s gotten stronger,” Raniere responded.

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