NEW YORK — An heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune was arrested Tuesday in connection with her work with NXIVM, an upstate New York self-help group accused of branding some of its female followers and forcing them into unwanted sex.
Clare Bronfman, a daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., and three other people associated with the NXIVM organization are charged with racketeering conspiracy, the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn announced. She was scheduled to be arraigned later Tuesday in Brooklyn.
There was no immediate response to a message seeking comment from Bronfman’s attorney.
Also arrested were Nancy Salzman, who was NXIVM’s longtime president, her daughter, Lauren Salzman, and an employee of the group, Kathy Russell.
NXIVM’s founder and leader, Keith Raniere, was arrested in Mexico this year and brought to the U.S. to face charges that he, along with a NXIVM adherent, the TV actress Allison Mack, coerced followers into becoming “slaves” to senior members of the group.
In an indictment, prosecutors said Mack, who played a teenage friend of Superman in the CW network’s “Smallville,” helped Raniere recruit women to a secret sub-society within NXIVM whose members were branded by way of a surgical tool with a symbol that resembled his initials. Women were also expected to be subservient to “masters,” prosecutors said, including giving in to demands for sex.
The arrest of Bronfman, who has long been affiliated with NXIVM, wasn’t a surprise. At a court hearing in June, a judge rejected an attempt to get Raniere released on $10 million bail paid for by Bronfman after prosecutors labeled her a co-conspirator.
In earlier court filings, the government detailed how Bronfman gave away tens of millions of dollars of her fortune to support Raniere and his group, including paying for private air travel at a cost of $65,000 a flight. It also said Bronfman has “paid for numerous lawyers to bring suits against Nxivm critics.”
In a website post last year, Bronfman called the secret society a “sorority” that “has truly benefited the lives of its members, and does so freely.” She added, “I find no fault in a group of women (or men for that matter) freely taking a vow of loyalty and friendship with one another to feel safe while pushing back against the fears that have stifled their personal and professional growth.”
Raniere and Mack have also denied the allegations. In their court papers, the defense lawyers have said the alleged victims of the group were never abused, and were in fact “independent, smart, curious adults” searching for “happiness, fulfillment and meaning.”