NXIVM, a cult disguised as an intensive group of self-improvement classes, has been the subject of mainstream attention for nearly two decades now. Bronfman, the heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, is due to appear in federal court in Brooklyn for sentencing on federal conspiracy charges after she allegedly financially supported NXIVM leader Keith Raniere. Prosecutors expressed the need for harsh punishment from U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis for Bronfman's role in enslaving and abusing women sexually and also refusing to denounce the cult's leader.
Bronfman is one of the more high-profile members of the NXIVM sex cult — she’s the 41-year-old daughter of the late president and CEO of beverage brand Seagram, Edgar Bronfman. In the early 2000s, the Seagram liquor fortune heiress joined Raniere’s group in upstate New York. Her sister, Sara, was also a member of NXIVM.
The heiress’ case has regained mass appeal following a recent episode of HBO’s docuseries, The Vow. Bronfman was a steady benefactor of Raniere, who was called “Vanguard” by NXIVM members. She funnelled much of her reportedly $200 million (£154.8 million) fortune into his cult. Millions of dollars from her generous inheritance allegedly funded the sex cult and Raniere’s sexual misconduct. Bronfman even footed the bill for lawyers to defend NXIVM against a former lawsuit and private investigations.
Although Bronfman was accused of financing the operations, the real mastermind behind NXIVM is Raniere. And many of his loyal followers — including Bronfman — continue to support him in spite of his felonies. “NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better,” Bronfman wrote in a letter to the judge last month.
A horrifying aspect of the cult, which operated in the Albany suburb of Clifton Park, was a secret sorority called DOS. Raniere forced women DOS members into becoming his sex slaves and kept them as prisoners to service him sexually as he pleased. Raniere branded the DOS sex slaves with his initials in their pubic area, despite branding being incredibly painful and leaving life-long scars on the skin. His survivors will now always carry a reminder of the horror they endured.
The DOS sorority members were also forced to hand over nude photos and other private information. The assets were kept as collateral in case they ever blew the whistle on Raniere’s cult or tried to leave NXIVM. Bronfman’s financial support of NXIVM was used to publicly humiliate members who fled.
In 2019, the sexual predator was convicted of seven felony charges including racketeering, sex trafficking, and possession of child pornography. In the same year, Bronfman pleaded guilty two felonies in connection with the federal case against Raniere and his key followers. The liquor heiress admitted to keeping undocumented immigrants for unpaid labor and services for NXIVM and shielding them from detection. Bronfman also confessed to committing credit card fraud on behalf of Raniere by using false identification and the credit card of a deceased NXIVM devotee.
Prosecutors argue the financial support of powerful allies like Bronfman allowed Raniere to continue the atrocities he committed behind the scenes of NXIVM. In their sentencing memo, prosecutors wrote that "There can be little doubt that Raniere would not have been able to commit the crimes with which he was convicted were it not for powerful allies like Bronfman."
Despite being caught, Bronfman remains devoted to Raniere. She refuses to discredit Raniere and said that he’s “greatly changed her life for the better” in a letter to Judge Garaufis. Surprisingly, the liquor heiress isn’t the only powerful woman who supported Raniere. Smallville actress Allison Mack was also a high-ranking member of NXIVM. She admitted to committing extortion and forced labor and is awaiting sentencing.
As Bronfman faces sentencing today her lawyers are seeking three years’ probation instead of prison time. They claim she has a possible liver ailment that could put her at grave risk for contracting COVID-19 if incarcerated and that she’s deserving of leniency. As part of a plea agreement, Bronfman’s representation has agreed to forfeit $6 million.