The heiress of the Canadian drinks empire Seagram was sentenced to more than six years in prison by a New York court Wednesday after pleading guilty in a sex trafficking scandal linked to a cult.
The 81-month sentence handed down to Clare Bronfman, 41, was seen as particularly stiff, since prosecutors had themselves only called for five years of incarceration.
Bronfman pleaded guilty last year to credit card fraud and harboring illegal immigrants on behalf of “self-help” group Nxivm, whose founder Keith Raniere was found guilty in June 2019 of having kept between 15 and 20 sex slaves for years.
Prosecutors said that Bronfman spent tens of millions of dollars supporting the group, known as Nxivm — pronounced “Nexium.”
“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,” the prosecution said.
Her defense had hoped she would be able to avoid jail time and had called for a three-year suspended sentence.
Her lawyers said that even though she had pleaded guilty to credit card fraud and harboring illegal immigrants for the group, she did not know about the sexual abuse committed by Raniere in a group parallel to Nxivm called DOS, which was made up of “masters” and “slaves.”
They said she only knew of the beneficial side of the Albany, New York-based organization, which purported to teach classes for women’s self-empowerment.
Of the six people charged in the scandal that broke in 2018, Bronfman was the first to learn her sentence.
Prosecutors have requested life in prison for Raniere, who will find out his sentence on October 27.
Four others have pleaded guilty, including actress Allison Mack from the series “Smallville,” who admitted to two counts of racketeering in April 2019.
The dramatic story has been the subject of two screen adaptions: HBO’s recently released “The Vow” docu-series and “Escaping the Nxivm Cult,” a 2019 Lisa Robinson film focused on the testimony of a mother working to save her daughter from the organization.
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