Feds arrest Seagram heiress Bronfman in NXIVM 'sex slave' case


An heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune and three other women linked to a secretive New York self-help group under investigation for sex-trafficking were arrested Tuesday morning and charged with running a criminal enterprise that engaged in money laundering and other offenses.

Clare Bronfman, 39-year-old daughter of late Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman, was charged with money laundering and identity theft as part of her support for NXIVM. The group garnered headlines for an initiation ritual that includes branding, its attempts to recruit celebrities and accusations by prosecutors that members were turned into sex slaves for leader Keith Raniere

In upstate New York, police arrested former NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell, NXIVM president Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren Salzman, who served on NXIVM's executive board, according to court documents.

The money laundering and illegal entry incidents allegedly took place in 2009, while the other charges relate to more recent incidents. Lauren Salzman will be charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud, forced labor, extortion, labor trafficking, along with other charges.

According to court documents, Bronfman allegedly committed identity theft of at least two women and illegally brought another woman into the country.

The women will be arraigned Tuesday afternoon on racketeering charges. Bronfman's arraignment is scheduled for federal court in Brooklyn, while the other three will appear in Albany federal court.

Bronfman's lawyer Susan Necheles denied the allegations in a statement.

"Clare Bronfman did nothing wrong. NXIVM was not a criminal enterprise but instead was an organization that helped thousands of people," she said. "The charges against Clare are the result of government overreaching and charging an individual with crimes just because the government disagrees with some beliefs taught by Nxivm and held by Clare. This is not how things should be done in America. We are confident that Clare will be exonerated. "

Federal prosecutors, who have been investigating the Albany-based NXIVM and its founder Raniere for sex-trafficking and other crimes, arrested Raniere in March in Mexico. They allege female followers were coerced into having sex with him and had their skin branded with his initials. The "pyramid-structured" group has attracted celebrities and wealthy people, including Bronfman and "Smallville" actress Allison Mack.

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Photos: NXIVM sex slave cult and its demise
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Photos: NXIVM sex slave cult and its demise
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The NXIVM Executive Success Programs sign outside of the office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The exterior of the NXIVM Executive Success Programs office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The Karner Woods office park's sign on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. The NXIVM Executive Success Programs office at 455 New Karner Road is part of the office park. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack (R) departs the United States Eastern District Court after a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to a upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack arrives at the United States Eastern District Court for a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to an upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack (C) arrives at the United States Eastern District Court for a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to a upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Actress Allison Mack leaves U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York after a bail hearing, April 24, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Mack was charged last Friday with sex trafficking for her involvement with a self-help organization for women that forced members into sexual acts with their leader. The group, called Nxivm, was led by founder Keith Raniere, who was arrested in March on sex-trafficking charges. She was released on bail at $5 million. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Mack, who prosecutors say recruited "slaves" for Raniere, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor last month. Raniere's lawyers also denied the allegations, adding that the 57-year-old was being persecuted by the "morality police."

Raniere's trial is scheduled to start Oct. 1.

In 2017, Bronfman defended Raniere and NXIVM, calling him "a man dedicated to the betterment of the lives of others."

"There have been many defamatory accusations made and I have taken them seriously," she said. "Determining the truth is extremely important to me, and I can say firmly that neither NXIVM nor Keith have abused or coerced anyone."

 

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