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Seagram Heiress Pleads Guilty In Nxivm Case

Clare Bronfman, left, leaves federal court, in Brooklyn.
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Clare Bronfman, left, leaves federal court, in Brooklyn. Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock

Nxivm founder Keith Raniere's last two co-defendants have pleaded guilty, leaving the alleged sex cult leader to stand trial alone.

On Friday, Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman, who purportedly financed Nxivm's sexually abusive and exploitative activities, copped to one count of conspiracy to conceal and harbor an undocumented immigrant for financial gain, and one count of fraudulent use of identification. Bronfman admitted to helping Raniere commandeer a dead woman's credit card information, and during her hearing, acknowledged that she had misused the family fortune. She "received a great gift from [her] grandfather and [her] father that does not come with the ability to break the law," she told United States District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, according to the Times Union. Rather, she continued, her wealth "comes with great responsibility to uphold the law."

"I am truly remorseful," she continued. "I endeavored to do good in the world and help people—however, I have made mistakes."

Bronfman was arrested in July, along with another three of the Nxivm's top officials, after an investigation into the supposed self-help group suggested it operated as a sexual pyramid scheme. Some members, brainwashed and isolated from the outside world, found themselves recruited into a secret sorority, branded with Raniere's initials and held as sex "slaves" under unflinching surveillance. Prosecutors alleged that the group's leaders brought people into the country illegally, holding them against their will; that they hacked into members' digital accounts to monitor their communications; and that they had obstructed justice in trying to hide evidence from investigators. Bronfman was originally charged with money laundering and identity theft, and for her plea, could spend between 21 and 27 months in prison, and pay a $6 million penalty. She will be sentenced on July 25th.

Nxivm accountant Kathy Russell also entered a guilty plea on Friday afternoon, admitting to one count of visa fraud, following allegations that she had falsified the documents necessary to smuggle a Mexican woman into the U.S. from Canada, and that she had instigated the installation of some of the software the group used to spy on people's emails. She could spend six to 12 months in prison.

"I know what I did was wrong," she said at sentencing, according to the Times Union. "I'm very sorry for the trouble I have caused. I have compromised my own principles, and I'm going to have to live with that for the rest of my life."

Of the members of Raniere's inner circle charged with criminal activity related to the alleged cult, Bronfman and Russell had been the last two guilty plea holdouts. Raniere's right-hand, Smallville's Allison Mack, pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of racketeering earlier this month; in March, Nxivm co-founder Nancy Salzman and her daughter, Lauren Salzman pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, respectively.

The about-face has raised the possibility that the prosecution will call on Raniere's former co-defendants when he stands trial on a slew of charges, including forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking, and child pornography. Jury selection begins Monday, and opening arguments are slated for May 7th. Raniere continues to insist on his innocence.

Meanwhile, Nxivm doctor Brandon Porter, engineer of appalling "fright experiments" performed on members, has filed for bankruptcy and has reportedly been living off loans from friends. According to the NY Post, Porter has borrowed $60,000 to survive while he hides out in a house in Halfmoon, New York, near the group's Albany headquarters. A company called Percenceo, Inc.—of which Bronfman's sister, Sara, reportedly ranks as founding president—owns the house, and although Sara has not been indicted in the course of the investigation into the alleged cult, she did bring her sister into the fold. According to the NY Times, Sara enlisted Clare in the early 2000s, and both dumped money into Nxivm's coffers for over 10 years. Sara subsequently pulled away from the group after getting married and having a family, however.

In any case, Porter apparently hasn't totally severed ties with the group. He also hasn't been charged, although his practices are under investigation by the New York medical oversight board. According to the Post, health officials believe Porter forced his "human subjects" to view "an actual video of the horrific and brutal murders and dismemberment of four women by machetes; and violent film clips, including a male African American being viciously stomped by a Nazi; a conscious male being forced to eat a portion of his own brain matter; and a graphic gang rape." He has reportedly been lying low since medical board made its allegations against him a year ago, and has been working as a door-to-door salesman slinging home insulation.

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