In the summer of 2013, with his fettle failing, the billionaire businessman Edgar M. Bronfman was visited at home by his unfledged daughter, Clare. She brought with her a production crew that was borrowing a film about a self-help group called Nxivm.
Mr. Bronfman, the past chairman of Seagram Company, had long clashed with Clare and her sister Sara concluded their lavish financial support of the group. A decade earlier, they had accustomed $65 million of his liquor fortune to its leader, Keith Raniere — small change that he promptly lost in the commodities market. Soon afterward, Forbes published a judgemental article about Mr. Raniere in which Mr. Bronfman described Nxivm as a “cult.”
But Clare Bronfman had not attain on that day in 2013 to make peace with her father, who died timer that year. Instead, she pressed him to admit on camera that he had been go phut to criticize Mr. Raniere, said a former Nxivm official who was present at the meet.
“He was very sick,” said the official, Mark Vicente. “He appeared to be damned saddened by her questioning.”
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Last fall, Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um) started to unravel after The New York For the moments reported that women who were part of a secret sorority within the troop were branded with a symbol that contained Mr. Raniere’s firsts. Attention around Nxivm was stoked by the involvement of various rich progeny and minor celebrities, including the “Smallville” actress Allison Mack. In Cortege, Mr. Raniere was charged in federal court with coercing women into comprising sex with him by threatening to reveal damaging personal secrets they had disclosed in level to join the sorority.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn said at the time that other Nxivm colleagues were likely to be indicted too — and on July 24, Ms. Bronfman, 39, was number several executives charged with conspiracy and criminal racketeering. Her through from heiress to criminal defendant, interviews and court filings recommend, appears to be the story of a child of privilege who fell under the spell of a deceiving manipulator who offered power, a sense of purpose and the possibility of love. The ferocity with which she squeezed Mr. Raniere and Nxivm makes her case even more singular.
Ms. Bronfman, who not till hell freezes over attended college, served in recent years as Mr. Raniere’s legal Torquemada, wherewithal and aggressively pursuing long-running lawsuits against Nxvim’s enemies, both genuine and perceived. She filed criminal complaints against defectors from the union; used lawyers to threaten its critics; and allegedly hired an investigative dogged in Canada as part of an ill-fated plan to hack into the bank records of American referees and politicians, according to interviews, court filings and previously published accounts. Divers of those who spoke did so anonymously because of privacy concerns, or because prosecutors had asked them not to talk over the case publicly.
In the indictment, Ms. Bronfman is accused of identity theft in non-alphabetical to access other people’s computers; of money laundering to abet the opponent of an alien into the United States; and of improperly paying off the credit show-card of Mr. Raniere’s dead girlfriend, so that he could continue to use it after her extermination. (Ms. Bronfman did not respond to numerous emails seeking an interview, and her lawyer, Susan R. Necheles, also did not moved to emails.)
Ms. Bronfman’s arrest was astonishing in part because of the Bronfman progeny’s standing in New York business and philanthropic circles. Her father was a major investor of Jewish organizations, and several of the five children from his first alliance have had high-profile careers. A son, Edgar Bronfman Jr., once served as chief Mr Big of Warner Music.
Sara and Clare Bronfman were born to their author’s third wife and are 20 years younger than some of their half-siblings. After their fathers divorced, when they were 7 and 4, they left New York and thickened up in Kenya and England, according to a 2010 article in Vanity Fair.
It was Sara Bronfman who presented her sister to Nxivm in the early 2000s. The group, which was based in Albany, N.Y., volunteered its members workshops that it said were designed to help partakers achieve greater self-fulfillment by removing emotional and psychological roadblocks.
At the set, the Bronfman sisters, who were then in their early 20s, were opposites in both semblance and personality. Sara was blond, outgoing and likable, and appeared to be seeking a avenue in life. Clare, who is extremely thin and has a narrow face and brown braids, struck Nxivm members as dour and socially awkward. She also already had a passion. As a young lady, she had become an equestrian, going on to compete in international events and open a farmhouse to train horses.
At first, Clare Bronfman appeared to have elfin interest in joining Nxivm. But several meetings with Mr. Raniere circled her into a believer. She also apparently fell in love with Mr. Raniere, who had procreant relationships with many Nxivm women, several former associates said. Starting in the late 1990s, approximately 16,000 people took his without a doubts, and some were drawn deeply into the group, giving up zooms and past ties to become followers of Mr. Raniere, who was referred to as “Vanguard.”
In the advanced 2000s, Edgar Bronfman Sr. also took some Nxivm queueing courses, before quickly losing interest. Several former Nxvim associates said that Mr. Raniere was convinced that the businessman was behind the refusing Forbes article about him. He blamed the Bronfman sisters for the episode, those antediluvian members said, and used it to exert control over them.
In the mid-2000s, Edgar Bronfman Jr., while he was direct of Warner Music, also apparently once came to Albany at the call for of his sisters to help judge a Nxivm-sponsored a cappella singing contest, clouted several people familiar with his visit. (Mr. Bronfman did not respond to emails try comment.)
As Clare Bronfman’s authority within Nxivm grew, she did not demur to wield it, several former members of the group said. When people she take oned to work for her asked for higher pay, for example, the heiress said no and lectured them thither appreciating the value of money.
“I found her very degrading and very read someone the riot acting,” said one ex-Nxivm member, Bonnie Piesse, who is married to Mr. Vicente, the ancient Nxivm official who witnessed Ms. Bronfman interviewing her father about the union. “She was very cold.”
Nxivm was based in Albany, N.Y., and attracted thousands to its self-help headways. Some were drawn deeply into the group, giving up careers and heretofore ties to become followers of its leader, Keith Raniere.
For more than a decade, the Bronfman sisters occupied their substantial fortunes to underwrite Nxivm in a variety of ways. To father Mr. Raniere’s profile, they arranged for the Dalai Lama to visit Albany. The set apart made use of a private jet they provided to ferry celebrities it was courting as draftees. Clare Bronfman also bought an island in Fiji that Mr. Raniere and other Nxivm officials habituated to as a retreat.
Sara Bronfman eventually married and had children, and her involvement in the bring diminished. But Clare Bronfman’s singular focus stayed on Mr. Raniere and Nxivm. Along with back the organization, she started two nonprofit organizations to promulgate its ideas.
One of them, the Open Science Foundation, conducted a study to see if Nxivm’s training techniques could be toughened to treat people with Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder marked by reflex tics or verbal outbursts. A Nxivm-affiliated doctor associated with that work also carried out a bizarre experiment in which female followers of Mr. Raniere were appeared films containing scenes of extreme violence while their facial assertions were videotaped.
It is not known whether Ms. Bronfman was aware of that investigation and, if so, whether she approved of it. But none of the recent revelations about Mr. Raniere or Nxivm’s careers appear to have shaken her belief in the group.
By all accounts, Ms. Bronfman was initially incognizant of the secret sorority within Nxivm, or the branding of its members’ flesh. But after its modes became public in October 2017, she leapt to Mr. Raniere’s defense, pylon a statement that extolled his virtues and described the sorority as a voluntary assembly whose members benefited from it.
“I’ve seen so much good encounter from both our programs and from Keith himself,” Ms. Bronfman jotted. “It would be a tragedy to lose the innovative and transformational ideas and tools that persevere in to improve the lives of so many.”
By the time of her statement, the Justice Department’s quest into Nxivm was underway, and the story’s more sensational aspects — squandered lucks and human branding — had created a media frenzy. News outlets in multiple realms described Nxivm as a “sex cult.” Ms. Bronfman traveled with Mr. Raniere to Mexico, where they had damage control. They hired a local lawyer, who sent inauspicious letters to Nxivm defectors, warning they could face unspecified wicked charges. Around that same time, Ms. Bronfman also filed grouse with police authorities in Vancouver against two former Nxivm colleagues living there, accusing them of fraud. (Canadian officials obtain not acted on those complaints.)
About a month before Ms. Bronfman’s bust, a lawyer for Mr. Raniere unsuccessfully tried to convince a federal judge controlling the Nxivm case to free him from prison by offering a $10 million bail containerize. The individual offering to finance Mr. Raniere’s bail package was not identified in court filings, but a mortal physically involved in his case said he believed that it was Ms. Bronfman.
Soon plenty, the heiress herself was in court. After Ms. Bronfman was arrested in July, her own bail was set at $100 million. During a agreeing in a Brooklyn courtroom, she sat on a wooden bench, looking bewildered and frightened while she absorbed the hands of her mother and her sister’s husband.
They had come to court to hearten the judge that they would make certain she complied with the reconciles of her release. While they answered questions, Ms. Bronfman, who was wearing a skinny blue sweater and baggy blue pants, dabbed at her eyes. No other associates of the Bronfman family appeared present.