Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty on Friday to harboring an illegal immigrant and enabling credit card fraud as part of an alleged sex cult based in upstate New York.
Bronfman, 40, entered her plea to two criminal counts before US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. She is one of several people charged in connection with a secretive organisation called NXIVM (pronounced “nixium”), which federal prosecutors have described as a racketeering organisation.
Bronfman admitted that she knowingly harbored a woman brought to the United States on a fake work visa in order to obtain that woman’s labor for herself and the organization. She also said she helped NXIVM founder, Keith Raniere, use a deceased woman’s credit card.
So what is NXIVM?
According to a news piece by CBC News, NXIVM was a multi-level marketing company that has been accused of being a pyramid scheme.
A pyramid scheme is a controversial business model where members are recruited on the promise of payment for services if they can enroll others into the scheme rather than supplying investments or sale of products.
As recruiting continues, it soon quickly becomes evident that recruiting more people is impossible and most recruits are unable to profit. Pyramid schemes in most cases are illegal.
Former NXIVM members have also accused it of having a cult inside called DOS (Dominus Obsequious Sororium, which loosely translates to ‘Master over the slave women’) that recruits women for sexual slavery. DOS was first portrayed as an empowerment group for women.
Here are five things you should know about NXIVM:
Members called cult leader “vanguard”: Keith Raniere started NXIVM to help uplift people who joined the “self-help group”. He said he wanted to uplift people to an enlightened state (he being the only one who has reached this level). Raniere claimed he had an IQ level of 240 (The average person’s being between 80 and 115). He also said he had 27 patents to his name. He’s also written two books, one of which has a foreword by the Dalai Lama. The members of NXIVM would also call Keith Raniere “vanguard”.
Master-slave relationship: Women recruited under this group were known as ‘slaves’ and those who recruited them were known as ‘masters’. Since it was a pyramid scheme, those slaves who recruited new slaves eventually became the new joinees’ masters. To prove their loyalty towards DOS, women would give collateral not always in the form of money. Sometimes this collateral would be in the form of nude photos of themselves or taped incriminating secrets about themselves.
Women were branded upon joining: Many of the women who joined DOS were immediately branded by the group. One of its previous members left the group only after realizing that the brand mark included the initials of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere (KR). Some of the former members said they were also instructed to have sex with Keith Raniere. The women were branded near their private parts.
A former member said branding felt worse than childbirth: In an interview with ABC news, a woman who is a former member of NXIVM, said that the brand felt worse than giving birth. “Imagine a hot laser dragged across your skin for thirty minutes without any anaesthetic,” she had told ABC news.
Celebrities were part of cult: Apart from Clara Bronfman, NXIVM was also represented by a number of C-list celebrities. Some of these included TV serial ‘Smallville’ star Allison Mack, Battlestar Galactica stars Grace Park and Nicki Clyne. Seagram heiresses Clara and Sara Bronfman allegedly donated between $150 million to $250 million of their fortune to Keith Raniere’s enterprise.
Raniere was arrested on sex trafficking charges in March 2018, and is being held without bail. Prosecutors accused Raniere of running a cult-like secret society within NXIVM in which women were branded with his initials and forced to have sex with him.
Last month, prosecutors unsealed new charges accusing Raniere of sexually exploiting a minor and coercing her to produce child pornography.
Raniere has pleaded not guilty. Marc Agnifilo, one of his lawyers, has said that his client’s sexual encounters with women in the organization were consensual, and denied the child pornography charges.
(With Reuters inputs)