(JTA) — Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman and three others were arrested in upstate New York for their ties to a self-help organization that has been accused of being a sex cult.
Bronfman, 39, daughter of the late Canadian-Jewish billionaire and philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, was charged in Albany with racketeering conspiracy in a case involving the group NXIVM, The Associated Press reported.
According to the Albany Times-Union, Bronfman and the others recruited and groomed sexual partners for NXIVM founder Keith Raniere using “harassment, coercion and abusive litigation to intimidate and attack perceived enemies and critics of Raniere.” Raniere himself was arrested four months ago in Mexico and charged with sex trafficking.
Bronfman has denied the allegations against her.
“NXIVM was not a criminal enterprise but instead was an organization that helped thousands of people,” her attorney, Susan Necheles, said in a statement. “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.”
According to prosecutors, Bronfman used her wealth to finance NXIVM’s activities. Previous court filings indicated that Bronfman gave away millions of dollars to support the group, including paying for Raniere’s private air travel at a cost of $65,000 a flight, according to The Times of Israel.
Bronfman in a website post last year called the secret society a “sorority” that “has truly benefited the lives of its members, and does so freely.”
“I find no fault in a group of women (or men for that matter) freely taking a vow of loyalty and friendship with one another to feel safe while pushing back against the fears that have stifled their personal and professional growth,” she wrote.
Bronfman’s father, who died in 2013 at age 84, was a scion and longtime head of the Seagram’s Company, at one point the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world. Edger Bronfman was president of the World Jewish Congress for many years and was a major supporter of an array of Jewish causes, including JTA, where he was a board member, and JTA’s partner site MyJewishLearning, which he founded in 2003.
The Bronfman family “is perhaps the single largest force in the Jewish charitable world,” Nathaniel Popper once wrote in the Forward.