‘Sex cult’ heiress paid $135m bail
CLARE Bronfman, the Seagram liquor heiress and accused sex-cult leader, had to pay a staggering $US100 million (A$135 million) bond to avoid staying in a US jail while she awaits trial.
New York Judge Nicholas Garaufis on Tuesday set the sky-high amount - secured by $US50 million (A$67 million) in personal assets - after prosecutors argued that Ms Bronfman, 39, accused of identify theft, money laundering, extortion and other crimes to help bring recruits and money into Nxivm, has plenty of money to orchestrate her escape from prosecution.
"Bronfman is a frequent international traveller, with access to a private jet, and has an ownership stake in a private island in Fiji's Lomaiviti Archipelago,'' US police told Judge Garaufis.
She's also forbidden from contact with other members of the cult until details of the bail are finalised on Friday, reports the New York Post.
When Ms Bronfman's lawyer Susan Necheles objected, given that the heiress' friends are also Nxivm members, Judge Garaufis snapped.
"Doesn't she have Netflix?" he responded irritably. "Let her watch Netflix between now and Friday."
"If you're telling me she can't be staying away from people who are part of this alleged criminal organisation for a couple days, maybe I'm making the wrong decision."
One of the co-signers of the bail is the accused's sister Sara Bronfman - who will have to fly back to New York from where she now lives in France by Friday. When Ms Necheles said that might be tough, given she has two young kids, Judge Garaufis wasn't impressed.
"She can manage," he snapped. "Tell her she can bring the kids to New York. They can go see a play - make suggestions."
Judge Garaufis, looking over the financial documents to support her bail application, asked, "Her Fiji properties are listed at $US40 million (A$53 million)?"
"It's an island," Ms Bronfman's lawyer explained.
"She bought an island?" Judge Garaufis marvelled.
"It's a resort she's developing in Fiji," Ms Necheles said. "$47 million (A$63 million) is what she paid for it."
On Tuesday, the 39-year-old - who is worth roughly $US200 million (A$270 million) - was caught on racketeering charges for her role in running Nxivm, alongside three other high-ranking members, reports the New York Post.
The arrests are part of an ongoing federal investigation in the US into the group's leader, Keith Raniere, and his right-hand woman, former Smallville star Allison Mack.
Mr Raniere and Ms Mack are charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy for allegedly coercing women into joining a secretive master-slave society within Nxivm - where "slaves" were forced to pleasure Mr Raniere, have his initials permanently branded onto their skin and perform free labour.
In a New York court on Tuesday, a gaunt Ms Bronfman pleaded not guilty to allegations she conspired with Mr Raniere to steal email passwords from his "perceived enemies," racked up charges on the credit card of his dead ex-girlfriend and laundered money to help a non-citizen fraudulently gain entry to the US.
Ms Bronfman was part of an "inner circle" of loyalists who "committed a broad range of serious crimes from identity theft and obstruction of justice to sex trafficking, all to promote and protect Raniere and NXIVM," US Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement.
She faces up to 20 years in jail if found guilty - a stunning change in circumstances for a woman who could have had anything in the world she wanted.
Ms Bronfman and her older sister, Sara, are the daughters of late Canadian billionaire Edgar Bronfman Sr. and a British barmaid-turned-socialite 20 years his junior. She was his third of four wives - and they were the youngest of his seven kids.
Backed by hefty trust funds, Sara Bronfman spent her 20s flitting around the globe trying to find herself, while the more serious Clare pursued a career as an elite equestrian show jumper.
Sara was the first to fall into Nxivm's thrall, taking one of its self-help workshops in 2002 at age 25, when a marriage to an Irish jockey fell apart after seven months, according to a Macleans report.
She soon roped in Clare, then 23, who hoped the life coaching organisation could help her in her quest for a spot on the US Olympic equestrian team.
Instead, they became full-time devotees of Raniere - known as "Vanguard" in the organisation, where followers earn coloured sashes as they coughed up more money to ascend the ranks.
"Coming from a family where I've never had to earn anything before in my life, [it] was a very, very moving experience for me to be awarded this yellow sash. It was the first thing that I had earned on just my merits," Sara Bronfman explained in a 2003 Forbes article.
Clare made it to the Olympic trials in 2004, but gave up on horse riding after Raniere told her she had better things to do with her time, an insider told Vanity Fair.
At first, the sisters convinced their elderly dad to take Nxivm's $US10,000 (A$13,000) "VIP" course - but he soon soured on the organisation, and became estranged from his daughters, when he heard Clare had lent Nxivm $US2 million (A$2.7 million), according to a Vanity Fair report.
"I think it's a cult," he later told Forbes.
Nxivm's intense self-improvement classes had, at one point, earned it thousands of adherents, including some with Hollywood ties. They included Nicki Clyne, an actress who appeared on Battlestar Galactica; a son of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari; and India Oxenberg, a daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg.
Also arrested on Tuesday was the cult's co-founder, Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren, and Kathy Russel, Nxivm's longtime bookkeeper, for their alleged roles in aiding Mr Raniere.
Lauren - who's been accused by former "slaves" of being one of the "masters" in the group - is alleged to have committed forced labour, extortion and wire fraud.
Prosecutors allege that she kept a former sexual partner of Mr Raniere's confined to a room for two years after the woman developed feelings for another man, threatening to dump her in Mexico with no ID if she didn't comply.
Lauren Salzman eventually made good on the threats, they claim.
All three were arraigned in Albany, New York, where they pleaded not guilty.