NEW YORK — An heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune was arrested Tuesday in connection with her work with NXIVM, a self-help group in upstate New York that is accused of branding some of its female followers and forcing them into unwanted sex.
Clare Bronfman, a daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., and three other people associated with the NXIVM organization are charged with racketeering conspiracy, the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn announced. She was scheduled to be arraigned later Tuesday afternoon in Brooklyn.
Also arrested were Nancy Salzman, who was NXIVM’s longtime president, her daughter, Lauren Salzman, and an employee of the group, Kathy Russell.
NXIVM’s founder and leader, Keith Raniere, was arrested in Mexico earlier this year and brought to the U.S. to face charges that he, along with a NXIVM adherent, the TV actress Allison Mack, coerced followers into becoming “slaves” to senior members of the group.
In an indictment, prosecutors said Mack, who played a teenage friend of Superman in the CW network’s “Smallville,” helped Raniere recruit women to a secret sub-society within NXIVM whose members were branded with a surgical tool with a symbol that resembled his initials. Women were also expected to be subservient to “masters,” prosecutors said, including giving in to demands for sex.
Bronfman has long been affiliated with NXIVM, and prosecutors have said she used part of her fortune to finance its activities.
At an earlier bail hearing for Raniere, prosecutors told a judge that they worried Bronfman, who owns a private island in Fiji, would finance his escape if he were released.
Raniere and Mack have denied the allegations. Bronfman has said in previous public statements that she had no knowledge of wrongdoing.
In court filings, the defense lawyers have said the alleged “victims” of the group were never abused, and were in fact “independent, smart, curious adults” searching for “happiness, fulfillment and meaning.”