US heiress Clare Bronfman has been sentenced to six years and nine months in prison for her role in the Nxivm sex trafficking group.
Bronfman, heir to the Seagram liquor fortune and a benefactor of Nxivm leader Keith Raniere, pleaded guilty in April 2019 to harbouring migrants for unpaid “labour and services”.
She also admitted to credit card fraud.
She was taken into custody to begin her jail term immediately after the sentencing in Brooklyn, New York.
Writing to the court last month, Bronfman said she “never meant to hurt anyone, however I have, and for this I am deeply sorry”.
However, she said Nxivm had “greatly changed my life for the better” and that she wouldn’t denounce its leader Raniere.
Nxivm – pronounced “Nexium” – was started in 1998 as a self-help programme. It said it worked with more than 16,000 people.
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On its website, Nxivm described itself as a “community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human”.
Despite its tagline of “working to build a better world”, Raniere was last year convicted of overseeing a “slave and master” system within the group.
The trial last year heard that Nxivm operated like a cult. Prosecutors told the court that members formed a secret sorority of brainwashed “slaves” who were branded with Raniere’s initials and forced to have sex with him.
Bronfman was on Nxivm’s executive board, and gave Raniere tens of millions of dollars to run the group’s intensive self-improvement classes. She also paid for the group’s lawyers when a lawsuit was filed against them.
Counsel acting for Bronfman argued that she should be given a lenient sentence because she wasn’t directly involved in the most serious allegations against Nxivm, and that she has a pre-existing health condition that could make her more vulnerable to coronavirus in prison.
However, prosecutors said she should be given a serious punishment because “Raniere would not have been able to commit the crimes with which he was convicted were it not for powerful allies like Bronfman”.