Billionaire's daughter pleads guilty in cult sex slave case

Clare Bronfman, left, arrives at Federal court with her attorney Mark Geragos yesterday. Photo: AP.

An heiress to a multi-billion dollar fortune has pleaded guilty in a case involving a cult-like New York group of creating a secret harem of sex slaves for their self-anointed spiritual leader.

Clare Bronfman admitted she harboured someone who was living in the US illegally for unpaid "labour and services" and that she committed credit card fraud on behalf of Keith Raniere, the lead of a group called NXIVM.

Bronfman is the 40-year-old daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist Edgar Bronfman Sr, who was chairman of alcoholic beverage giant Seagram.

She told the judge that she had wanted to help people through NXIVM but ended up dishonouring her family.

"Your honour, I was afforded a great gift by my grandfather and father," Bronfman told the judge.

"With the gift, comes immense privilege and more importantly, tremendous responsibility. It does not come with an ability to break the law."

She added: "For this, I am truly sorry."

As part of a plea agreement, Bronfman agreed to forfeit $6m from a fortune prosecutors say is worth $200m.

She faces more than two years in prison at sentencing on July 25.

The plea means Bronfman will avoid going to trial early next month with Raniere.

He faces conspiracy charges alleging that his inner circle of loyalists created a secret society of women who were forced to have unwanted sex with him.

Prosecutors say some of the women were branded with his initials as part of their initiation.

An accountant for the group, Kathy Russell, also pleaded guilty on Friday to a fraud charge.

She joined three other NXIVM insiders besides Bronfman who have also pleaded guilty.

Among those defendants is Allison Mack, a TV actress best known for her role as a young Superman's close friend on the series Smallville.

Bronfman had long been affiliated with NXIVM, giving away tens of million of dollars to bankroll Raniere and his program of intense self-improvement classes.

She also paid for lawyers to defend the group against a lawsuit brought by its critics.

With the two guilty pleas on Friday, Raniere will face a jury by himself.

Defence attorneys have insisted any relationship between their client and the alleged victims, including women expected to testify against him at trial, was consensual.


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