By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman and three other people were arrested Tuesday on charges that they helped run a criminal enterprise for self-help guru Keith Raniere, who was charged with sex trafficking earlier this year, prosecutors announced.
Federal prosecutors charged Bronfman, a high-ranking member of Raniere's Albany, New York-based organization Nxivm, with racketeering conspiracy in an indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court. Nxivm president Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren Salzman and member Kathy Russell were also charged.
"Clare Bronfman did nothing wrong," said Bronfman's lawyer, Susan Necheles. "Nxivm was not a criminal enterprise but instead was an organization that helped thousands of people. 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."
Lawyers for the other defendants could not immediately be reached for comment.
Raniere was charged in March with running a secret society within Nxivm, known as DOS or "the sorority," in which women were branded with his initials, blackmailed and coerced into having sex with him. Actress Allison Mack, best known for her role in WB Television's "Smallville" series, was also charged with helping Raniere recruit women.
Upon joining, members were required to provide so-called "collateral" that could be used against them if they tried to leave, including compromising information about family and friends, nude photographs and rights to their assets, according to prosecutors.
Raniere and Mack pleaded not guilty to the charges against them earlier this year. Raniere's lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, has said that all the activity described by prosecutors was consensual.
Raniere, known within Nxivm as "Vanguard," has been in jail since his March arrest. Mack was released on bail.
Bronfman and the other people arrested on Tuesday were not charged with sex trafficking. According to the indictment they engaged in identity theft, money laundering, extortion and other illegal activities to help bring recruits and money into Nxivm. They said the organization ran a series of "pyramid-structured" schemes, including expensive courses.
Nxivm on its website calls itself "a community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human." Women recruited into Raniere's secret society were promised it would empower and strengthen them, prosecutors said.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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Updated Date: Jul 25, 2018 01:06:38 IST