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Where Are Clare and Sara Bronfman Today? Here’s Where the Subjects of HBO’s The Vow NXIVM Doc Are Now.
Before NXIVM’s 2017 New York Times unmasking as a violent sex “cult,” the self-help organization attracted celebrities, CEOs, and even a visit from the Dalai Lama. This group of elite members included sisters Clare and Sara Bronfman, heiresses to the Seagram alcohol fortune.
The daughters of late billionaire Edgar Bronfman Sr. became enmeshed with cult-like organization NXIVM and its founder Keith Raniere in their early twenties. Episode Five of HBO’s The Vow introduces the sisters into the slowly unfolding narrative, explaining the important role that the deep pockets of the Bronfmans played within the NXIVM organization over the years.
Clare and Sara Bronfman first enrolled in NXIVM classes in 2002. The sisters’ fondness for the organization eventually led Clare, who was an equestrian, to purchase a home near NXIVM’s headquarters in Clifton Park, New York, as well as a nearby horse farm to continue her training. Even their father, Edgar Bronfman Sr., enrolled in a NXIVM intensive in early 2003. However, when he found out that Clare had loaned Raniere 2 million dollars, he became suspicious and accused the organization of being a cult in a Forbes profile of Raniere later that year.
Clare’s choice to tell her father about the loan, which led him to talk to the press, was an “ethical breach,” according to Keith Raniere’s philosophical playbook. The Vow explains the repercussions Clare faced for years within the organization for this cardinal NXIVM sin—Raniere led her to believe that only using her money “ethically” from there on out could help her atone.
This amounted to what Peter Skolnik, an attorney who fought against NXIVM for years, estimated to be 50 million dollars of Clare’s fortune towards suing NXIVM’s ‘enemies’—usually those who left the organization and spoke out against it—as well as covering all of Raniere’s private air travel (about $65,000 per flight). Forbes also reported that it is estimated Clare Bronfman hired 50 to 60 lawyers from about 30 law firms to pursue cases against NXIVM critics over the course of 15 years.
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Even after The New York Times expose came out in October of 2017, spotlighting the secret branding, starvation, blackmail and slavery of women in secret NXIVM society DOS, the Bronfman sisters stuck by Raniere. Clare published a statement on her website in December of that year stating: “Some have asked me why I remain a member and why I still support NXIVM and Keith Raniere. The answer is simple: I’ve seen so much good come from both our programs and from Keith himself.”
In July of 2018, Clare Bronfman was indicted on racketeering, identity theft, and money laundering charges. Sara Bronfman was not accused of any wrongdoing, but Raniere and other high-ranking organization members including Smallville actress Allison Mack had already been arrested earlier that spring, as well.
In her April 2019 trial, Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain and fraudulent use of identification, admitting to tax evasion on Raniere’s behalf. If she had gone to trial, she could have faced up to 25 years in prison on these charges, but with her plea deal, projected sentencing guidelines state she now faces 21 to 27 months. However, in December of 2019, the judge in the case informed prosecutors and Bronfman’s attorney that he was considering an “above guidelines sentence” for Clare, meaning he could impose more prison time than would normally be given under sentencing guidelines. Bronfman’s sentencing was originally set for January 8 2020. It was delayed several times, including from this June, as Bronfman did not consent to a sentencing via video before the courts had reopened in person. For this request, she cited the desire for her family in Europe to be able to attend. Clare Bronfman was reported to be in her Manhattan home on a $100 million bond during this waiting period.
Staff and members of the prosecution team push carts full of court documents related to the U.S. v. Keith Raniere case as they arrive at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York
While Clare’s lawyer had asked for three years of probation instead of jail time, federal prosecutors requested the judge on September 14 to sentence Clare to five years in prison, stating that she intimidated sex-trafficking victims, exploited immigrants, and remained committed personally and financially to convicted criminal Raniere. According to the Times Union, the prosecutors stated that Clare had continued to wire funds to a trust for Keith and a son he has with a girlfriend for the past two years. Clare also still publicly refused to disclaim Keith, writing in an August 28 letter to the judge, that “Many people, including most of my own family, believe I should disavow Keith and NXIVM, and that I have not is hard for them to understand or accept. However, for me, NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better.”
On September 30, a federal judge sentenced Clare Bronfman to six years and nine months in prison. Nine former members of NXIVM testified against Bronfman, detailing her role in the organization’s fierce and unabated legal pursuit of them for years after they had left. According to the New York Times, several women who took the stand pleaded with Clare directly to denounce Keith Raniere during the trial. Although Clare had not herself been a member of DOS, the secret society within NXIVM that was branding women, her steady flow of funds enabled years of abuse and brainwashing within the organization.
While Clare heads to prison, her sister Sara, who was not criminally charged, is still entitled to make money off NXIVM property she owns. In December of 2019, she agreed to give up her ownership interest in NXIVM’s Albany properties in exchange for a 20 percent share of their sale after federal forfeiture.
Lauren Kranc is an editorial assistant at Esquire, where she covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow of an expertise on Netflix dating shows.
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