NEW YORK — A federal judge in New York has denied bail for an alleged sex cult founder in his sex-trafficking case after questions were raised about an heiress who has bankrolled him. Lawyers for Keith Raniere had sought his release on Tuesday on $10 million bond, but the judge sided with prosecutors who argued he could flee with the help of benefactors known to include Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza labeled a person fitting the description of Bronfman as a co-conspirator in the case.
There was no immediate response on Tuesday to a message left with a lawyer for Bronfman, who hasn't been charged.
Raniere has denied charges he formed a secret society within NXIVM that branded victims with his initials.
Allison Mack, an actress best known for her role on the television show "Smallville," was granted bail in April while fighting several. Mack has been accused of recruiting women into the group and exploiting them.
A federal judge in Brooklyn agreed to release the actress on $5 million bond. She will be living with her parents under home detention in California. She has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking.
Raniere has called NXIVM a self-help group, but investigators allege it was a multi-level marketing scheme used as a ruse to enslave and traffic women for sex.
"As alleged in the indictment, Allison Mack recruited women to join what was purported to be a female mentorship group that was, in fact, created and led by Keith Raniere. The victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants' benefit," U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard P. Donoghue said in an April press release. "This Office and our law enforcement partners are committed to prosecuting predators who victimize others through sex trafficking and forced labor."
Court filings say that in 2015, Raniere, who also went by "Vanguard," created a secret sub-organization with NXIVM called "DOS," an acronym for a Latin phrase that loosely translates to "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions," or "The Vow." The filings allege that DOS had levels of women "slaves" headed by "masters" in a pyramid scheme, with Raniere at the top and Mack immediately below Raniere.
Mack and other DOS masters allegedly recruited DOS slaves by telling them they were joining an empowering women-only organization that would help them overcome their weaknesses. The women allegedly hid that Raniere, the only man in the organization, was at the top of the pyramid.
The filings also say that slaves in DOS were branded in the pelvic region with Raniere's initials. The women were allegedly naked and required to be appear on film while they were branded.
An earlier criminal complaint alleges that women were expected to have sex with Raniere and do menial chores for masters.
In March, Raniere was arrested outside Puerto Vallarta by Mexican federal police. In a video obtained by Inside Edition, a woman believed to be Mack can be seen and heard as Raniere is taken away.
Former NXIVM publicist Frank Parlato told Inside Edition that Mack is "completely enamored with Raniere and completely under his thrall." He also said that Mack and her "Smallville" co-star, Kristin Kreuk, were used as "poster girls for normalizing the group." Kreuk says she left NXIVM years ago and commended the women who exposed DOS.
If convicted of the charges, Mack and Raniere each face a minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison.