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Seagram's Heir Clare Bronfman Sentenced To Nearly 7 Years Behind Bars In NXIVM Sex Cult Case

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Seagram's liquor fortune heir Clare Bronfman was sentenced Wednesday in the NXIVM sex cult case.

She will spend 81 months, nearly seven years, behind bars after pleading guilty to identity theft and immigration offenses.

Bronfman is a wealthy benefactor of Keith Raniere, the disgraced leader of the self-improvement group in upstate New York convicted of turning women into sex slaves who were branded with his initials.

Bronfman, 41, admitted in a guilty plea last year that she harbored someone who was living in the U.S. illegally for unpaid "labor and services" and that she committed credit card fraud on behalf of Raniere, leader of the group called NXIVM.

In a letter to the court last month, Bronfman wrote that she "never meant to hurt anyone, however I have and for this I am deeply sorry." Still, she said that she couldn't disavow Raniere because "NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better."

FLASHBACK: What To Know About The NXIVM Celebrity Sex Cult Trial

At trial, prosecutors told jurors the 60-year-old Raniere's organization, NXIVM operated like a cult whose members called him "Vanguard." To honor him, the group formed a secret sorority comprised of brainwashed female "slaves" who were branded with his initials and forced to have sex with him, the prosecutors said.

Bronfman's lawyers argued she deserved leniency because she had no direct involvement in the most disturbing allegations and has a health condition that could put her at greater risk for a coronavirus infection if incarcerated. But in court papers, prosecutors argued she deserved a serious punishment since, "There can be little doubt that Raniere would not have been able to commit the crimes with which he was convicted were it not for powerful allies like Bronfman."

The judge said while there's no evidence Bronfman directly participated in the sex operation, she used her wealth and social status to intimidate and pressure Raniere's critics and dissenters.

The defendant 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.

"Today sends a very, very strong message and hopefully some measure of peace and justice to the victims who suffered at the hands of this very corrupt enterprise," acting U.S. attorney Seth DuCharme said.

"I just want my reputation back," former NXIVM member Barbara Bouchey said.

Bouchey teared up outside Brooklyn federal court after giving one of several victim impact statements inside.

"I was speechless and I feel that this was justice served, and I think that Clare will take that very seriously," she said.

Bronfman's attorneys vow to appeal her sentence.

"The decision was clearly an abomination. It was outrageous. It was a miscarriage of justice to go three times above the sentencing guidelines," defense attorney Ron Sullivan said.

As CBS2's Andrea Grymes reports, Bronfman did apologize in court to the one victim her charges included, but the judge said he needed to consider her sentence in the context of the other defendants as well, including Raniere.

Raniere was separately convicted of several charges, including sex trafficking.

Along with Bronfman, Raniere's teachings won him the devotion of Hollywood actresses like Allison Mack of TV's "Smallville." Mack also has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

As part of a plea agreement, Bronfman agreed to forfeit $6 million from a fortune prosecutors have said is worth $200 million. They also are seeking a $500,000 fine.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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