Seagrams heiress keeps paying as NXIVM's Keith Raniere adds big-name lawyers

Albany Times-Union/July 13, 2021

By Robert Gavin

NEW YORK — Even from federal prison, Clare Bronfman is still footing the legal bill for NXIVM leader Keith Raniere.

A new filing in U.S. District Court  in Brooklyn revealed that the deep-pocketed  Seagrams' liquor fortune heiress and longtime NXIVM operations director was paying for Raniere's newest attorneys,  Marc Fernich and Jeffrey H. Lichtman. Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York asked Raniere to waive a potential conflict in bringing the lawyers on board.

"The government has been advised that the legal fees for Mr. Lichtman and Mr. Fernich, who represent Raniere in connection with proceedings related to restitution before the court as well as his pending appeal, are being paid by the defendant Clare Bronfman," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar said in a memo to Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis dated Monday.

Raniere, 60, known within his cult-like personal growth organization as "Vanguard," is serving 120 years in prison in Arizona for his convictions at trial of sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering charges. The Times Union reported earlier this month that he hired Fernich, a former attorney for late financier and sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, and Lichtman, who along with Fernich has represented Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera.

Bronfman, formerly of Manhattan and Clifton Park, previously funded Raniere's defense from "KAR 2018 Trust" — named for Raniere's initials — that she created to benefit Raniere and a son he has with a longtime girlfriend.  It had been unclear if Bronfman was still paying for Raniere's legal efforts after the judge sentenced her last September to six years and nine months in prison for her guilty pleas to conspiring to conceal and harbor undocumented immigrants for financial gain, and fraudulent use of identification. She is serving her time in a facility in Philadelphia.

The judge also fined Bronfman $500,000, directed her to forfeit $6 million, and ordered her to pay more than $96,000 to a woman from Mexico whom Bronfman exploited for her labor.

That Bronfman continued to support Raniere was not in question. She told the judge in a letter, before her sentencing: "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."

Raniere has previously waived the conflict when a similar one arose, Hajjar told the judge, saying he can do the same now should he choose.

Meanwhile, Garaufis has rescheduled the sentencing of former NXIVM president Nancy Salzman for Sept. 8.

Salzman, 66, of Halfmoon, who for two decades was the second most powerful person in the company long based in Colonie, had been scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 2. Her attorney noted a conflict. Garaufis, in turn, rescheduled the sentencing of Salzman, who in March 2018 pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

Salzman, known within NXIVM as "Prefect," admitted to underlying acts of identity theft conspiracy to obtain the names and passwords of email accounts of perceived “enemies” of NXIVM, and to conspiring to alter records for use in an official proceeding, which was a lawsuit against cult expert Rick Ross.

Salzman, a registered nurse who in 1998 co-founded NXIVM and its Executive Success Programs (ESP), was the first of Raniere’s co-defendants to plead guilty. In addition to Bronfman's plea, NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell, 63, pleaded guilty to visa fraud. Former television actress Allison Mack and Salzman's daughter, Lauren, both admitted to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.

Lauren Salzman, 45, the star witness for prosecutors at Raniere's trial, is scheduled to be sentenced July 28.

The judge previously sentenced Raniere and most recently imposed a three-year term for Mack, 38, who cooperated with prosecutors.

The judge recently rejected a request by Nancy Salzman to accompany her other daughter, Michelle, to a local hospital for the birth and delivery of her first grandchild. The defendant, through her attorney, asked to stay at her daughter's home during the infancy of the child so as to help her daughter and son-in-law, and to bond with her first grandchild.

Salzman, who is on home confinement, turns 67 on Friday.

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