Mysterious billionaire heiress and a sex cult
SHE'S known as one of the most fanatical devotees of sex slave cult NXIVM, funnelling more than $200 million from her billionaire family's trust funds into the group over the past decade.
Now, authorities believe Claire Bronfman, heiress to the Canada's Seagram liquor fortune, may have assumed control of the shadowy organisation following the arrests of leaders Keith Raniere and ex-Smallville actor Allison Mack.
Raniere, 68, and Mack, 35, prepare to face trial for offences relating to sex trafficking and forced labour.
The pair have pleaded not guilty to charges they coerced and blackmailed women into joining a secret society within the cult called "DOS" for the purposes of becoming Raniere's sex slaves.
Many DOS slaves were allegedly branded with a symbol comprising Raniere and Mack's initials on their stomachs just above the hip.
DOS is an acronym representing a Latin phrase that translates to "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions," or "The Vow", prosecutors say.
Ms Bronfman is named in court documents as having bankrolled Raniere but has not been charged with any crime.
She has acknowledged Raniere as her mentor, lists NXIVM (pronounced next-ee-um) as her employer on her Facebook profile and counts Mack, Raniere and high profile member India Oxenberg - daughter of actor Catherine Oxenberg - among her Facebook friends.
A 2010 expose by Vanity Fair revealed how Ms Bronfman, along with her sister Sara, had financed NXIVM to the tune of US$150m (AUD200m) over a period of just six years.
Citing court documents, the magazine said the money was taken out of family trust funds and bank accounts and used to buy property in Los Angeles and Albany, a $US11 million private jet, finance multiple lawsuits against NXIVM's detractors and cover Raniere's failed investment schemes.
In recent months, Sara Bronfman is said to have distanced herself from the group while her sister became an increasingly powerful and influential force within the organisation, which markets itself as a self-help group.
In April, former NXIVM publicist Frank Parlato claimed in VICE Canada that Claire Bronfman had assumed control of at least a dozen DOS slaves spread across New York and Toronto.
Ms Bronfman, who was once a competitive show jumper, has denied any knowledge of the secret society or any alleged abuses, including claims DOS masters took photographs of slaves' vaginas as "collateral" if they tried to leave.
The structure and practices of DOS are described in great detail in documents tendered to court.
"Raniere has maintained a rotating group of fifteen to twenty women with whom he maintains sexual relationships," the papers, cited by the Daily Beast, state.
"These women are not permitted to have sexual relationships with anyone but Raniere or to discuss with others their relationships with Raniere."
The documents also detail the "collateral" system, which included "sexually explicit photographs; videos made to look candid in which the prospective slaves told damning stories (true or untrue) about themselves, close friends and/or family members; and letters making damaging accusations (true or untrue) against friends and family members and assigning the rights to certain assets".
"In most cases the DOS slaves continued to provide additional collateral beyond what they had initially understood was expected, in part because they feared that the collateral they had already provided would be released," the documents read.
One former DOS member known as Jane Doe 1, claims Mack personally recruited her to DOS and played an active role in creating "collateral" specifically for Raniere.
"Throughout Jane Doe 1's time in DOS, Mack regularly required her slaves to pose for nude photographs, either as assignments or collateral," the filing states, according to The Daily Beast.
"These photographs included on one occasion close-up pictures of their vaginas. Jane Doe 1 later learned that Mack was sending these photographs to Raniere, because Jane Doe 1 observed Mack sending these photographs using Mack's cellphone to someone over a messaging service and then receiving responses which Mack would sometimes relay to her slaves.
"The responses included that the photographs were not graphic enough or that the slaves were not smiling enough, and that they had to be retaken. On one occasion, Jane Doe 1 saw a text exchange on Mack's phone between Raniere and Mack, in which Mack sent a nude photo she had just taken of all of the slaves on Jane Doe 1's level and Raniere wrote back, 'All mine?' with a smiling devil emoticon."
Raniere's legal team recently told a press conference that their client is eager to go to trial and give his side of the story.
Any relationship between their client and the alleged victims, including an unidentified actor and other women expected to testify against Raniere at trial, was consensual, they said.
"These were adults who knew what they were doing," defence lawyer Paul DerOhannesian said.
The trial for Ranioere and Mack is due to start on October 1.