Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Sunday, December 09, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
32˚Partly Cloudy Night

News >  Nation

Funding for defense in NY sex-trafficking case questioned

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 6, 2018, 1:08 p.m.

Seagram’s liquor fortune heiress Clare Bronfman arrives to federal court in New York, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
Seagram’s liquor fortune heiress Clare Bronfman arrives to federal court in New York, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

NEW YORK – Federal prosecutors are challenging how defense lawyers are being paid in the case against a self-improvement organization accused of branding female followers.

Court papers say a trust largely funded by Seagram’s liquor fortune heiress Clare Bronfman is bankrolling the defense for her five co-defendants in the sex-trafficking case. They include the leader of the secretive upstate New York group called NXIVM, Keith Raniere and TV actress Allison Mack.

A judge ordered hearings Thursday in the coming days to address what prosecutors have argued is a potential conflict of interest.

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges alleging that followers belonging to a secret society within NXIVM were coerced into becoming sex slaves who were branded with his initials. A trial is expected to begin in March.

In court papers, prosecutors say the main concern “is that this payment structure has the potential to affect defense counsel’s advice, including whether to seek possible leniency by cooperating with the government, including against Clare Bronfman, and whether to testify in their own defense at trial, where such testimony might implicate Clare Bronfman.”

Prosecutors also claim the trust has sought to pay the legal fees of witnesses. One witness met with an attorney being paid by the trust who “recommended that she invoke the Fifth Amendment in response to the government’s questions in the grand jury” or else he wouldn’t represent her, according to the government papers.


Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter

There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com

You have been successfully subscribed!