Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman pleads guilty in NXIVM sex cult case
Clare Bronfman (file)

By Andrea Cavallier, Associated Press, and Alicia Nieves, WPIX

BROOKLYN (WPIX) -- Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman, and another group member Kathy Russell, pleaded guilty Friday to charges implicating their involvement in a sex-trafficking conspiracy case against an upstate New York self-help group NXIVM, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York.

Bronfman entered the plea on Friday in federal court in Brooklyn.

The plea means the 40-year-old Bronfman will avoid going to trial early next month with Keith Raniere. He's known as the spiritual leader of the group called NXIVM.

"I don’t think she ever in a million years, and I don’t think anybody who knows her, ever expected that she would end up pleading guilty to two felonies," Mark Geragos, Bronfman’s attorney, said to PIX11.

“She is grateful to put this painful chapter behind her,” said Russell's attorney, Justine Harris.

Prosecutors say Bronfman was bankrolling Raniere's group at a time when he had a secret harem of sex slaves who were branded with his initials.

Bronfman's sentencing is set for July 25 and she could receive up to 25 years in prison.

Russell is scheduled to be sentenced July 21 and faces up to 10 years in prison.

Both women will likely receive far less time though. Bronfman is expected to serve less than three years, while Russell is expected to serve less than one year.

Bronfman is the daughter of late billionaire Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman, was charged with money laundering and identity theft as part of her support for NXIVM, which according to prosecutors, doubled as a sex cult.

On April 8, TV actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty to charges she manipulated women into becoming sex slaves for the group’s spiritual leader.

Mack, 36, wept as she admitted her crimes and apologized to the women who prosecutors say were exploited by Keith Raniere and NXIVM.

“I believed Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people and I was wrong,” Mack told a judge in federal court in Brooklyn as she pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.

Mack is best known for her role as a young Superman’s close friend on the series “Smallville.”

After months of reflection since her arrest, “I know I can and will be a better person,” Mack said. Her sentencing was set for Sept. 11.

Court papers allege NXIVM formed a secret society of women who were branded with Raniere’s initials and forced to have sex with him. Defense attorneys have insisted any relationship between Raniere and the alleged victims, including an unidentified actress and other women expected to testify against him at trial, was consensual.

MORE: Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman pleads guilty in NXIVM sex cult case - WPIX