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Cult of NXIVM Series Part 5: Bronfman Sisters Join NXIVM and Lose Millions of Dollars
by Frank Parlato
It’s worth noting that well before I was hired as a consultant at NXIVM in 2007, the two Seagram heiresses, Clare and Sarah Bronfman lost a staggering amount of money.
In 2002, after joining the “self-help” company NXIVM, which critics call a cult, the Bronfman sisters became enamored with NXIVM founder, Keith Raniere, and his top assistant, Nancy Salzman, president of NXIVM.
They expressed their infatuation as one might expect heiresses would: They gave him money.
It began modestly and gradually increased. The sisters donated $250,000 to advance Raniere’s ideals. Out of that $250,000, Raniere got a gift of a $40,000 piano.
Salzman wanted a new home. Clare Bronfman bought her old home and moved into it. The sisters then spent close to $1 million to buy Salzman a new home in Halfmoon, a suburb of Albany.
Clare bought a $2.3 million, 234-acre horse farm with a manor house, outside Albany, that NXIVM would use to house potential NXIVM customers and VIPs.
The sisters paid $11 million for a 22-seat private jet that Raniere and Salzman would use.
Sara bought a $6.5 million apartment in the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Manhattan that Salzman would use when she came to New York City.
The sisters “lent” $1.7 million to buy NXIVM’s new headquarters on 455 New Karner Road in Colonie, NY. It is unclear whether that “loan” was paid back or only “papered” as a loan to disguise the fact that it was a gift.
The sisters purchased for Raniere and Salzman 17 residential and commercial properties in the Albany region, paying $4.4 million for the properties, under a corporation Raniere controlled in Salzman’s name called NXIVM Properties LLC.
According to a deposition given by NXIVM member, Barbara J. Bouchey, a New York State licensed financial planner, Raniere, “felt the government was watching him [and] he needed to be careful” so he took “precautions to not have his name on things, not have a driver’s license.”
Raniere also encouraged, she said, “a number of people [to] get off the grid, meaning not have a tax ID number, not to file their tax returns.”
The sisters took out a line of credit to “loan” NXIVM another $2 million, repayable through personal training sessions from Salzman, and for Salzman to be available to take phone calls from Clare. Clare was to be billed $2000 per hour for these sessions with Salzman. It is unclear if the loan was repaid and/or whether Salzman reported the income to the IRS from her $2000 per hour sessions with Clare.
BRONFMANS 'LOAN' RANIERE MONEY FOR COMMODITIES FUTURES
From January 2005 to late 2007, Raniere, allegedly, made a series of commodity trades through First Principles, a company registered in Salzman’s name.
Raniere, who reportedly claimed he has a 240 IQ, and is one of, if not the smartest man in the world, said he developed a mathematical formula to consistently beat the commodities market. Raniere employed a commodities broker named Yuri Plyam who operated his own brokerage firm, Castle Trading, in Los Angeles.
Raniere’s system did not work.
Within two years, Raniere lost (or claimed to have lost) $69 million in commodities — and asked the Bronfmans to cover $65.6 million of it, which they did.
Clare Bronfman, in testimony in a Washington trial, refused to acknowledge she covered Raniere’s commodities losses. However the Bronfman sisters filed complaints with the National Futures Association and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission against the broker, Plyam (Case l:12-cv-00252-GLS-ATB Document 1-1 Filed 02/09/12). Both of these complaints were denied because the Bronfman sisters never had any trading accounts with Plyam.
Their former consultant, Joseph O’Hara, explained in court filings, “the Bronfman sisters ‘loaned’ approximately Sixty-five Million Dollars ($65,000,000) to First Principles, Inc. in order to cover Raniere(‘s) losses in the commodities account that had been established in that entity’s name.”
Bronfman’s lawyer, Robert Crockett, told the Albany Times Union (Jan 31 2010) that the Bronfman sisters, not Raniere, made the commodities investments, by loaning the $65.6 million to First Principles LLC, whose sole stockholder was Salzman.
“Mr. Raniere was giving the Bronfmans advice on what positions to take with their money,” Crockett told the Times Union.
Regardless of the legal structure – or even if the commodities investments were ever actually made – the so-called “loan” was never repaid.
Bronfman financial statements which I reviewed reveal the sisters booked the $65.6 million as a loan, going so far as to include interest payments which they did not receive. Clare Bronfman told me she and her sister reported “phantom” interest income on tax returns.
She claimed the purpose of the deception was to make it appear she was earning money on the $65.6 million to hide the commodities losses from her father, billionaire, Edgar Bronfman Sr., and trustees charged with safeguarding the sisters’ trust fund. Reporting phantom interest may also have saved the sisters millions in gift taxes, but was possibly tax evasion.
O’Hara, who quit NXIVM because of concerns about their potentially illegal activities, had another view. In court filings he wrote, “Although much of this funding has been labeled as ‘loans’ for accounting and tax purposes, there is, in fact, no reasonable expectation that any of these funds will ever be repaid – and, as a result, all of it should be treated as taxable income with respect to the entities that received same.”
Salzman’s role is also unclear. When I questioned her she evidently did not know much, if anything, about the actual commodities trading or how and where $65.6 million of Bronfman money was lost, yet her name was on the corporate entity that allegedly made the investments.
THE LOSSES WERE HARD TO EXPLAIN
For Raniere’s inner circle, the losses were of concern – especially to the Bronfman’s financial advisor, Bouchey, who, at the time, was also one of Raniere’s girlfriends.
The Bronfmans were running out of money and to cover the (alleged) commodities losses they needed their father to allow them to borrow from their future inheritance.
“At one point,” Bouchey said in a deposition shortly after she left NXIVM, “when the commodities losses were really great the girls went to their father and asked their father if they could take $20 million out of this trust and they would pay it back. In fact, I went with them to Citibank and we negotiated a Citibank line of credit of $20 million for Clare and $20 million for Sara. And their father gave permission for them to use the trust that they would inherit when their father died as collateral to cover for the Citibank, the two $20 million lines of credit. And, some $40 million was used to give to Keith to cover some losses on the commodities.”
They also secured a loan against the jet.
Bouchey recalled in court filings, “I also went down with Sara to New York City to Citibank to negotiate a plane loan for eleven or twelve million dollars. And that money was needed as well to help cover for the losses Keith occurred with the commodities....
“Sara and Clare’s father was very concerned at this point, as were the trustees, because when we went and got the $20 million each at Citibank and then requested $20 million to come out of the trust they were very anxious to have that money go back into the trust.
“And I remember myself and Sara, Clare, and Nancy all having conversations with Keith because Keith — every time we would send him money Keith would assure us: This is it. This is it; there won’t be any more. It’s going to come back. I promise you it’s going to come back. Things are going to turn around. They were also panicked; is this money going to come back?
“But the trustees for the father’s account were very upset about this. And, so, there were a lot of conversations with Keith because every day I was calling and saying: Are you going to get the $20 million back? Are you going to get the $20 million back? And every day he was like working on it.
“Now, that $20 million did come back and went into the father’s trust, but not the forty million in the Citibank line of credit. So, the sixty-five million never came back.”
Raniere, offering an explanation why his mathematical commodities formula failed, told the Bronfman sisters that the loss of their $65.6 million was caused by “conspiracies” between the commodities clearing firm and their father, Edgar Bronfman Sr.
As Bouchey recalled, Raniere put a positive spin on this. He “was learning about moving money around,” Bouchey said in court filings. “And Keith wanted to have our own country, our own currency and market, our own way of doing things. So he needed to learn how the cheaters in the world markets worked. And he was learning this great body of knowledge about the world that would serve him well.”
PEOPLE WERE PANICKING
Still, his inner circle was having a hard time dealing with the losses.
Salzman “was really panicking because she was liable and felt responsible for being the one to ask the girls for the money quite often,” Bouchey recalled in her deposition. “.... And, there were other people, Karen Unterreiner, Lauren Salzman. There were a number of us aware of what was going on. We were all panicking. Sixty-five million dollars of losses in commodities is nothing to sneeze at.”
Bouchey added, “Keith never admitted that his math formula and commodities knowledge was lousy and that he was irresponsible with the money and/or that he didn’t know how to trade and handle himself well in commodities. I never heard him say that once. It was always a plot against him and what he was doing.... I panicked and told him, ‘You have got to stop this stuff. This is crazy.’”
The Bronfmans however believed Raniere’s explanation.
Clare Bronfman told me she believed her father manipulated the commodities market through buying opposing positions in orange juice futures – which caused Raniere’s otherwise sound mathematical formula to fail.
I asked Clare if she had any documents to prove Raniere, Salzman, or the broker, Plyam, actually invested her money in commodities. She said, no, she did not.
I asked Clare if she ever spoke to her father about his foiling Raniere’s investments. She said she never spoke of the matter with her father but expressed guilt about what her father had done to Raniere.
The losses, although claimed by Raniere to be not his fault, nevertheless had to be kept secret from Raniere’s students because, as Bouchey pointed out, “What would the NXIVM community think if they found out that the leader of the mission was irresponsibly gambling millions and millions and millions of dollars and losing it? This would shake the confidence of many people. So, we all, you know, like were afraid to talk to anybody about this going on because it looked crazy. And it was crazy.”
LET'S TRY REAL ESTATE, SAYS RANIERE
Soon after losing $65.6 million in commodities – Raniere and Plyam planned to diversify into real estate development. Raniere encouraged the Bronfmans to invest $26 million with Plyam in a housing construction project in Los Angeles. The plan was to build multimillion-dollar homes on lots scattered across Los Angeles County – significantly, as Plyam told me, located south of Wilshire Blvd., in East and West Hollywood Hills, Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Studio City, Laurel Canyon, and Benedict Canyon.
After I learned about the commodities losses, I was asked to become involved with the Los Angeles real estate investment and quickly discovered fraud by Plyam. I stopped the wholesale stripping by Plyam of the Bronfman sisters’ fortune within days of finding out.
However, when I started asking questions about Raniere’s role in the Los Angeles investment, both Raniere and the Bronfmans cut off communications with me.
It is only a matter of time – if it has not occurred already – when federal agents will turn their attention to Raniere – and in a dark twist – his victim cum potential coconspirator, Clare Bronfman.
As former NXIVM inner circle member Kristin Keeffe said, “Clare can serve time; she’s going to be on the hook for everything criminal that NXIVM did because of her part in it. .... And, she completely comingled her personal expenses with the NXIVM Corporation, and First Principles, so there’s going to be no corporate veil of protection.”
Bouchey, who left NXIVM in the wake of my discovery of fraud by Plyam, and possibly Raniere, claims that Clare Bronfman and Raniere had “two sets of books”. Court records show Bouchey possesses some 17 boxes of documents – duplicates of records she preserved as part of her duties as the Bronfmans’ financial advisor. There are 16 sets of books in QuickBooks, she says, and evidence of illegal activities including a conspiracy to forge documents.
Keeffe also claims that Raniere had more than $2 million in cash stored at Salzman’s house in a basement safe.
“You just have a whole criminal enterprise. There was fraud on every f—-g level,” Keeffe said.
In part 6 of the Cult of NXIVM series, I will show why I believe this is true.
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