Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to two felonies: conspiracy to conceal and harbor an alien for financial gain [Sylvie] – and fraudulent use of identification [Pam Cafrtiz’s credit card].
Since Clare is coming up for sentencing at the end of this month, let’s examine her crimes. When she took her plea deal, the prosecution estimated that her sentence should be in the 21-27 month range. The plea deal went so far as to permit her to appeal the judge’s sentence if it surpassed 27 months.
Imagine her surprise when the judge mentioned last December that he was considering an upward departure in his sentencing.
In this post, we will examine her fraudulent use of identification.
It concerned her role in the use of the late Pam Cafrtiz’s credit card, an American Express card. It was Keith Alan Raniere and his girlfriend Mariana Fernandez who got the benefit, not Clare.
It is a federal crime to use a deceased person’s credit card.
It is important to note that Clare has a net worth, she reports, of $200 million. She certainly did not need to use, scheme or conspire to use Cafritz’s credit card for the few hundred thousand dollars spent.
Further, while there are suspicious activities related to Cafrtiz’s death [she may have been slowly poisoned], it seems clear that her last will and testament provided for Raniere to receive her entire estate, which was estimated to be $8 million.
While Raniere and Mariana were using Cafrtiz’s credit card to charge various things and her bank account to pay for it, this is essentially a victimless crime since Raniere was to inherit all of Pam’s money anyway and it appears that Raniere did not stiff American Express. Through Clare’s efforts, all the charges on Pam’s credit card were reportedly paid out of Pam’s bank account.
The only potential victim is the taxpayers since Clare admitted that Raniere [she did not mention him by name] might have not paid for things in his own name to avoid paying income taxes.
The crime itself hinges on a technicality: The law is explicit. This is identity theft. Pam died in November 2016.
There are a lot of questions I have about her death and, frankly, Raniere may have had a hand in her death. But neither he nor Clare have been charged with anything related to the cause of her death. Mariana – who is equally guilty of identity theft since she used the card the most – was never charged at all.
Here is how the prosecution described Clare’s crime:
Prosecution’s View of Clare’s Crime
Between approximately November 2016 and March 2018, Raniere and Bronfman conspired to commit identity theft in connection with Raniere’s continued use of a credit card account number and bank account number belonging to Pamela Cafritz, knowing Cafritz was deceased.
This scheme was part of a long-standing practice of deliberately keeping money and assets out of Raniere’s name. Bronfman facilitated the scheme by arranging for regular payment of Pamela Cafritz’s credit card after she died on November 7, 2016.
Among the items on Pamela Cafritz’s credit card were charges to Prosvent LLC, Amazon Marketplace, Restoration Hardware, a pet shop, Domino’s Pizza, a sock store in Brooklyn, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Direct, Netflix, and various baby companies.
In total, approximately $135,000 was charged to Pamela Cafritz’s credit card from November 7, 2016, the date of her death, to February 8, 2018.
In addition, disbursements were made from Pamela Cafritz’s Key Bank account after she died.
Approximately $320,305 in checks and $736,856 total disbursements were drawn from Cafritz’s account, which included payments to [Kathy] Russell. [Editor’s note: Kathy Russell was the Nxivm bookkeeper and was also charged and convicted of immigration fraud.]
Clare Describes Her Crime
When she pleaded guilty, Clare was required to tell the judge that she was, in fact, guilty. In her allocution before Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis she said, concerning this crime:
“I was wrong to facilitate the use of someone’s credit card who had passed away. Between approximately November 2016 and March 2018, I knowingly facilitated the use by another person of a deceased person’s credit card, and the use of that person’s bank account to pay the bills for the credit card which were more than a thousand dollars.
“My office and I handled the logistics of payment of the credit card bill from the bank account, and the person using the credit card did not intend to pay taxes on the income received in the form of payment for goods purchased on the credit card. I meant no harm in either case, however, that does not justify my actions nor their affects [sic], and for this I am truly sorry.”
[Editor’s note: Clare did not name the person using the credit card who did not intend to pay taxes. She never uttered his name in her allocution. He is Keith Alan Raniere, her Vanguard.]
Clare Bronfman’s lawyer, Ronald Sullivan, Jr.
Clare’s Lawyer Explains
Clare’s lawyer, Ronald Sullivan wrote in Clare’s sentencing memorandum that she meant no harm by facilitating Raniere’s use of Pam’s credit card or bank account.
In 2016, Jane Doe 7 (Pam Cafritz) died after a long and painful fight with cancer. In her will, she left the entirety of her estate to Keith Raniere, who was also the executor of her estate.
As Clare explained in her plea allocution, her office and bookkeeper were handling some of the finances for Pam’s estate after she passed away (as they had done for her before she passed away).
At some point during Pam’s illness, Clare’s office, which offered primarily bookkeeping services to individuals and companies, had taken over the bookkeeping for some of Pam’s accounts. This was just a bookkeeping function that Clare’s employees were performing; it did not give Clare any access or control over how the money was spent.
Pam, [Mariana Fernandez] and Keith Raniere all lived together, and Pam paid for all of the expenses for the household. Some of the bills for the household were paid automatically out of Pam’s bank account and [Mariana] had access to, and use of, Pam’s Amazon account and her credit card. Upon Pam’s death, [Mariana] and Keith continued to live together, expenses continued to be automatically paid, and [Mariana] continued to use Pam’s Amazon account as well as her credit card.
When a question arose in Clare’s office about what to do now that Pam had died, Clare asked a long-time attorney what should happen, and he advised that they should no longer use Cafritz’s signature stamp, and, instead, Raniere should sign the checks as executor of the estate. This change was implemented immediately. There was nothing hidden about what they were doing. The banker at the bank that held Pam’s accounts knew that she had died. And Keith signed the checks as suggested by the attorney as soon as the question of using Pam’s actual signature stamp was brought up, and until someone else took over as the Estate’s executor and began signing checks instead of Keith.
Since Clare knew that Keith had inherited all of Pam’s money, she did not think there was anything wrong with this arrangement at the time. However, she now recognizes that it was wrong of her to facilitate the continued use of the deceased Cafritz’s credit card to purchase items to support the lifestyle of [Mariana] and Raniere, who did not pay taxes on the spending from this credit card account of which they were the beneficiaries.
Instead, she should have worked to get the Estate accounts set up immediately. The loss amount in the plea agreement, and to which Clare stipulated, is based on the amount charged to Cafritz’s credit card between November 7, 2016 (the date of her death) and February 8, 2018, which Probation agrees was $135,000.
Although Clare technically violated 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028(a)(7), 1028(b)(1)(D) and 1028(c)(3)(A), it should be noted this is not a typical identity theft case and there was no direct loss to Cafritz or her estate, since she left the entirety of her estate to Raniere anyway.
There were also none of the emotional, financial and/or opportunity costs that typically accompany identity theft. See U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1, app. note 2 (1999) (“‘Loss’ means the value of the property taken, damaged, or destroyed.”); cf. S. REP. 105-274 (1998) (reporting that “[o]n an individual level, the ‘human’ cost of identity theft can be quite substantial. These costs include emotional costs, as well as various financial and/or opportunity costs,” and that the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 (ITADA) therefore directed “the [Sentencing] Commission [to] consider the extent that ‘harm to reputation, inconvenience, and other difficulties resulting from the offense’” should be accounted for in sentencing).
The atypical circumstances of the identity theft crime should be considered as a mitigating factor. As the Sentencing Commission explains in its introduction to the Guidelines, it “intends the sentencing courts to treat each guideline as carving out a ‘heartland,’ a set of typical cases embodying the conduct that each guideline describes. When a court finds an atypical case, one to which a particular guideline linguistically applies but where conduct significantly differs from the norm, the court may consider whether a departure is warranted.” U.S.S.G. Ch. 1, pt. A, subpt. 4(b).
In committing [the crime]… Clare was not motivated by greed or an intent to harm. On the contrary, although she broke the law, she did so believing, at the time…. that she was helping carry out the wishes of the deceased Pam Cafritz, who had left the entirety of her estate to Keith Raniere in her will and designated him as the executor of her estate.
In short, although Clare’s actions violated the law, they were never ill-intentioned. A defendant’s motive is highly relevant at sentencing. See Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476, 485 (1993).
Furthermore, [the crime] was [not] committed by sophisticated means nor are there any aggravating circumstances related to the offenses of conviction….. [T]he fraudulent use of identification offense did not involve ten or more victims, was not committed through mass-marketing, did not result in substantial financial hardship to one or more victims, did not involve a theft from the person of another, did not involve receiving stolen property, did not involve misrepresentations by the defendant, did not involve misappropriation of a trade secret, did not involve a violation of securities or commodities law, did not involve the conscious or reckless risk of death or serious bodily injury, and did not involve the possession of a dangerous weapon (including a firearm) in connection with the offense. See U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(2).
In short, the offense conduct was unremarkable under the law.
Clare also made this statement about her dear friend Pam:
Shortly [after my father died], I learned one of my closest friend’s cancer had grown to stage 4 [Pam Cafritz]. Over the next two years I did everything I could to find medicine to help her, however, the inevitable day came.
Honestly, I still have not been able to feel the pain of her death. After my father, I didn’t think I could handle it. Pam was also Keith’s life partner of 20 years, as well as his closest friend.
As our office was handling all of Pam’s personal finances, we continued to do so. I avoided dealing with the Estate or discussing it with Keith as I imagined the pain he was going through and didn’t want to interfere.
In the end, I agree with Ronald Sullivan: this is not much of a crime and there are no victims. That is not to say that Clare did not do many crimes for which she was not charged but I cannot agree that an individual should be punished for uncharged crimes. Her sentence should be strictly based on the crimes she pleaded guilty to.
If I were judge, based on the actual crime of having her bookkeeper pay for Pam’s credit card with Pam’s money for Raniere’s use – I would probably sentence Clare to no more than six months for this offense.
In a subsequent post, we will discuss the other crime she pleaded to – the harboring of Sylvie, an illegal alien for financial gain.