Attorneys for Clare Bronfman filed an appeal of her 81-month sentence, arguing that Judge Nicholas Garaufis committed procedural error when he:
- Denied Bronfman’s request for a hearing regarding disputed facts relevant to sentencing;
- Based his sentence on a theory of culpability Bronfman had no notice of, or adequate opportunity to contest [willful blindness to DOS – including failure to disavow Keith Raniere.];
- Made clearly erroneous and internally inconsistent findings at sentencing regarding issues on which Ms. Bronfman had requested a hearing; and
- On the basis of those clearly erroneous findings, imposed a sentence that included 81 months’ imprisonment, which was three times greater than the upper end of the sentencing range provided by the United States Sentencing Guidelines and nearly two years longer than what the government had requested.
Bronfman was arrested on July 24, 2018, four months after codefendant Keith Raniere was apprehended in Mexico and extradited to the United States.
Bronfman moved to sever her trial from Raniere’s on January 10, 2019 – and again on and March 21, 2019 – due to the “unfair prejudice inherent in a trial involving shocking allegations of sex trafficking and worse that had nothing whatsoever to do with the charges against her”
As a result of the denial of that motion, Bronfman accepted a plea deal offered by the prosecution of pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to harbor aliens for financial gain, [Assisting Jane Doe 12, who was not a U.S. citizen and did not have immigration status, to live and work in the United States] – and one count of fraudulent use of identification [arranging to pay credit card bills for a card in the name of the late Pam Cafritz, knowing that the charges on the card were made for the benefit of someone else [Raniere].
Nothing in the government’s charges, Ms. Bronfman’s plea agreement with the government, or her allocution suggested she had anything to do with “the sensational and inflammatory allegations against Mr. Raniere and members of DOS.”
From the appeal:
This case arises out of an investigation into an organization known as DOS.
According to the government, DOS was a secret group that extorted vulnerable women. The government alleged that Keith Raniere presided over DOS as the “grandmaster” and commanded a number of “slaves” to, for example, provide him with graphic photographs of their vaginas, submit to his sexual advances, and recruit additional women to serve as their own “slaves.”
The key tactic Mr. Raniere and other DOS “masters” allegedly employed was to collect “collateral”— such as nude photographs, fabricated confessions of embarrassing or criminal conduct, false accusations of similar conduct made against family members, or the deed to a house — which DOS “masters” used to extort their “slaves” in much the same way Mr. Raniere allegedly had done to them.
Clare Bronfman Was Not a Member of DOS
… DOS members, at Mr. Raniere’s specific instruction, concealed DOS from Ms. Bronfman and ensured she never learned of it. Although she sat on the executive board of NXIVM, a self-help group that Mr. Raniere founded, and saw Mr. Raniere as an important mentor, the evidence— including 813 exhibits received in evidence at Mr. Raniere’s trial, 5,752 pages of transcript from that trial, and countless interviews conducted by the government— confirm that Ms. Bronfman knew nothing whatsoever of DOS.
She did not plead guilty to anything related to DOS…
Yet in sentencing her, the district court (Garaufis, J.) imposed a sentence three times greater than the upper end of the Sentencing Guidelines range, and almost two years longer than what the government had requested, based on its finding that Ms. Bronfman was willfully blind to the conduct associated with DOS and thus bore culpability for the harms it caused.
But there is no factual basis from which the district court legitimately could conclude that Ms. Bronfman was willfully blind to DOS.
The district court rested its willful-blindness theory on the apparent basis of two findings: Ms. Bronfman (1) failed to renounce Mr. Raniere after the allegations against DOS became public; and (2) exhibited willful blindness to unrelated conduct in different circumstances.
From this, it concluded that Ms. Bronfman was willfully blind to DOS all along. That is a non sequitur. The district court erred in sentencing Ms. Bronfman on the basis of this logical fallacy.
Never Gave Bronfman a Chance to Rebut Willful Blindness
The sentencing proceeding itself was defective too. When the district court articulated its misguided willful-blindness theory at the end of the sentencing hearing, it was the first time anybody had raised that concept in Ms. Bronfman’s case.
Neither the government nor the Probation Department had argued willful blindness, nor had the district court suggested that it was considering that theory. Ms. Bronfman thus had no notice or adequate opportunity to rebut that finding even though it proved central to the district court’s justification for tripling the Guidelines range and locking Ms. Bronfman away for nearly seven years.
This denial of fair process was even more unreasonable given that Ms. Bronfman repeatedly requested a hearing to present evidence of her mental state. That request followed the allegation in the presentence report that she had “used her wealth to support” her codefendants’ crimes, including those related to DOS, and that she shared in efforts to “secure and recruit immigration status for non-citizens so they could … become sexual partners for Mr. Raniere.”
These suggestions were outrageous and demonstrably false.
Hearing Was Denied
Ms. Bronfman sought a hearing at which she would be able to show that she had no culpable mental state regarding DOS or her codefendants’ alleged conduct. The district court denied that request and, as became clear at the sentencing hearing, apparently believed it could skirt the issue by declining to find that Ms. Bronfman “knew” about DOS, while still punishing her for being willfully blind to it.
In doing so, the district court whipsawed Ms. Bronfman: it denied her a hearing on the issue of her mental state and then made a finding about her mental state that neither the Probation Department nor the government had advanced. The upshot is that Ms. Bronfman had no adequate opportunity to be heard on the key finding underlying the district court’s draconian sentence. That is improper.
Improperly Tying Her Immigration Crime to DOS
The district court offered a handful of other justifications for punishing Ms. Bronfman for DOS, but they fare even worse.
For example, the court asserted that, by failing to pay what she had promised to the unauthorized immigrant who was the victim of Ms. Bronfman’s immigration offense, known as Jane Doe 12, Ms. Bronfman somehow primed Jane Doe 12 to become a DOS slave.
The district court also suggested that, because Ms. Bronfman participated in supposedly retaliatory and abusive litigation tactics aimed at detractors of NXIVM and Mr. Raniere, she contributed to a culture that “gave rise to the darkest and most horrific crimes that Raniere and others committed.”
These reasons, and the others the district court offered, are unsupportable. They would not suffice to find Ms. Bronfman liable in a negligence suit, much less justify a nearly seven-year prison sentence, three times the Guidelines range.
This excessive sentence rests on misconceived reasoning, unsupported findings, and strained logic. Underlying all of it is the district court’s false yet abiding premise that Ms. Bronfman was responsible for the alleged conduct of Keith Raniere and others in DOS. She wasn’t. Having pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for two felonies, she was entitled to be sentenced based on her history and characteristics and her conduct—not her codefendants’. The district court’s failure to put aside its disgust for Mr. Raniere and sentence Ms. Bronfman for what she did was unreasonable.
This Court should vacate and remand for resentencing….
Keep in mind that the appeals court can only vacate the sentence and send it back to the sentencing judge [Garaufis]. They cannot reduce the sentence. The appellate judges can agree [or not] that the sentence is excessive and give reasons.
If they do so, a resentencing reduction is entirely up to Judge Garaufis. He can stick to the original sentence or reduce it marginally.
This seems like another way the judiciary takes care of itself, a system that has no checks and balances.
[Stay tuned for Part #2]