What are the chances of Clare Bronfman winning an appeal of her sentence? Probably not very good.
Bronfman was sentenced to 81 months in federal prison, triple the maximum of the sentencing guidelines for the felony crimes she admitted to committing, and almost two years longer than the prosecution asked for her to be sentenced.
Judge Nicholas Garaufis gave among his reasons for handing down his surprisingly long sentence was that Bronfman had “willful blindness” towards DOS and Keith Raniere’s criminal conduct and that she continued to support him.
The appeal relies on Bronfman’s argument that she did not have ample notice/due process to refute the judge’s upward departure sentencing based on his determination of willful blindness.
Bronfman’s due process opportunity to explain her mindset was her response to the government’s sentencing memorandum.
Found in her response is Bronfman’s letter to the judge applauding Raniere and saying he taught her to be “proud of her money.”
It was perhaps the single most unfortunate document in a response filled with unfortunate documents.
At best, it was not the wisest thing to write, just prior to her sentencing, that she continued to support the man who was convicted of all counts against him, in a trial presided over by the same judge who was to sentence her.
Even if she continued to support Raniere, she did not necessarily have to mention it and secure perhaps years more for her prison sentence.
Some of her letters-in-support were also not helpful.
Her sister, Sara Bronfman wrote that “Clare lives like an ascetic, she could have been a nun.” –
Or the letter from Clare’s private acupuncturist saying how frugal she is. That’s like saying “My private masseuse thinks I’m frugal: therefore, I should get probation.”
It’s not like the judge wasn’t aware of Bronfman’s more flamboyant assets. They were disclosed in her bail application and the probation department’s pre-sentencing report. A private island in Fiji and a 6,500 sq. ft. horse estate hardly epitomize frugality.
Not that being frugal with her $200 million in assets was relevant to her sentencing anyway.
Then there is Edgar Boone writing to the judge that “many people who worked for Clare were entitled”. This may or may not be true, but writing it was not a smart move if leniency was really desired.
Jane Doe 12 was one of those who worked for Bronfman. When one reads the evidence of how Bronfman treated Jane Doe 12, if one takes even about half of it at face value, Bronfman comes across as monstrous.
Whoever thought including a letter implying Jane Doe 12 was “entitled” – i.e., spoiled and undeserving – to try and win a lesser sentence for Bronfman was not apparently aware of the judge’s feelings about the victims of this case.
Much of Bronfman’s response was filled with non-sequiturs like these and lacked in demonstrations of remorse, acceptance of responsibility, or acknowledgments that harm was done – all of which are key ingredients to getting a lenient sentence.
As for the lynchpin of her appeal – that she had no way of knowing that the judge was considering sentencing her based on willful blindness, it might be argued that it was not impossible for a reasonable person to infer the willful blindness mindset.
This is not to suggest that Bronfman’s attorneys were derelict. It is the experience of some who worked closely with Bronfman that if an attorney wants Bronfman as a client, that attorney will need to be deferential to her and prepared to argue things that might not be based on the attorney’s best judgment or in his client’s best interest.
Some have said that an attorney must “cater to her delusions of grandeur at all times.”
By doing this, it is not all bad news for the attorneys. For example, had Bronfman shown remorse and repentance, things which her attorneys probably advised her to do, she might have gotten a sentence within the sentencing guidelines [21-27 months] and there would be nothing to appeal.
Instead, following her lead and putting in her response her letter to the judge declaring she is an avid supporter of Raniere, in turn, allowed her attorneys to secure many more billable hours which they’ll get from her appeal.
On top of that, they will likely be defending her in the Neil Glazer civil suit Think of how much money will be made on depositions in the civil case. Eighty plaintiffs and more than a dozen defendants? Plus travel time? There will be many billable hours processing discovery from 92 people.
If it is not settled, it might be a $5 million legal defense.
As for the sentence, it is quite probable that the Second Circuit panel will determine that Judge Garaufis was within his discretion to make determinations of Clare’s mindset based on the evidence and her own representations to the Court in the filings. Technically, the judge is not required to hold a Fatico hearing.
I predict that the Second Circuit will rule that the judge characterizing Bronfman’s conduct as willful blindness was within his discretion.
In Bronfman’s appeal brief, there was an omission of any mention of Lauren Salzman’s testimony about her. This testimony was the lynchpin of the willful blindness determination in the judge’s decision. No doubt AUSA Tanya Hajjar will bring this up in her reply brief.
Lauren Salzman is like the giant elephant in the room that Bronfman neglects to mention.
From the Judge’s sentencing decision:
“Ms. Bronfman repeatedly argues that she knew nothing about and never funded DOS. As I said earlier, I do not base my sentence on a finding that contradicts either of those claims. However, I do find it relevant that Ms. Bronfman seems to have a pattern of willful blindness when it comes to Raniere and his activities. As Lauren Salzman testified, Ms. Bronfman ‘didn’t want to know anything about DOS that she didn’t need to know.’
“I find that the testimony is particularly credible because it would not be the first time that Ms. Bronfman exuded the sense that she wanted to participate in Raniere’s world while remaining unaware of uglier aspects. For example, when she tried to get Stephen Herbits to convince authorities to bring criminal charges against Raniere-enemy Rick Ross, Bronfman told Herbits, ‘I don’t need to know who is funding the efforts, how you stop that from continuing. In fact, I don’t want to know. It just needs to be done and quickly.’
“I also find it relevant that Ms. Bronfman’s allegiance to Raniere shines through again and again. She has paid his legal fees and to this day, maintains that he “greatly changed her life for the better.” That is consistent with both her actions as described above and from what others have said about her.”
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit panel of three judges will read that and it will quite likely be the end of Bronfman’s appeal.
There’s nothing that suggests willful blindness more than saying “I don’t need to know”! which she is alleged to have said to a cooperating witness [Lauren Salzman] and put in writing.
Bronfman has the best attorneys money can buy and with the COVID 19 delays, she had an extra nine months to determine how to recharacterize/explain herself to the judge in her pre-sentencing memorandum.
Bronfman certainly knew about Lauren Salzman’s testimony. The emails and testimony of Steve Herbits were also a substantial part of the trial record and evidence regarding her state of mind. Yet she filed a 217-page brief and not one word about it!
Instead, we got “My private acupuncturist thinks I’m frugal” and that speaks to the “goodness at my core”.
When she said on the day of her sentencing, “People all over the world are praying for me because they can see my goodness,” it must have struck the judge as total denial, if not megalomania.
Of course, anything can happen and the appeals court may send the sentencing back to the judge. But the chances of that I think are small.
And even if the appeal was successful, it only means it goes back to the trial judge who sentenced her. Any significant reduction in her sentence, which ultimately is Judge Garaufis’ decision, is highly unlikely.