The case is Sarah Edmondson et al, v Keith Raniere et al. The venue is the US District Court in the Eastern District of NY. The judge is Us Dsitrict Court Judge Eric R. Komitee.
A hearing was held on the afternoon of February 1, 2023.
The purpose of the hearing was to hear oral arguments for motions to dismiss against the defendants, Clare and Sara Bronfman, Nicki Clyne, Brandon Porter and Danielle Roberts.
Defendants Raniere and Kathy Russell made no appearance.
In determining whether claims against a defendant should be dismissed, Judge Komitee explained, “We’re testing the legal sufficiency of the complaint. We’re limited to the factual allegations that fall within the four corners of the complaint – except to the extent to which there are matters of which the Court can take judicial notice.”
Neil Glazer was not on hand. It is unclear at the moment why he was absent. In his stead, Aitan D. Goelman, Esq. of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP of Washington, DC, spoke.
The court started with the plaintiffs’ arguments why the claim for RICO and as a predicate act, harboring illegal aliens – siblings Camila, Daniela, and Adrian and Lindsey MacInnis – against Clare Bronfman – should not be dismissed.
The judge explained, “my inclination was to start with the predicate acts, and go Defendant by Defendant, because my sense is that’s more likely to be where the rubber meets the road here in terms of the motions to dismiss.”
Goelman: I want to start by talking by the question of the existence of an [racketeering] enterprise and what the enterprise is. And all of the Defendants say that there’s no enterprise here. And I want to just kind of talk about why this case is right in the wheelhouse of what a RICO case should be as opposed to a lot of other civil RICO cases that get filed….
You know, for… decades, the Mafia argued that there’s no such thing as the Mafia. You can’t argue that there’s no such thing as NXIVM. People in the NXIVM community, and it was a community, it was a distorted, warped community built on lies that did terrible things to its members, but it was a community. They called themselves NXIVMs or Espians.
THE COURT: Yeah, I don’t think we have any real dispute that there were entities here, that there were associations both in fact and in law. We might debate, I suppose, whether [what] you’re calling the enterprise was actually more than one enterprise…
GOELMAN: … I want to begin with a response to what Ms. Clare Bronfman, Ms. Sara Bronfman, and some of the other Defendants alleged in their reply briefs. And what they said is ‘you’re only going after the Bronfmans because they’re rich. They had nothing to do with the really bad stuff here.’ And ‘this is a shameless,” I can’t tell you how many times that word appeared, ‘shameless “cash grab for a windfall for greedy plaintiffs and their lawyers.’
That’s not true, Your Honor. But it is true that the wealth of the Bronfmans is very relevant here. Without Bronfman money, there’s no NXIVM headquarters or operation center. There’s no houses in Clifton Park, New York.
There’s no team of lawyers and private investigators intimidating critics and apostates. There’s no stream of foreign nationals to abuse. There are no pseudoscientific experiments. There’s no visit by the Dalai Lama. In short, there’s no NXIVM or a greatly reduced NXIVM.
Clare Bronfman had a hand in bringing the Dalai Lama to Albany to lecture in 2009.
And I want to begin in terms of Ms. Clare Bronfman by talking about what Judge [Nicholas] Garaufis found when he sentenced her…. Ms. Clare Bronfman’s lawyers say ‘it’s improper to cite the criminal case.’ …. It’s entirely proper to cite the criminal case. And there are different parts of the criminal case that will play different roles in this case, should it proceed to trial…. Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to two counts… and admitted to what she had done. That clearly is admissible…
THE COURT:… The two most interesting predicate acts [of racketeering] as to Clare Bronfman to me are the forced labor predicate and the conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens… The latter was the subject of her guilty plea, right?…
GOELMAN: Okay. Your Honor, before I turn to the forced labor, I just want to follow up on the immigration fraud, because that is a predicate act [in the civil case] that Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to [in the criminal case]. And when she pleaded guilty, she … said that she had done that for financial gain. Now that particular… victim [in the criminal case] Jane Doe 12, [Sylvie Lloyd] is not a Plaintiff of ours. But several other… victims are Plaintiffs [siblings Camila, Daniela, and Adrian and Lindsey] …. the [civil] complaint alleges at least four different people who Clare Bronfman committed immigration fraud…. there’s more than enough predicate acts for Clare Bronfman before you even get to the forced labor. [Only two predicate acts are required.]
[moving to forced labor]
THE COURT:… The elements of a claim for forced labor are that a Defendant knowingly obtained the labor or services of another by means of a series of bad ways of doing that, force or physical restraint, but I think the one you probably are relying on as to Clare Bronfman is the threat of serious harm….. Where is the threat of serious harm alleged in the complaint?
GOELMAN: Clare Bronfman advised Camila not to return to Mexico to renew her visitor visa. Once that happened, Camila was effectively a prisoner. And Clare Bronfman and others told Camila that she would be deported, that she would be in trouble…in 2017, Clare Bronfman threatened that Camila would be arrested. She told [Camila] that the FBI was after her.
THE COURT: This is before the [forced labor] work happens or after?
GOELMAN: Camila’s affiliation with NXIVM continued after 2017. And –
THE COURT: Including… the forced labor?
GOELMAN: I’m not sure if the labor continued after that or not.
THE COURT: Well, the labor has to be induced by the threat. So a threat that happens after the labor has completed wouldn’t work…
GOELMAN: No, Your Honor.
THE COURT:… as to Camila, the threat of serious harm that induces her labor is what? Is advising her to stop returning to Mexico? … I need a case citation… that giving somebody bad advice about immigration law… constitutes a threat of serious harm.
GOELMAN: Camila, along with the other people … who were lured [to the USA] illegally, were told that they could be deported because they were no longer under the four corners of their… permission to enter the country.
THE COURT:… threatening to have somebody deported constitutes a threat of serious harm. But… where… in the complaint [does] Ms. Bronfman… threaten to cause deportation and… initiate a deportation raid, [an] investigation or otherwise?… Clare Bronfman, you allege, refused to allow Camila to have any direct contact with Ms. Bronfman’s attorneys purportedly because they represent Bronfman and not her.
GOELMAN: Right, [Clare] told her that she needs to wait, no further instructions.
THE COURT:… you allege that Clare Bronfman told… Camila… that she might qualify under the Dream Act, but that she… needed to wait for further instructions.
GOELMAN:… This is… about a conversation that Ms. Bronfman had with her lawyers… and she… purportedly relayed that to Camila.
THE COURT:… [the complaint] says Raniere and Bronfman never intended to assist Camila…. let’s assume that Clare Bronfman [told] Camila [she] might qualify under the Dream Act, but needed to wait for further instructions, because if she applied, it would risk exposing that she had been in the country illegally…. if that’s true, that was not the world’s greatest legal advice… but how does saying you need to wait for further instructions constitute a threat of serious harm?
GOELMAN: Your Honor, it is part of the overall context…under which Camila was here. And how these women, and I’m using plural, but Camila’s one of them, are lured to the U.S… under false pretenses. Once they no longer have their legal immigration status, they have very little leverage. They’re working, doing menial housework for Clare Bronfman and others. And if they want to leave, if they want to babysit [Camila wanted to get a job babysitting but alleges she was told she could not], if they want to apply for citizenship under the Dream Act, they are told that they can’t….
THE COURT:… if you’re saying… the way in which the forced labor was induced… was through the threat of serious harm… it’s incumbent on you just to say what the nature of the harm is and how Clare Bronfman induced it…. it’s one thing to say that somebody’s living under the stress of… non-legal status in the country and all the anxiety that brings… It’s another thing to say that a particular person made threats in respect of that status…. So what is the harm?… The harm is deportation, or is it something else?
GOELMAN: That is the threatened harm, deportation.
THE COURT: Okay…, does Clare Bronfman threaten… to go to the authorities and have Camila deported….?
GOELMAN: Your Honor, Camila was told that she had to keep working because if she didn’t, she would be found out, and she would be deported. That’s –
THE COURT: That’s something Clare Bronfman said?
GOELMAN: That is something that Clare Bronfman… relayed to [Camila] from [Clare’s] immigration lawyers…..there are several paragraphs [in the civil complaint] which talk about Clare Bronfman and her role with… lawyers and the campaign of legal terror against apostates [NXIVM followers]… she… was the one who managed all the legal engagements. Sixty lawyers [and] over 30 [law] firms.….
In paragraph 87… it says, ‘over the course of many years, Defendant Clare Bronfman…exploited Camila’s vulnerabilities, including advising Camila to stop returning to Mexico to renew her visitor visa with false promises of assistance from Bronfman’s immigration lawyers.’
Bronfman, Raniere, Nancy Salzman, and others knew that Camila could be even more vulnerable if she lost her immigration status. And they took advantage of the circumstances by…paying her very low wages and often refusing to compensate her at all.
THE COURT: No, I get that.
GOELMAN: Telling her that… since she was in the country illegally, she had no right to be paid….
THE COURT: I don’t think that would be enough… If what you’re saying is the serious harm that Ms. Bronfman threatened was deportation, I think you have to show me where Ms. Bronfman threatened deportation…. it would [not, or may not] be enough that Ms. Bronfman said ‘if you stop working, you might be deported.’…
[The plaintiffs’ lawyer was asked to speak about Bronfman’s immigration fraud]
GOELMAN:… Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to harboring an alien…. Her colloquy [where she pleaded guilty to the crime before Judge Garaufis] is actually in the complaint, where she says ‘I did this for financial gain.’
THE COURT: What was the financial gain? …
GOELMAN: She got free work….
THE COURT: Okay. … we’re talking about a different victim [Sylvie] than the ones alleged here, and that the victim is not a Plaintiff in this case?
GOELMAN: That is not significant in terms of establishing whether or not we have met the burden of establishing that Clare Bronfman… participated in the RICO enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity. You still count that as one of the predicate acts… She pleaded guilty and admitted under oath that this was for her financial gain. I understand that she only pleaded guilty to that one victim [Sylvie], and the victim wasn’t a Plaintiff. But there [are] several other Plaintiffs who were also harbored illegally by Clare Bronfman….
THE COURT: What does harboring mean in this context?
GOELMAN:… She lured people to this country, and then kept them basically imprisoned and confined to doing this work that she had them do, and paid them either nothing or minimal wages. And threatened them with deportation… or just blew them off if they asked for better wages or wages at all.
THE COURT: So let’s go Plaintiff by Plaintiff… The first one I’m looking at is Adrian. What is the concealment or harboring…?
GOELMAN:… Clare Bronfman lured Adrian to the U.S. She was part of the reason that he was brought here with the promise, which turned out to be false, that he [would] be able to be financially successful in starting up a… T-shirt business with Ms. Bronfman…
THE COURT:… [Reading Paragraph 725 of the civil complaint] he complained that ‘he was unable to support himself and could not stay. To convince him otherwise, Raniere offered an opportunity to build a company with Raniere as mentor, Clare Bronfman, and another person own the equipment for this T-shirt manufacturing operation. And they offered Adrian a chance to get the company up and running.’ What are they doing by that conduct? They’re harboring? They’re concealing? They’re luring?
GOELMAN:… they’re harboring and concealing. If he’s already in the country, they’re not luring him into the United States.
THE COURT: But how is giving somebody T-shirt manufacturing equipment equal to harboring them or concealing them? I would have thought harboring or concealing means putting somebody up in a secret residence or something?…
GOELMAN:… Raniere and Clare Bronfman and others pressured Adrian into staying, persuading him that there’s no need to leave the U.S. and reenter because their lawyers could make sure of the issue. He relied on these assurances and remained in the U.S. working for Defendants even after losing his immigration status…. [If] you pressure someone into staying in the U.S. illegally, and that forces them to basically be at your beck and call, and under your command, it may not be hiding them in a cellar, but I don’t [think] that ‘concealing’ has that limited a [legal] meaning.
THE COURT: So, in other words, he wants to go home, and they tell him don’t do that….
GOELMAN:… he wants to go back to Mexico and be in the U.S. legally.
THE COURT:…What was… the factual basis for [Clare Bronfman’s] the guilty plea [with Sylvie]?
GOELMAN:.. [Bronfman] lured [Sylvie] here…illegally, and she knew that it was illegal, and she did it for her financial benefit….
THE COURT: So… you’re saying it was roughly analogous to what was alleged as to these victims?…
THE COURT:… who’s injured….? Is it clear that the person so harbored is the victim, as opposed to the United States being the injured party?… This is a legal question. … if one of the elements of the RICO claim is that… the claim has to show that… Camila, Adrian, these other people… to the extent that they are harbored [or] shielded from… detection… how are they injured…? They’re working for less than minimum wage, but that may be a Fair Labor Standards Act injury rather than an immigration law injury… isn’t it the case… that… there has to be some link between the predicate act and the injury. So the injury can’t be just failure to pay minimum wage… it’s incumbent on you to demonstrate… that the person shielded from detection is somehow injured by that conduct.
GOELMAN:… All we have to do is fulfill the elements of the crime… which Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to.
THE COURT: Right, but again… a civil RICO violation [requires] injury to the Plaintiff’s business or property…. How is Adrian injured in this business or property?…
GOELMAN:… Adrian, Camila, and Lindsay MacInniss… were injured by the immigration fraud. They were prevented from doing work that paid better. They were prevented from changing jobs. Camila was not allowed to babysit. Lindsay MacInniss was not allowed to be a yoga instructor. They were told ‘this is your new life. This is your job.’ And you know, ‘your rewards will come down the line. You’ll get an ownership. You’ll get a better salary eventually.’ [Bronfman] never intended to do [so] and never have.
But without the hammer of them being in the country illegally, and without the ability to get legal [residency in the US] because of the advice that Clare Bronfman purported relayed from her lawyers, they’re really at Ms. Bronfman’s mercy.
THE COURT: Okay… I think it would be helpful… to hear from Clare Bronfman’s attorney…. And then, we’ll come back to the Plaintiffs on the RICO claim.