By Kristin Keeffe
Clare and Sara Bronfman’s Early Indifference to NXIVM
Throughout the Aughts, when I was a paralegal for NXIVM and the Bronfmans, it amazed me the lack of interest or involvement Clare and Sara Bronfman had in their own affairs.
Keith Raniere or Nancy Salzman would call them and ask them to pay for things or sign documents, and that was that.
On very rare occasions, the Bronfmans might attend a meeting or make a phone call on the company’s behalf. That was it.
When I worked with Frank Parlato to save the Bronfman’s real estate company, they never called me to find out how things were going. You think they would have been concerned about the crisis exploding in their $82 million project. They did not.
While Frank was working round the clock to save their company, they left the country and traveled to the Himalayas to persuade the Dalai Lama to come to Albany and endorse NXIVM. That reflects their priorities and mindset at that time.
After Frank left their employ, this changed with Clare.
How Keith Raniere Spun Scandal into Power
Over my years of knowing Keith Raniere, it never ceased to amaze me how he could take an incident that should have discredited him with his supporters and spin it to his advantage. When Frank uncovered Keith’s best friend embezzled millions of dollars from the Bronfmans, you would think Clare and Sara would have said, “Keith, what the hell?” They didn’t.
Instead, Keith convinced Clare he was a victim of the situation, and had Clare “taken responsibility,” none of the Plyams’ thieving would have occurred. Keith knew how to cater to Clare’s ego. He used this as a pretext to appoint her to the NXIVM Executive Board and made her COO of the company.
Clare became my direct boss, supervising all legal matters herself thereafter.
Since I first met Clare, and in all the years after, I always felt unnerved in her presence. She had a shockingly flat affect and showed little emotion. Ever.
Clare’s Pattern of Control Revealed Misanthropic Nature
She didn’t speak much. In the early days, I wrote this off as her shyness. Sometimes, she joked about how much she hated people, and that’s why she had dedicated her life to horses. She told me before joining NXIVM when she was 24, the only people in her life for many years were paid servants and horse grooms.
It reminds me of this quote: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou
I didn’t recognize what Clare told me at the time. She was a misanthrope. Over the 11 years I worked with or for her, I never saw her have a single relationship where she did not have some degree, sometimes total, financial control over the person. Even her sister Sara.
She only sees people as property to be owned.
Clare’s Rapid Descent into Abusive Power
You would think when Keith Raniere appointed Clare to the NXIVM Board and to run operations for the company she might have said, “I’m not qualified for that position.”
At that time, Clare was 29 years old and never held a job. After dropping out of Boarding School in High School, her whole adult life was her spending $4 million a year flying herself and her horses around the world to compete in equestrian events. Or buying fully staffed luxury properties to keep her horses when she wasn’t competing.
Being underqualified would not have occurred to Clare. She saw herself as a “Champion.” She was wholly detached from reality, and Keith fed her egomania.
Given some power and authority over people within the NXIVM community, Clare became dangerous and abusive fast, and gave Keith a whole new avenue to express his psychopathy.
As Clare’s direct employee and her paralegal, I witnessed this firsthand.
Clare’s Vindictive Crusade Against Barbara Bouchey
First, it began with her long-time asset manager, Barbara Bouchey. Clare informed me she was going after Barbara.
I asked, “Why? What for?”
Clare informed me, “Because Barbara doesn’t show me the proper deference. It’s not right.”
I remember thinking, “Are you out of your mind? Deference?”
Sometime after Barbara resigned from NXIVM, she aired information regarding the huge amounts of Bronfman money Keith had squandered. Clare filed a lawsuit against her.
I remember the attorneys and me telling Clare, “This lawsuit is going to get dismissed with prejudice against you!”
Clare didn’t care if the suit was filed in bad faith. It drove Barbara into bankruptcy. Clare tried to get Barbara, and others whom Barbara was aligned with, indicted in Saratoga County for making financial demands of NXIVM for monies they thought they were owed.
Keith and Clare said falsely, “This is blackmail.”
When the Saratoga District Attorney’s office refused to investigate, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office was approached with the same claims. Thankfully, Manhattan also refused to act.
Clare’s Ruthless Pursuit of NXIVM Critics Despite Legal Advice
By then, NXIVM had been in a long-running civil litigation against cult deprogrammer and blogger Rick Ross, one of the group’s most prominent critics. The case civilly was always borderline in terms of its validity.
Keith and Clare wanted Ross indicted criminally.
I told Clare, as did several attorneys, “There is absolutely nothing criminal in this case.”
She didn’t care. She paid lobbyists and traveled by private jet to try and get two State Attorney Generals to open cases against Rick.
There was no money Clare wouldn’t spend and no lie she wouldn’t tell once she and Keith had their sights on someone.
Questioning NXIVM Led to Clare Taking Financial Control Over My Life
I continued to do my job diligently on the outside, but on the inside, I grew disgusted and the illusions I once had about NXIVM were shattering fast.
After a year of this, I snapped and one day said to Keith, “This is so wrong!”
A few days later, Clare informed me that she would take over my bank accounts and that her office would manage all my bills and expenses. I would need to get her approval for all my expenses, even groceries.
I said, “What, are you kidding me?”
She responded, “If you don’t like it you don’t have to get paid.”
At that point, Clare owned or controlled my house, my car, and my son’s childcare too.
I vowed to leave and refused to work as a paralegal for about six months. Unfortunately, it was a very strange and difficult situation, hard to escape. I eventually agreed to return to my paralegal position with her, but only in a limited part-time capacity.
Clare’s Unfounded Attack Against Frank Parlato
Soon after, Clare informed me she wanted to sue Frank Parlato. She asked me to review all our prior business dealings with Frank with her attorney, Bill Savino, to vet for potential civil action.
Bill and I went over every shred of documentation. Bill said, “There are absolutely no grounds for a civil case here.”
I agreed and was so relieved. Frank was the best person I had worked with while in the Bronfman’s employ. The last thing I wanted was to be involved in another bad-faith litigation. I informed Clare of Bill’s assessment. I thought that was the end of it.
Little did I know (Clare and Keith hid it from me), Clare went ahead and filed a criminal complaint against Frank Parlato with the US Attorney’s office in the Western District of New York, knowing that there was no basis for civil action, let alone a criminal one.
When the DOJ decided to pursue her allegations, she criminally lied to a grand jury to support her false claims. This time, Clare and Keith’s forum shopping and lies about enemies finally stuck, and, to my horror, Frank was eventually indicted on false charges.