The lawsuit against Sara Bronfman-Igtet alleges she misled students of Keith Raniere, the founder of the controversial self-help group

By Chris Harris
September 05, 2018 05:30 PM
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A class-action lawsuit has been filed in New York against Sara Bronfman-Igtet, an heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune, alleging she purposely misled students of the controversial self-help group Nxivm whose senior membership is the subject of sex-trafficking allegations.

PEOPLE obtained a copy of the civil suit, which was filed Tuesday by attorney Omar Rosales, who represents plaintiffs Isabella Martinez and Gabrielle Leal.

The plaintiffs allege that Bronfman-Igte promoted false claims about Nxivm founder Keith Raniere, compelling them to spend thousands to attend workshops offered by Raniere, who is currently behind bars awaiting trial on sex trafficking and forced labor charges.

The plaintiffs want their tuition money back. They claim in the suit that Raniere’s purported credentials were falsified and that their money was used to fund an alleged criminal enterprise.

The suit alleges that Bronfman-Igte knew the “Executive Success Program” workshops Raniere led “were designed … to be another Multi-Level Marketing scheme to defraud students out of millions of dollars with classes that had no end, no graduation, no certification, and no credential.”

Nxivm, which suspended operations in the spring, has been described by at least one former member as a “cult.”

One of the group’s most prominent members, actress Allison Mack, was charged in April with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy. Best known for her years-long role as Chloe Sullivan on The WB’s Smallville, Mack is facing a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted on all of her charges.

Allison Mack
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Raniere, who was arrested in March, faces the same charges and potential prison sentence. Both he and Mack have pleaded not guilty, and their trial is set to begin Oct. 1.

According to the lawsuit, Bronfman-Igtet allegedly promoted claims about Raniere she knew were erroneous, including that he “was one of the World’s Smartest Men,” started speaking “in complete sentences by age one,” “was an East Coast Judo Champion at age twelve,” “tied the New York State record for the 100-yard dash in High School” and “had a very rare problem-solving ability that allowed him to create a curriculum to assist others with their business projects.”

Keith Raniere

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Federal investigators have accused Mack of recruiting women into a sub-group of Nxivm, purported to be a female mentorship group to address their weaknesses but was actually a group created by Raniere that allegedly took advantage of women sexually.

“The victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants’ benefit,” Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, alleged in a statement issued at the time of Mack’s arrest.

RELATED VIDEO: Seagram Liquor Heiress Arrested, Charged in Connection to Nxivm’s Sex Slavery Allegations

Nxivm was based out of Albany, New York, and has been the subject of scrutiny from both law enforcement and journalists as it came under fire from Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, whose estranged daughter, India, joined the group in 2011.

Oxenberg first opened up to PEOPLE last year about how she believed India had been “brainwashed” by Nxivm.

Sister Faces Charges in Connection to Group

Bronfman-Igtet’s sister, Clare Bronfman, was charged in July with racketeering conspiracy in connection to her involvement with the group. She has pleaded not guilty and was released on a $100 million bond, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. District Attorney alleged in a press release that Bronfman helped Raniere — known as “Vanguard” to his followers — monitor the electronic communication of his “perceived enemies and critics.”

Clare Bronfman (center)
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The two allegedly used the credit card and banking information of one of Raniere’s sexual partners after her death in November 2016. The card was allegedly used to pay for a chiropractor, and thousands of dollars were allegedly spent on clothes and shoes for the mother of Raniere’s child.

Bronfman has also been accused of providing illegal entry to an immigrant for her own financial benefit, according to the release.

The Bronfman sisters are the daughters of late billionaire Seagrams CEO Edgar Bronfman.

Bronfman-Igtet has not been charged with a crime.

PEOPLE was unable to get a comment on the suit from Bronfman-Igtet.