Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune who was convicted for her participation in the alleged self-help group Nxivm, warns the creators of the TNT documentary series Rich and shameless to exercise caution in their depiction of her as the benefactor of a division of the organization revealed to be a sex cult.
In a letter to the network, Warner Bros. Discovery and producer Tom Lindley, an attorney for Bronfman, took issue with the show’s depiction that she knowingly funded DOS, a subgroup within Nxivm that trafficked and abused women.
“While we hope this letter will not be necessary, we are quite alarmed by the misleading and inaccurate promotional material which has already been published in connection with the program and are writing to strongly warn you to proceed with caution so as not to defame more Ms. Bronfman,” writes attorney Duncan Levin in the memo obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
Rich and shamelesswhich began on April 23 with a presentation on Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis, tells the stories of the rich and famous. TNT will release an episode on May 22 called “The Heiress and the Sex Cult” focusing on Bronfman, who was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison for her role in Nxivm (pronounced NEX-ee-um).
Hollywood actors played a major role in recruiting around 18,000 people who paid thousands of dollars to attend the group’s self-help courses. Prominent members included television actor Allison Mack, best known for playing Clark Kent’s childhood friend in Smallville. She was found guilty of manipulating women into becoming sex slaves for Keith Raniere, the leader of the group.
Bronfman, who has not seen the episode, disputes the show’s title. Levin says it “gives the impression that Ms. Bronfman knowingly funded or was in any way associated with a ‘sex cult'”.
The episode description states that Bronfman was a “financier of one of the most abusive cults of the 21st century”.
Levin argues that the show’s producers aren’t fully aware of the specific legal findings of Bronfman’s lawsuit. He says his client was only involved with Nxivm, which he calls a “well-regarded organization that was and always had been separate and distinct from DOS.”
“Not only is the evidence in the court record extraordinarily clear on this point, but the federal judge presiding over Ms. Bronfman’s case has made a specific judicial finding on this point,” Levin writes.
Bronfman pleaded guilty to charges related to immigration fraud and identity theft. The judge who oversaw the proceedings clarified that Bronfman had not been convicted of participating in sex trafficking and that it appeared that Bronfman was unaware of Raniere’s crimes.
“I agree with Ms. Bronfman that the available evidence does not establish that she knew about DOS before June 2017 or that she directly or knowingly funded DOS or other sex trafficking activities,” said writes U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Bronfman’s sentencing memo.
The judge said: ‘I do not find that Ms Bronfman knowingly funded a sex cult.
Bronfman spent at least $116 million on Nxivm, prosecutors say. Critics of the group say she drove them out of business by suing them and persuaded local prosecutors to investigate them.
The demand for non-fiction and true-crime content has led to a series of defamation lawsuits against production companies and the networks and streamers that air them. Netflix has been accused of flouting defamation laws by make a murderer, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich and When they see usamong other series documenting real-life events.
Libel suits, however, are known to be difficult for people of public interest to win. They must prove that the people who made the allegedly defamatory statements knew they were lying and acted with a reckless disregard for the truth.
If Bronfman decides to take legal action, evidence that the show’s creators had sources who said the heiress knowingly funded illicit activities by DOS may be enough for them to dodge the case.
“I don’t see any difference between the standard that a documentary must meet and that of any other journalistic organization,” Levin says.
TNT and Warner Bros. Discovery did not immediately respond to requests for comment.