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Seagram's heir goes from accuser in Niagara Falls case to accused in NYC case

A few months ago, Clare Bronfman was the accuser, the victim.

Today, the Seagram's liquor heir is in federal custody facing criminal charges.

Bronfman, a key witness in the original prosecution of Niagara Falls developer Frank Parlato Jr., was arrested Tuesday and charged with taking part in a criminal conspiracy that involved sex trafficking, identity theft and money laundering.

Parlato, who is also a weekly newspaper publisher, was among the first to write about Sara and Clare Bronfman, and their ties to Keith Raniere and NXIVM, an Albany-based self-help group that some critics consider a cult.

"Now, at last, all the victims if this so-called cult can breathe easy," Parlato said Tuesday.

In the federal government's initial prosecution of Parlato, he was accused of stealing $1 million from the Bronfmans.

The charges were later dropped, and Parlato attributed the decision to his newspaper stories about the sisters and their link to NXIVM.

Under the newer indictment, Parlato is still facing allegations of fraud and claims that he orchestrated a scheme that involved shell companies and bank accounts.

Prosecutors also claim Parlato cheated the Internal Revenue Service and, as part of two forfeiture demands, are seeking $4 million from the developer.

The revised charges against Parlato are the result of a five-year FBI investigation into his business dealings in Niagara Falls and his ownership of One Niagara, the downtown office and retail center that many still remember as the Occidental Chemical building.

Parlato has denied the allegations that he committed fraud or cheated the IRS and on Tuesday pointed to Bronfman's arrest as part of a New York City prosecution to question the credibility of the case against him.

"It's further evidence that I'm innocent," he said of Bronfman's new role as criminal defendant.

The dropped charges against Parlato followed extensive news coverage of NXIVM and Raniere and the allegations that he operated a secret society that forced women to have sex with him.

The allegations, which include claims that women were branded with a cauterizing device, have been aired by the The New York Times, New York Post and others, and many have credited Parlato with first uncovering them.

Raniere, who was arrested in March in Mexico, has maintained his innocence, a claim later echoed by NXIVM.

“We are currently working with the authorities to demonstrate his innocence and true character," the group said. "We strongly believe the justice system will prevail in bringing the truth to light."

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