NEW YORK (CBS New York/AP) – “Smallville” star Allison Mack was arrested Friday morning on federal charges of sex trafficking, accused of helping recruit women to be slaves of a man who ran a cult-like organization.
Mack, 35, and Keith Raniere, also known as “Vanguard,” face sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy charges.
Raniere, 57, was the leader of a secretive group accused of coercing female followers into having sex and getting branded with his initials. The group was called NXIVM, pronounced “Nexium.”
In March, he was arrested in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and brought back to the U.S. to face charges.
Raniere sold himself as a self-improvement guru to the stars. Prosecutors say Mack helped recruit sex slaves for Raniere and NXIVM.
Mack was a series regular on The CW network’s “Smallville,” which ran from 2001 to 2015. She played Chloe Sullivan, appearing in more than 200 episodes.
“As alleged in the indictment, Allison Mack recruited women to join what was purported to be a female mentorship group that was, in fact, created and led by Keith Raniere,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said. “The victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants’ benefit.”
A core group of disciples was drawn to Raniere, including actresses, wealthy heiresses and a son of a former president of Mexico. His followers were known as “Nxians,” and were “encouraged to pay for additional [NXIVM] classes and to recruit others to take classes in order to rise within the ranks of NXIVM,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said NXIVM “maintains features of a pyramid scheme.” Raniere created a secret society within NXIVM called “DOS,” in which “masters” held “slaves.”
“Many DOS slaves were branded on their pelvic areas using a cauterizing pen with a symbol which, unbeknownst to them, incorporated Raniere’s initials,” prosecutors said. “During the branding ceremonies, slaves were required to be fully naked, and a master would order one slave to film the branded while the others restrained the slave being branded.”
Mack allegedly “required her slaves… to engage in sexual activity with Raniere.”
If convicted, Raniere and Mack each face a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, and could get life if convicted.
Actress Kristin Kreuk, who played Superman’s love interest in “Smallville,” admitted to participating in NXIVM’s “Executive Success Programs” when she was in her early 20s. Last month, however, Kreuk alleged that she was not involved in NXIVM’s “inner circle” and did not recruit women into sex slavery.
In March, federal authorities raided an upstate New York residence near Albany where NXIVM was headquartered. The organization also ran programs in Mexico.
Raniere’s followers included Clare and Sara Bronfman, heiresses to the Seagram liquor fortune, and Emiliano Salinas Occelli, son of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who with a business partner controlled the Raniere-linked Executive Success Programs in Mexico.
Catherine Oxenberg, who once starred on “Dynasty,” has a connection to the group that began when she attended a meeting with her daughter several years ago. The mother has said she was turned off by it but her daughter remained a devotee.
Founded in 1998, NXIVM promoted Raniere’s teachings as a kind of mystical, executive coaching designed to help people get the most out of life. Enrollees in its Executive Success Programs paid handsomely for his advice, but the organization also drew criticism from people who likened it to a cult.
Raniere’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, previously said his client is innocent.
“The facts will show that Raniere didn’t compel or pressure anyone to do anything and that everyone was acting in accordance with his or her free will at every instant,” he said.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)