Allison Mack, the actor best known for her starring role in the series Smallville, presented a very different look to the woman who’d arrived at the same Brooklyn courthouse in early 2018 to be arraigned on charges she manipulated women into becoming sexual slaves within the Nxivm self-empowerment group.
Back then, she was confident and smartly dressed – the picture of a successful Hollywood actor. On Wednesday, she was head bowed, her blonde hair obscuring her face, wearing a simple dress resembling a penitent’s sack-cloth.
Allison Mack in 2018. She told the judge on Wednesday: ‘I made choices I will forever regret.’
At that moment, she did not know if she would be sentenced for up to to 17 years, as sentencing guidelines offered, or up to 40 years per the court’s discretion. Or as prosecutors recommended after Mack pleaded guilty and began co-operating with the government, something far less.
In the end, Mack, 39, was sentenced to three years, and three years of probation. Plus a fine and 1,000 hours community service. “From the deepest part of my heart and soul, I am sorry,” she told the court, reiterating an apology she made to victims earlier in the week.
Before sentencing, Judge Nicholas Garaufis described his predicament in sentencing Mack who, the court accepted, had been both a victim and enforcer to Keith Raniere, Nxivm’s founder. Mack served as “first-line master” in Dominus Obsequious Sororium, or Master Over Slave Women, a subset group Raniere created that required recruits to serve as “slaves”.
Raniere himself was sentenced to 120 years last year.
How Mack fell into the service of Raniere, and in turn became one of Nxivm’s highest-ranking exponents and abusers, has been linked to other high-profile criminal sexual abuse cases, including those against Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. It was a story of abuse and power and enrichment that left a trail of victims with lives forever changed.
But in one crucial respect, they are different: Mack did not need power or wealth. As a celebrity, she had both.Instead, she came to be Raniere’s consigliere through a lure of self-improvement, self-actuation, self-realization or in current terms “wellness”.
Mack had “willingly enslaved, destabilized and manipulated” women, Garaufis said from the bench.
“You were able to use your status as a well-known public figure to gain credibility and influence with Nxivm and DOS recruits,” he said. “You capitalized on your celebrity and these individuals’ eagerness to be close to you, told them you were recruiting them for a ‘women’s empowerment’ sorority, and misrepresented and obscured fundamental facts about the organization.”
Missing from any preview of membership, prosecutors alleged, was that the group branded women, forced them to participate in sex acts and groomed sexual partners for Raniere.
But Garaufis accepted Mack’s tearful statement – “I renounce Keith Raniere and all his teachings” – noted her co-operation in prosecuting Raniere, her efforts toward rehabilitation and attempts to apologize to victims.
For victims, that might not be enough.
Jessica Joan, who enrolled in an Executive Success Program (ESP) through Nxivm and later, listed as “Jane Doe 2” in Raniere’s arrest warrant, assisted in the case against both, refused Mack’s apology, calling her “an evil sociopath, a menace to society and a danger to innocent human beings” in a victim impact statement.
“I would say I’m disappointed. I respect the judge, but personally I would have felt more vindication with a stiffer sentence,” Joan told the Guardian. “Allison has the capacity to create harm and devastation. She was 100% a knowing perpetrator with malicious intentions, but I can’t deny that she was also victimized by Keith.”
According to a profile in the Hollywood Reporter, Mack joined the group in 2006 after attending a two-day introduction to Jness, a women’s movement workshop within Nxivm. She was 23 years old, and filming Smallville at the time.
Former Nxivm members have said that Raniere instructed members to roll out the red carpet and love-bomb Mack. After several days, and after being told Raniere could help her in her career, the actress accepted an invitation to visit the group’s headquarters in Albany, New York.
Mack flew on a private jet to Albany to meet Raniere in person. She stayed on, rising to the second-most senior position is the group.
Among the coercive measures DOS used on its victims were starvation and obtaining material for blackmail in the form of sex tapes, and, in the case of a woman identified only as Nicole, a letter falsely claiming that her father had sexually abused her. Stand-out among these methods was branding recruits with an amalgam of Mack’s and Raniere’s initials with a hot cauterizing pen – a tactic sometimes administered forcefully and without consent.
In a recording Mack gave to prosecutors, Raniere can be heard to ask her: “Do you think the person who is being branded should be completely nude and sort of held to the table like a sort of, almost, like a sacrifice?”
That anyone would submit, or tolerate, such an act seems unimaginable. But DOS, and Nxivm more broadly, were powerful groups that attracted many and came to dominate their members.
For many the offer of help with personal and professional advancement– even at the cost of thousands of dollars in fees – was irresistible. “They presented a curriculum that allowed you to become a high-caliber, high-performing person, realizing your potential. That sounded great to me. I was being held back by my trauma, including sexual abuse. Allison said she would mentor me. I thought there were things she could assist me with,” said Joan.
Mack was not the only high-profile adherent of the cult.
Few proved so vulnerable to Nxivm’s allure as Seagram heiresses Clare and Sarah Bronfman, who each contributed as much as $100m to the group. Clare Bronfman, who was not directly associated with DOS operations and refused to renounce Raniere, is currently serving an 81-month sentence after pleading guilty in 2019 to conspiring to conceal and harbor an undocumented immigrant for financial gain; Sarah, who partially renounced the group and was not charged, is believed to be in Portugal.
Mack, who was born in 1982 to American parents in Preetz, Germany, and started acting aged four in commercials, was approached at 18 to audition for Smallville for the part of the proto Lois Lane.
Around the time of the show’s fifth season, she attended her first Jness/Nxivm meeting. Over time she began to reject friends that did not join the group and became increasingly insular. Soon she was sucked entirely into the group.
In court, Mack described her own behavior as “abusive, abhorrent and illegal”.
But to Joan, those words were strikingly similar to the letter she had received from Mack. “[They were] a lot of generalized, lackluster apologies with no real depth or authenticity,” she said.
Last Wednesday, Joan said, Mack had simply offered the same “but with tears”.