Lawyers for accused Nxivm sex-slave cult leader and former Smallville star Allison Mack are arguing that she isn’t guilty of inducing forced labor if the Church of Scientology isn’t guilty of the same charge.
In court papers filed yesterday in Brooklyn Federal Court, Mack’s lawyers argued that Mack’s threat to release naked photos and disparaging statements made by cult members against their relatives doesn’t rise to the threat of “serious harm” required to prove someone engaged in forced labor.
Mack and Nxivm leader Keith Raniere are accused of using the photos and statements to get free work and to force sex with Raniere.
“The government argues that Ms. Mack obtained forced labor through ‘threats of serious harm,’ with serious harm being the embarrassment that would result from the exposure of one’s collateral,” the court filing said. “Courts have found, however, that such an outcome, albeit embarrassing, does not amount to serious harm under the statute.”
The argument cites a 2009 case in which a couple unsuccessfully sued the Church of Scientology for forced labor.
“The court did not find that plaintiffs were compelled to remain in the organization even though, if they chose to leave, they would be ‘excommunicated’ from their friends and family and labeled a ‘dissenter,’” Mack’s lawyers said. “The threat of reputational damage and isolation from loved ones therefore did not qualify as serious harm.”
Mack has been out on a $5 million bond since her spring arrest on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy. She was indicted along with Keith Raniere, the purported leader of a self-help program. Both face mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life in prison if convicted. (Read the indictment here.)
Here are the details of the wild case, as written by the Justice Department:
According to court filings, during the past 20 years, Raniere established a series of purported self-help programs within his umbrella organization “Nxivm” (pronounced NEX-i-um). Nxivm is based in Albany, New York and has operated centers in the United States, Mexico, Canada and South America. Nxivm maintains features of a pyramid scheme, as its courses cost thousands of dollars each and participants (“Nxians”) are encouraged to pay for additional classes and to recruit others to take classes in order to rise within the ranks of Nxivm. A number of Nxians were residents of the Eastern District of New York when they were recruited, and Nxivm has held promotional recruiting events in Brooklyn. Mack is credited in publicly available materials with co-creating a Nxivm program, called The Source, which recruited actors.
As detailed in court filings, in 2015, Raniere created a secret society within Nxivm called “DOS,” an acronym that stands for a Latin phrase that loosely translates to “Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions,” or “The Vow.” DOS operated with levels of women “slaves” headed by “masters.” Slaves were expected to recruit slaves of their own (thus becoming masters themselves), who in turn owed service not only to their own masters but also to masters above them in the DOS pyramid. Raniere stood alone at the top of the pyramid. Other than Raniere, all members of DOS were women. Mack is one of the women in the first level of the pyramid immediately below Raniere.
Mack and other DOS masters recruited DOS slaves by telling them that they were joining a women-only organization that would empower them and eradicate purported weaknesses that the Nxivm curriculum taught were common in women. Mack and other DOS masters concealed Raniere’s status at the top of the pyramid from new recruits.
As a pre-condition to joining DOS, women were required to provide “collateral,” which included highly damaging information about friends and family members, nude photographs and/or rights to the recruit’s assets. DOS slaves were told that their collateral could be released for any number of reasons, including telling anyone about DOS’s existence or leaving DOS. Many DOS slaves were branded on their pelvic areas using a cauterizing pen with a symbol which, unbeknownst to them, incorporated Raniere’s initials. During the branding ceremonies, slaves were required to be fully naked, and a master would order one slave to film the branding while the others restrained the slave being branded.
According to court filings, Mack directly or implicitly required her slaves, including Jane Does 1 and 2, as identified in the Indictment, to engage in sexual activity with Raniere. In exchange for this, Mack received financial and other benefits from Raniere. Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 believed that if they did not participate in those activities with Raniere, their collateral would be released.