"Smallville" actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering and related conspiracy charges in Brooklyn federal court Monday for her role in an alleged sex-cult and trafficking group called NXIVM based in upstate New York.
Mack, 36, wept as she admitted her crimes and apologized to the women who prosecutors say were exploited by NXIVM and its founder, Keith Raniere.
"I believed Keith Raniere's intentions were to help people. And I was wrong," Mack said. "I know I can and will be a better person."
She faces 20 years on each count when she is sentenced in September.
The plea marked a turnaround for Mack, who along with Raneire, Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman, daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist and liquor company founder, and a fourth co-defendant had previously pleaded not guilty.
Mack, whose plea means she avoids a high-profile trial, said nothing to reporters who shouted questions at her and her attorney when they left court later Monday. It wasn't clear if she was now cooperating with the government in the case targeting the so-called self-help group NXIVM.
Prosecutors have said NXIVM formed a secret society of women who were branded with Raniere's initials and forced to have sex with him. Mack, who starred in the CW series "Smallville" and has played minor roles since the series ended in 2011, allegedly was a major player in Raniere's cult-like group, helping to add unsuspecting women to a purported self-help group.
Investigators alleged Mack stood at the level directly below Raniere in a pyramid scheme called DOS, into which she recruited fresh slaves. The government alleges that Mack forced those slaves to have sex with Raniere in exchange for what were described as "financial and other benefits." She allegedly made her recruits have sex with Raniere, who paid Mack in return.
"Under the guise of female empowerment," Mack "starved women until they fit her co-defendant's sexual ideal," Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Kim Penza said in court shortly after Mack's arrest about a year ago.
Defense attorneys have insisted any relationship between Raniere and the alleged victims, including an unidentified actress and other women expected to testify against him at trial, was consensual.
Jury selection in the federal trial in Brooklyn began Monday; more than 250 potential jurors were introduced to the three remaining co-defendants and the judge reviewed the charges, which include identity and wire theft, sex trafficking and exploitation and forced labor. Opening statements are expected later this month. Two other women charged in the case, former NXIVM executive Nancy Salzman and her daughter, Lauren, have already pleaded guilty.
Lauren Salzman entered her plea at a hearing that did not appear on any public calendar, and prosecutors had portions of a transcript blacked out. That's led to speculation she may cooperate against alleged cult members at trial.
Salzman admitted holding a women from Mexico hostage in an upstate home for more than two years under threat of having her deported "if she did not complete labor requested by myself and others," according to the redacted transcript.