Chris Harris
March 27, 2018 01:20 PM

Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg is applauding the arrest of the co-founder of the controversial self-improvement group Nxivm, which one former follower has labeled a “cult” and which counts Oxenberg’s eldest daughter as a member.

Federal criminal charges have been filed in New York City against Keith Raniere, who was arrested this week in Mexico on several sex trafficking and forced labor counts, PEOPLE confirms.

Raniere, 57, is in custody in Texas following his arrest and will make an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, on Tuesday afternoon.

He has not pleaded to the charges he faces and it was unclear Tuesday if he has retained an attorney who could comment on his behalf. New York prosecutors plan to have him extradited.

Nxivm soon issued a statement in support of Raniere, writing in part: “We are currently working with the authorities to demonstrate his innocence and true character.”

Formed in 2003, Nxivm is based out of Colonie, New York, and has been the subject of scrutiny from both law enforcement and journalists as it came under fire from Oxenberg, whose estranged daughter, India, joined the group in 2011.

Oxenberg, 56, first opened up to PEOPLE last year about how she believed India had been “brainwashed” by Nxivm.

In the fall, India posted on Facebook that she was “absolutely fine, great actually [and] I would never put myself or the people I love into any danger.”

Catherine Oxenberg (left) with daughter India in an undated photo
Wenn/Alamy
Keith Raniere

For the past two decades, an estimated 16,000 people have paid as much as $3,400 for an executive coaching workshop offered by Nxivm, which promises to take participants on a journey of personal discovery and development, according to previous PEOPLE reports.

The criminal complaint against Raniere — known as “Vanguard” to his followers — alleges that he encouraged the formation of a secretive subgroup within Nxivm called “Dominus Obsequious Sororium,” (DOS) in which women were coerced into serving as sex slaves to their male masters.

The complaint, which was obtained by PEOPLE, outlines how authorities believe the women were forced to turn over “collateral” — identified as potentially-damaging personal information or materials, such as nude photographs, with which they were later blackmailed.

The complaint further claims the women were branded with Raniere’s initials, as he “alone forms the top of the pyramid as the highest master.”

A cauterizing pen was used to make the permanent marks near each person’s pubic region, according to accusations in the complaint.

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Federal officials liken Raniere’s group to a pyramid scheme, and the complaint claims he exploited vulnerable women and profited from “independently wealthy women.”

In a statement following Raniere’s arrest, Oxenberg says she is “extremely grateful for the persistent efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Without both agencies, the arrest “would not have been possible,” she says.

Oxenberg “greatly hopes” Raniere’s arrest “will go far in reuniting her with her daughter.”

“I want to help all the young women affected by this cult,” says Oxenberg. “They are the victims of human trafficking — which is slavery. For months, I have worked to expose Keith Raniere and Nxivm and today’s arrest vindicates my efforts. I want my daughter to know I love her and that I want her back in my life.”

Catherine Oxenberg
Allison Michael Orenstein

An arrest warrant was issued more than a month ago for Raniere, who allegedly taught his followers that he “is the smartest and most ethical man in the world,” reads the complaint against him. Authorities tracked him to a luxury villa near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he was allegedly living with several women.

For the past two decades, an estimated 16,000 people have paid as much as $5,000 for an executive coaching workshop offered by Nxivm, which promises to take participants on a journey of personal discovery and development, according to previous PEOPLE reports.

Oxenberg initially attended a Nxivm with India seven years ago, but while she found the group “weird and creepy,” her daughter became more committed to it.

Last summer, Oxenberg confronted India with her concerns, leading to a rupture in their relationship.

“I’m helpless. I’ve lost my child and will do whatever I can to get her back,” Oxenberg told PEOPLE in November.

“I was completely ignorant about the dangers and traps associated with these so-called ‘personal growth self help’ groups. It’s an $11 billion, completely unregulated industry, so I reached out to a lot of experts for guidance,” Oxenberg previously said. “What I learned along the way could help others [and] prevent them from falling into the same trap, know what warning signs to look for, and also to give hope to those parents that are struggling and who have lost children to similar situations.”

According to Raniere’s criminal complaint, “many Nxians find themselves in debt from the courses they are required to take, and some are obliged to take jobs working for Nxivm in order to continue taking courses and ostensibly to pay off their debts.”

The complaint alleges “Raniere has maintained a rotating group of fifteen to twenty women with whom he maintains sexual relationships” and “these women are not permitted to have sexual relationships with anyone but Raniere or to discuss with others their relationships with Raniere.”

Catherine Oxenberg with daughter India as a child
Ron Galella/WireImage

Investigators contend “some of the Nxivm curriculum included teachings about the need for men to have multiple sexual partners and the need for women to be monogamous.”

Many of the branded women were allegedly ordered to have sex with Raniere, the complaint states. He “also often discussed or promised career opportunities to the DOS slaves who had sex with him and the DOS slaves with whom he expressed an interest in having sex.”

One woman, the complaint claims, “began having sex with Raniere” and “he provided her with money and offered her a job, but as soon as she defected from DOS and stopped having sex with him, Raniere told her she had to pay the money back.”

The complaint further alleges that “since defecting, several DOS victims have received ‘cease and desist’ letters from a Mexican attorney.”

Raniere allegedly fled to Mexico last November when investigators started interviewing defectors from Nxivm, according to the complaint.

If convicted on the sex-trafficking charges, Raniere faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison.

In statements previously posted to Nxivm’s website, Raniere said all involved in the subgroup were “consenting” adults.

The group has not responded to numerous requests for comment from PEOPLE but previously denounced a New York Times article about them as “a criminal product of criminal minds.”

In a new statement on its website, Nxivm wrote: “In response to the allegations against our founder, Keith Raniere, we are currently working with the authorities to demonstrate his innocence and true character.”

“We strongly believe the justice system will prevail in bringing the truth to light,” the statement continued. “We are saddened by the reports perpetuated by the media and their apparent disregard for ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ yet we will continue to honor the same principles on which our company was founded. It is during the times of greatest adversity that integrity, humanity and compassion are hardest, and needed most.”

In a letter requesting that Raniere be detained, the government noted he is financially backed by Clare W. Bronfman, an heiress of the Seagram Co. liquor fortune.

The government claimed in its letter to the court that Bronfman has financed Raniere repeatedly over the years, paying for air travel, lawyers to bring suit against Nxivm critics and visits to her private island in Fiji.

PEOPLE could not reach her for comment on Tuesday.

• With reporting by JOHNNY DODD

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