April 20, 2018 03:34 PM

Actress Allison Mack was arrested Friday morning and charged with sex trafficking and other crimes in connection with the controversial self-help group Nxivm, which one former member has described as a “cult.”

A statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York confirms Mack, 35, was charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy.

Mack — best known for her years-long role as Chloe Sullivan on The WB’s Smallville — faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted on all of her charges.

She was set to be arraigned in federal court in New York City later Friday, according to the statement. During her appearance there, she pleaded not guilty, according to the New York Post.

A representative for Mack declined comment. It was unclear Friday if she has retained an attorney who could speak on her behalf.

The allegations against Mack are connected to Nxivm, whose co-founder Keith Raniere was accused last month of sex trafficking and forced labor.

According to the statement, Mack is accused of recruiting women to join what was purported to be a female mentorship group to address their weaknesses but was actually a group created by Raniere that allegedly took advantage of women sexually.

“The victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants’ benefit,” Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in the statement.

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FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney said in the statement that the case has “brought to light an inconceivable crime,” referring to Nxivm as a “pyramid scheme” at which Raniere stood alone at the top, with a level of female “slaves” underneath.

According to the statement, Mack was allegedly “one of the women in the first level of the pyramid immediately below Raniere.”

As such, she allegedly had “slaves” underneath her, according to the statement, which claims Mack “directly or implicitly required” two women “to engage in sexual activity with Raniere.”

“In exchange, for this, Mack received financial and other benefits from Raniere,” the statement alleges.

In recent years Mack appeared in FX’s Wilfred and on The Following, on Fox, among other periodic TV roles.

She has previously discussed her connection with Raniere. “Over the course of several years, Mr. Raniere mentored Allison in her study of acting and music,” her website states.

Allison Mack in 2006
Matt Baron/BEI/REX/Shutterstock
Allison Mack (left) on Smallville
Everett

Women Were Allegedly Blackmailed With Nude Photographs

Raniere was arrested last month in Mexico on federal charges of sex trafficking and forced labor. He has not yet been arraigned and has not entered a plea.

Nxivm, which has not responded to numerous requests for comment from PEOPLE, issued a statement in support of Raniere soon after his arrest, writing in part: “We are currently working with the authorities to demonstrate his innocence and true character.”

Nxivm is based out of Albany, New York, and has been the subject of scrutiny from both law enforcement and journalists as it came under fire from Dynasty actress Catherine 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.”

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 — alleged 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.

Keith Raniere

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 later could be blackmailed.

The women allegedly victimized by Mack allegedly believed their “collateral” would be released if they did not engage in sexual activity with Raniere, the statement on Mack’s arrest alleges.

The complaint against Raniere additionally alleges 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, the complaint alleges.

If convicted on all charges, Raniere faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison.

In statements previously posted to Nxivm’s website, he said all involved in the subgroup were consenting adults and that Nxivm was not involved in what he called a “sorority.”

In the fall, the group denounced a New York Times article about them as “a criminal product of criminal minds.”

• With reporting by BRIANNE TRACY

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