How Smallville's Allison Mack Allegedly Recruited Unwitting Women Into Sexual 'Pyramid Scheme'

Chris Harris

She is accused of exploiting her status as an actress to make connections with women. She appealed to feminist ideals in friendly messages inviting them to workshops she had described as “the most profound and awesome thing I have ever done.” She seemed kind.

But authorities allege Smallville actress Allison Mack hid her true motives: to recruit women into Nxivm, the controversial self-help group one former member has described as a “cult,” and a sub-group within Nxivm that sexually exploited women.

Now Mack, 35, faces sex trafficking and related charges along with Nxivm co-founder Keith Raniere. Raniere has not yet entered a plea and Mack has pleaded not guilty.

Both face at least 15 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Yoga instructor and author Jennifer Pastiloff tells PEOPLE she met Mack online in 2014, after the actress followed her on Twitter. The two started emailing back and forth, and Pastiloff says Mack “seemed really sweet.”

But it wasn’t long before Pastiloff became wary of Mack.

Allison Mack seen Tuesday leaving federal court

“My radar went off when she wrote that these workshops would help me ‘close some gaps you may be finding,’” Pastiloff says, sharing a May 30, 2014, email purportedly from Mack. “I remember thinking there was something weird about this, something sketchy.”

Pastiloff, who was recovering from a broken foot at the time and was battling depression, says she started ignoring Mack’s messages and had all but forgotten about their brief online correspondence. But then Mack was arrested.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York alleges Mack was an integral member of Nxivm, and was just below Raniere in a secret society within the group called “DOS” — which according to prosecutors is “an acronym standing for a Latin phrase that loosely translates to ‘Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions.’ ”

Mack allegedly had “slaves” beneath her, and either “directly or implicitly required” at least two women “to engage in sexual activity with Raniere.”

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

Prosecutors allege that 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.

A cauterizing pen was used to brand Raniere’s initials on the pubic region of women, according to prosecutors.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Pastiloff says she now sees the email exchanges in a new light: Mack was attempting to recruit her into Nxivm. She believes Mack targeted her because of Pastiloff’s focus on empowerment in her yoga work, and also because she had been blogging about her depression and feelings of vulnerability.

Actress Samia Shoaib, who first met Mack in New York City in 2013 at an audition, shared a similar story.

Shoaib appeared on Megyn Kelly TODAY, and said she believes she was “love bombed” by Mack. Noted cult expert Rick Ross characterizes “love bombing” as a persuasion tactic in which prospective recruits are smothered with affection as a way to discourage doubts and reinforce “the need to belong through use of child-like games, singing, hugging, touching, or flattery.”

Keith Raniere

“She was mirroring me,” Shoaib told Kelly. “I would say ‘I am very interested in feminism,’ and she’d say, ‘Oh, me too!’ I said I’m from Pakistan and she said, ‘I love other cultures — tell me more.’ Looking back, it was a very contrived effort but at the time, she seemed so sincere.”

Shoaib, who recalled a dinner with Mack during her appearance on Thursday’s show, said she has “no doubt” she was being recruited for Nxivm: “It was very clear she was pumping up her feminist interests to lure me in. I was very heartened that this woman was looking to do something positive … I’m angry she used feminism towards such nefarious ends.”

Mack even reached out via Twitter to actress Emma Watson about Nxivm.

On Tuesday, after posting her $5 million bond, Mack was released from jail but will remain under house arrest at her parents’ home in California, where she will be monitored electronically.

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.

Mack has not replied to PEOPLE’s emails seeking comment.

PEOPLE’s calls to lawyers for Mack and Raniere have not been returned.