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Actress testifies her recruitment into sex cult came after confessing to being suicidal

A portrait of Keith Raniere is entered into

A portrait of Keith Raniere is entered into evidence at his trial on charges including racketeering conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking and more. Photo Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office

A young California actress who was allegedly strapped to a table and sexually victimized by another woman as part of NXIVM guru Keith Raniere’s secret sex-slave sect testified in Brooklyn federal court Thursday that she was recruited after confessing to a member of the group’s inner circle that she was suicidal.

Nicole, whose last name was withheld in court, said former Smallville actress Alison Mack, a NXIVM insider, sold her on joining the sect – known as “DOS” or “The Vow” – at a desperate time in her life by saying it was a women’s empowerment and mentoring group, but never mentioned sex or Raniere.

“I was really looking for something to be hopeful about, to guide me in building my career because I was at such a low point,” she told jurors at Raniere’s sex-trafficking trial. “…I wanted to be like Wonder Woman. I wanted to play that role, and that’s what it sounded like. I wanted to be mentored.”

Now 31, Nicole sobbed on the witness stand as she described her struggles to make it as an actress in New York City, and how Mack persuaded her to provide “collateral” to insure her loyalty – including sex tapes, and a letter to her hometown newspaper falsely accusing her father of sexually abusing her.

“I had to like separate from my body to write the letters,” she told jurors.

Raniere, 58, is accused of being a con-man who founded NXIVM as a personal-growth business in the Albany area in the 1990s, selling himself as a brilliant savant known as “Vanguard” as he turned it into a vehicle to exploit women. He is charged with conspiracy, racketeering, sex trafficking and other crimes.

Five women from the group’s top echelon, including Mack, have pleaded guilty to related charges. The trial, in its fifth week, has featured testimony from three other women ensnared in sexual activities, and extensive text exchanges with a fourth woman, Camila, allegedly a minor when they became involved.

Nicole said her initial assignments from Mack involved celibacy, and when she became uncomfortable with the turn the empowerment “mentorship” was taking, Mack threatened exposure of her “collateral” and ordered her to “reach out” to Raniere, who she had never met.

When he didn’t respond to an initial email, Nicole testified, Mack urged her to try again in a Facebook message that said, “How do you get the attention of the smartest man in the world?”

Her testimony ended on that note, and is scheduled to resume on Friday. Prosecutors said in opening statements that she will describe being ordered to meet Raniere, and coming to a room where she was blindfolded and tied by him to a table, where Camila sexually victimized her.

After growing up in northern California and spending 8 years in Hollywood, Nicole said she came to New York in 2015 and was introduced by a boyfriend who was a NXIVM acolyte to a course and an acting group run by Mack, and went to Raniere’s annual “V-Week” birthday celebration near Lake George.

She found the idolization of him “weird,” but became close to Mack and confided her suicidal thoughts the next year. Mack suggested the secret mentoring group, calling it a “really cool thing” where “women were pushing through their fears to… build the life they wanted to build so they could help people.”

If she was told what she learned later – about Raniere, and being a sex slave – she would never have joined, she said. “There were so many things added on once you were sealed in,” she said. “I don’t know how that has anything to do with mentoring.”

Raniere’s defense hinges on claims that he believed in good faith that women participated voluntarily, and no one was coerced into involvement. The trial is scheduled to resume on Friday.

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