Branding was 'consensual,' sex cult leader's lawyers say

A self-help guru accused of running an upstate New York sex cult that included "Smallville" actress Allison Mack pleaded not guilty Friday to enslaving women and branding them with his initials like cattle.

Keith Raniere and Mack were ordered to return to U.S. District Court in Brooklyn for another hearing on June 14 and given an Oct. 1 trial date.

After the hearing, Raniere's lawyers insisted that "everything was consensual."

"There are well-known groups of men who brand themselves," attorney Marc Agnifilo said. "A group of women do that and suddenly they're victims."

But when pressed about the branding, he replied, "I'm not qualified to say what is normal."

Raniere, 57, was arrested in March in Mexico and accused by federal prosecutors of, among other things, coercing women in his Albany-based self-help group Nxivm into having sex with him.

Photos of the cult: 

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Photos: NXIVM sex slave cult and its demise
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Photos: NXIVM sex slave cult and its demise
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The NXIVM Executive Success Programs sign outside of the office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The exterior of the NXIVM Executive Success Programs office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The Karner Woods office park's sign on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. The NXIVM Executive Success Programs office at 455 New Karner Road is part of the office park. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack (R) departs the United States Eastern District Court after a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to a upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack arrives at the United States Eastern District Court for a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to an upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack (C) arrives at the United States Eastern District Court for a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to a upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Actress Allison Mack leaves U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York after a bail hearing, April 24, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Mack was charged last Friday with sex trafficking for her involvement with a self-help organization for women that forced members into sexual acts with their leader. The group, called Nxivm, was led by founder Keith Raniere, who was arrested in March on sex-trafficking charges. She was released on bail at $5 million. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Mack, 35, who prosecutors say recruited "slaves" for Raniere, has already pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit forced labor and other crimes.

Unlike Raniere, who is being held without bail on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor, Mack is free on $5 million bond and under house arrest at the home of her parents in California. She refused to answer any questions entering and leaving the courthouse.

Mack is best known for playing the part of Superman's good friend Chloe Sullivan in the TV show "Smallville" from 2001 to 2011.

In a criminal complaint, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York said Raniere, aka "Vanguard," would charge his followers up to $5,000 per session for courses in personal and professional development and take their possessions as collateral if they couldn't pay.

Prosecutors say Raniere had a stable of "over 50 female slaves." They say he told his followers that men needed multiple sexual partners while women should be monogamous.

Former Nxivm members have called Raniere's group a cult. If convicted of all the charges, Raniere and Mack could be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

 

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