The sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell gets underway this week, where the former socialite and girlfriend of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein is standing trial on charges of procuring minor girls for the late billionaire financier to sexually abuse.
Maxwell faces a total of eight counts related to the sex trafficking of minors. This trial will consider six of those charges, namely, sex trafficking of a minor and conspiracy to do so, enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts and conspiracy to do so, and transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity along with conspiracy to do so.
She will be tried separately on two perjury charges.
Once Epstein’s girlfriend, Maxwell remained the well-connected investment manager’s companion for decades even after their nebulous romantic relationship appeared to fizzle in the late 1990s. The prosecution is expected to present evidence about their decades-long association as well as Maxwell’s relationships with other “powerful men.”
The federal indictment against Maxwell includes sordid details about the 59-year-old’s alleged methods of targeting and grooming the underage girls as well as her personal participation in some of the sexual abuse.
Between 1994 and 1997, Maxwell, “assisted, facilitated, and contributed” to Epstein’s abuse of minor girls even though she and Epstein both knew their victims, one of whom was just 14, were underage, according to the indictment.
She is accused of “normalizing” the abuse by undressing in front of a victim, discussing sexual topics with victims, and encouraging them to give “sexualized massages” to Epstein. Meanwhile, she tried to befriend victims by asking them about their lives and taking them shopping or to the movies, the indictment says.
Maxwell was often in the room while the girls were sexually abused by Epstein and “put victims at ease by providing the assurance and comfort of an adult woman who seemingly approved of Epstein’s behavior,” the indictment states. She is also accused of trying to make the girls feel indebted to Epstein by encouraging them to accept money from him, including travel and educational expenses.
Epstein and Maxwell’s abuse included telling a minor victim to touch Epstein while he masturbated, telling victims to touch his genitals, sexualized massages where the minor victims had been undressed and were nude, and touching and placing sex toys on victims’ genitals, the indictment says.
The victims were groomed and abused at Maxwell’s own residence in London as well as at Epstein’s residences in New York, Florida, and New Mexico, according to the indictment.
“Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, and then delivered them into the trap that she and Jeffrey Epstein had set,” the indictment reads. “She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while, she was setting them up to be abused sexually by Epstein and, in some cases, Maxwell herself.”
In the initial indictment unsealed the day she was arrested, Audrey Strauss — then the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan — brought only six charges against Maxwell. But in March, prosecutors added the charges directly accusing her of sex trafficking minors.
Those two charges stemmed from incidents from 2001 to 2004, when Maxwell is accused of grooming a minor who was around 14 when she met Epstein and Maxwell in Palm Beach, Florida. Prosecutors say Maxwell sent gifts including lingerie from a Manhattan address to the minor’s residence in Florida. Maxwell also encouraged the girl to recruit other young girls to give Epstein sexualized massages, which the teen did. She and the other victims she brought were paid hundreds of dollars in cash, the updated indictment says.
Her accusers say Maxwell recruited them as teenagers, sometimes by approaching them at their jobs or at malls in Florida. Sometimes she would introduce herself as a modeling scout, even handing out business cards to the underage girls, they said.
“She was just a predator prowling the streets I have no doubt,” one of her accusers, Molly Skye Brown, said.
Four of Epstein’s accusers are set to testify during the trial, although accuser Annie Farmer is the only one expected to testify without using a pseudonym. Farmer said she was 16 when she met Epstein. Both she and her older sister Maria were abused by Epstein and Maxwell, the sisters said.
Maxwell has pled not guilty to all charges. If convicted, she faces up to 80 years in prison.
She has vehemently maintained her innocence, even blurting out at a recent pre-trial conference, “I have not committed any crime.”
Opening arguments begin Monday in Manhattan federal court, with U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan of the Southern District of New York presiding over the trial, which is expected to last six weeks.
In April, the judge gave Maxwell’s defense team a win when she granted their request to try the perjury charges separately. Prosecutors said Maxwell lied in 2016 during a civil deposition for accuser Virginia Giuffre’s defamation lawsuit. Giuffre accused Maxwell of grooming her for Epstein’s abuse when she was a 16-year-old spa attendant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach (Trump reportedly later banned Epstein from Mar-a-Lago in 2007 for harassing another member’s teenage daughter). Giuffre said the sexual abuse she suffered included lessons on Epstein’s oral sex preferences. Maxwell accused her of “obvious lies,” and Giuffre sued Maxwell for defamation.
During a deposition in that case, Maxwell claimed she had never given Epstein or anyone else a massage, a claim prosecutors say is a lie. Prosecutors say she also lied about whether she knew Epstein had sex toys and whether she knew that he engaged in sexual activity with anyone other than herself and two other women.
Maxwell is the daughter of the late British media mogul Robert Maxwell, who owned Britain’s top tabloid, the Daily Mirror, and at one point bought the New York Daily News. The British heiress is said to have been heavily influenced by her father, who gave her many business opportunities before he died suddenly in a drowning accident. In the 1980s before she met Epstein, she was prominent in the London social scene.
Maxwell’s older brother, Ian Maxwell, defended his sister earlier this month, saying she is a “patsy” and calling the sex trafficking trial “the most over-hyped trial of the century.”
“They lost him and so there has to be somebody to pay the price. There has to be the patsy. Ghislaine is paying that price and she’s paying it every day,” Ian Maxwell told CBS News.
Maxwell was arrested on July 2, 2020, when federal investigators discovered her hiding out in a New Hampshire mansion after virtually disappearing following Epstein’s death. She has been in a Brooklyn jail without bail since her arrest because the judge deemed her a flight risk.
Epstein was found dead at 66 in what was ruled a suicide in his Manhattan jail cell back on August 10, 2019, a year before Maxwell’s arrest. He was awaiting trial after being accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
The lurid details of his alleged sex ring include accusations that he procured underage girls for prominent men on his private island in the Virgin Islands, Little St. James.
One of the most prominent names associated with Epstein is Prince Andrew. Giuffre sued the British royal in August, claiming he sexually abused her at Maxwell’s London home as well as at Epstein’s residences. The prince has denied the accusations.
A particular point of outrage for Epstein’s accusers is a lenient sweetheart plea deal he managed to snag back in 2008 when he was convicted in Florida of procuring a child for prostitution. That investigation found 36 girls Epstein had allegedly abused. The U.S. Attorney in that investigation was Alex Acosta, who went on to serve as labor secretary in the Trump administration but eventually resigned over his role in the Epstein case.
More than 10 years after the controversial plea deal, Epstein was arrested again on July 6, 2019, for sex trafficking minors in Florida and New York. Federal agents who raided Epstein’s Manhattan mansion found “evidence, including nude photographs of what appeared to be underage girls,” prosecutors said.
When Epstein died, some of his accusers felt cheated out of their right to see justice served to their abuser, according to a lawyer who represented five of the women. With Maxwell’s trial, his accusers say they hope to see justice done by proxy.