Ghislaine Maxwell, the socialite accused of procuring girls for Jeffrey Epstein’s teen “massage” ring, was convicted on five of six charges related to child sex-trafficking on Wednesday.
The Manhattan federal jury delivered the verdict after six days of deliberations. The decision arrived four days after Christmas, which also marks the socialite’s 60th birthday.
From the 1990s and onward, Maxwell’s romance, and later her close companionship, with the multimillionaire Epstein made headlines, particularly in the British tabloids which knew her as the youngest daughter of disgraced British media baron Robert Maxwell.
Those ties would be her undoing decades later when Epstein was arrested by the FBI in July 2019 for preying on scores of underage girls.
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After Epstein, 66, killed himself in a Manhattan federal lockup while awaiting trial that August, federal prosecutors targeted Maxwell as their next defendant in the money-manager’s international sex-trafficking operation. While Maxwell has adamantly denied any involvement in Epstein’s sexual pyramid scheme—which involved the late financier molesting scores of girls during paid “massages” at his homes in Florida, New York and beyond—she has been hounded for years by accusers’ claims that she aided his perverted scheme.
Maxwell’s arrest last year—at a secret compound in New Hampshire where she’d holed up with her much-younger tech CEO husband—marked another scandalous chapter in the Maxwell family history. After Robert Maxwell mysteriously and fatally tumbled off his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, his Daily Mirror employees discovered he had pillaged hundreds of millions of dollars from their pension funds. Maxwell’s sons Ian and Kevin—who were present for closing arguments in Ghislaine’s trial—were charged in connection to their father’s scheme. Then in their late 30s, the Maxwell brothers were acquitted after an eight-month trial.
Maxwell was convicted of five charges: conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; sex trafficking conspiracy; and child sex trafficking.
The jury found her not guilty of a six charge: enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.
While the Maxwells palled around with British high society, prosecutors say Ghislaine Maxwell helped Epstein prey in secret on poor and vulnerable teenagers. Four victims testified against Maxwell over the course of the prosecution’s case, which lasted two weeks. “Jane,” a TV actress, claimed Maxwell and Epstein first recruited her at Michigan’s prestigious Interlcohen arts summer camp in 1994 when she was 14. The couple abused her, she said, and involved her in group sex with adult women.
“Kate,” who was 17 and living in England when she met Maxwell in 1994, told jurors that the socialite encouraged her to give Epstein sexualized massages and directed her to wear a schoolgirl uniform during one encounter with the wealthy pervert. Some of the abuse, Kate said, took place at Maxwell’s London townhouse.
Carolyn, who was 14 when she met Maxwell in 2001, said the cosmopolitan arranged her “massage” appointments with Epstein and invited her to the U.S. Virgin Islands. She told Maxwell she “couldn’t travel because I couldn’t get a passport because I was too young” and that her mother would never let her go. Carolyn alleged Maxwell groped her and told her she “had a great body for Mr. Epstein and his friends.”
Annie Farmer, who testified under her full name, detailed how Maxwell and Epstein preyed on her during a weekend trip to New Mexico in 1996. Then 16 and alone with the couple at Epstein’s ranch, Farmer was instructed to give Epstein a foot massage. Afterward, Maxwell offered to give Farmer a body massage, during which the socialite unexpectedly groped her breast. She testified that she was fearful, because knew she was “very isolated” on the remote property, and that she “just needed to get through this.”
Prosecutors wrapped up the case sooner than expected, calling 24 witnesses in 10 days including two former pilots for Epstein, his ex-butler, FBI analysts, a forensic psychologist and former boyfriends of two victims to support their claims. For its part, the defense called eight witnesses over two days including Epstein’s ex-girlfriend and longtime confidante, former Miss Sweden Eva Andersson-Dubin, and “false memory” expert Elizabeth Loftus, a favorite of prominent defendants including Robert Durst, Harvey Weinstein and O.J. Simpson. Loftus testified that victims’ memories can be corrupted or even implanted. Maxwell decided not to testify in her own defense, telling the judge: “Your Honor, the government has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and so there is no need for me to testify.”
At the time of Epstein’s arrest and suicide, Maxwell was living far away from the New York social scene as a suburban stepmom and oceans activist in Massachusetts. She had allegedly married her secret husband, tech CEO Scott Borgerson, in 2016 and transferred a majority of her more than $20 million in assets to him three years later. (Borgerson hasn’t publicly commented on Maxwell’s case, nor appeared in court to support her.)
This new life was interrupted in July 2020, when the FBI tracked Maxwell to a luxury getaway in New Hampshire using her cellphone data. While Maxwell’s team argued she was running from the media, prosecutors suggested she was hiding from authorities and pointed to the feds finding a “cell phone wrapped in tin foil” in the house which they called “a seemingly misguided effort to evade detection.”
Throughout the trial, Maxwell’s lawyers tried to paint her as a “scapegoat” for Epstein’s sickening behavior. In a bombshell first line during opening arguments, defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim said: “Ever since Eve was tempting Adam with the apple, women have been blamed for the bad behavior of men.”
“The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did, but she is not Jeffrey Epstein, she is not like Jeffrey Epstein, and she is not like any of the other men, powerful men, moguls, media giants who abuse women,” Sternheim added.
The defense suggested Maxwell was so busy managing Epstein’s properties in New York, Florida, New Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that she had no idea he was sexually exploiting minors. Epstein, they said, “manipulated” people and “compartmentalized his life, showing only what he wanted to show to the people around him, including Ghislaine.”
Maxwell’s team made much of attacking the credibility of the victims themselves, pointing out their prior drug and alcohol abuse and conflicting statements to investigators, and suggesting their families weren’t as penniless as they claimed. Counsel centered their defense around the theme of “memory, manipulation, and money,” suggesting the victims’ recollections of abuse were contaminated by media reports and greedy civil lawyers looking for a hefty payday. They also highlighted the victims’ million-dollar settlements with the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program—Jane, for example, received $5 million, more than half of which went to attorney’s fees and court costs—saying that cooperating with the government only enhanced the women’s claims with the fund.
Defense lawyers also worked to introduce doubt by naming other adult women in Epstein’s world, including alleged co-conspirator Sarah Kellen, and suggesting the financier was dating multiple other people behind Maxwell’s back.
“We are not here to defend Jeffrey Epstein, he is not my client,” attorney Laura Menninger said in closing arguments on Monday. “The government played you a montage of Epstein’s houses, his bank accounts, his artwork, his cars, his planes, his helicopters, his bank accounts, his message pads, just like a sensationalist tabloid would.”
“As we have said from the beginning,” Menninger later added, “Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein. She’s being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein. Maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life, but it was not a crime.”
But in a fervent rebuttal, assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen Comey said, “The defense just spent a whole lot of energy trying to get you to think about anyone other than the defendant, trying to get you to look away from the massive amount of evidence…”
“The defense tried to suggest that even if Jeffrey Epstein did engage in sexual contact with Jane, Kate, Carolyn, and Annie, Maxwell didn’t know about it,” Comey added. “She just had no idea that her boyfriend and best friend for more than a decade had a thing for teenage girls. Ladies and gentlemen, that suggestion is borderline laughable.”
“Of course she knew,” the prosecutor said. “The defendant ran every aspect of Jeffrey Epstein’s life for the better part of a decade.”
Comey later underscored the class divide between Maxwell and Epstein’s young victims (and even Epstein’s household staff), a reality which permeated much of the trial testimony. Maxwell “never thought that those teenage girls would have the strength to report what happened to them,” Comey said. “In her eyes, they were just trash, beneath her.”
Still, one of Epstein’s most high-profile victims didn’t testify, despite her name haunting the proceedings and her teenage photograph being presented to the jury.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre has long accused Maxwell of being Epstein’s chief accomplice. Giuffre first identified Maxwell as a procurer of underage girls in a 2009 lawsuit filed after Epstein’s controversial plea deal in Florida for soliciting a minor. The complaint, filed under the pseudonym Jane Doe 102, alleged Maxwell recruited her one day at Mar-a-Lago, where the teen worked as a changing room assistant. Giuffre claimed she went to Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion later that day and Epstein and Maxwell sexually assaulted her. “At the end of this sexually exploitive abuse, [Epstein] and Ms. Maxwell giddily told [her] to return the following day and told her she had ‘lots of potential,’” the suit alleged.
Giuffre came forward again when two other victims sued the Department of Justice over Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement. “One way to describe Maxwell’s role was as the ‘madame.’ She assumed a position of trust for all the girls, including me,” Giuffre said in a 2015 affidavit, in which she was anonymous. She added, “It turned out that Maxwell was all about sex all the time. She had sex with underage girls virtually every day when I was around her, and she was very forceful.”
A photo of Giuffre and Maxwell with Britain’s Prince Andrew—as the royal grinned and slung his arm around the teen’s waist—rocked the tabloids when it emerged several years ago. The prince has denied any involvement in Epstein’s sex trafficking ring, though he spent time palling around with the financier at Epstein’s palatial New York townhouse. After the pedophile’s arrest, authorities discovered an array of strange art in the lair—including a painting of Bill Clinton in a blue dress—as well as a safe containing loose gems, cash, and a fake passport, as well as photos of nude girls.
It was Giuffre’s 2015 defamation suit against Maxwell that brought to light much of what is known of the Oxford-educated heiress’s role in Epstein’s world. Secret court filings in that case, which was settled in Giuffre’s favor two years later, were unsealed before her arrest. The documents exposed accusations that Maxwell sent Giuffre to powerful men to be abused including billionaire Glenn Dubin, Prince Andrew, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
In 2017, Maxwell faced another lawsuit from a victim named Sarah Ransome, who alleges she was 22 in 2006 when Epstein’s recruiters targeted her and promised to help her get into New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Ransome claimed Epstein and Maxwell “intimidated, threatened, humiliated and verbally abused [her] in order to coerce her into sexual compliance.” (Ransome’s case was settled one year later.)
After the Miami Herald published its three-part expose into Epstein’s lenient plea deal in 2018, the feds began a new investigation into his sex crimes.
Palm Beach police first targeted Epstein in 2005, after the stepmother of a teenage girl contacted them about a 45-year-old man molesting the child. The investigation revealed Epstein was abusing and raping teen girls he’d hired to give him massages and also paying girls to bring more victims to his mansion. When the sessions were over, Epstein or his staff would hand the girls hundred-dollar bills.
The probe unearthed sex toys, phone message pads and nude photos of young females—evidence that surfaced again at Maxwell’s trial this month. But when state prosecutors failed to pursue serious charges, cops took their case to the FBI and the Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office, which drafted a 53-page indictment. Epstein dodged federal charges with the help of his high-powered legal team, which inked the secret non-prosecution agreement that ensured he received a slap on the wrist for abusing dozens of minors. This plea deal also granted immunity to Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators: assistants Kellen, Lesley Groff, Nadia Marcinkova and Adriana Ross. The document did not name Maxwell.
Victims’ hopes for justice were shattered when Epstein, newly charged in New York, died before he could even face a jury.
In wake of his death, U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Berman held a special hearing to officially close the indictment against Epstein and allow accusers to have their say.
Giuffre was among the procession of women that day to identify Maxwell as an accomplice and urge federal prosecutors to finish what they started.
“I am a victim of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in the dark and cruel and criminal acts they committed against me and hundreds of other girls and young women for years and years and years, unstopped,” Giuffre testified.
Jeffrey Epstein “will not have his day in court, but the reckoning of accountability has begun, supported by the voices of these brave and beautiful women in this courtroom today,” she continued. “The reckoning must not end.”
“He did not act alone and we, the victims, know that.”
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