Opening of the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, with Epstein at its center
More than two years after Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in a jail cell, Ghislaine Maxwell – the woman who prosecutors say helped him recruit, treat and abuse young girls – was put on trial Monday in Manhattan.
Ms Maxwell and Mr Epstein were “partners in crime,” federal prosecutor Lara Pomerantz told the jury. Ms Maxwell sexually exploited young girls by building their confidence, helped normalize sexually abusive behavior and then “served” it to Mr Epstein as part of a decade-long program, the prosecutor said.
“The accused and Epstein made the young girls believe that their dreams could come true,” Pomerantz said in Federal District Court. “They made them feel special, but it was a blanket.”
“Behind closed doors,” said Ms Pomerantz, “the accused and Epstein were committing heinous crimes. They sexually assaulted teenage girls.
The trial of Ms Maxwell, 59, the daughter of a British media mogul and longtime figurehead in the New York social scene, has been widely regarded as the courtroom believing Mr Epstein had avoided commit suicide in prison for a month. after his arrest for sex trafficking.
The highly anticipated trial will provide a new window into the exploits of one of the most notorious sex offenders in modern American history. Mr. Epstein’s crimes, his dealings with the criminal justice system, and his death have been the subject of books, lectures, podcasts, conspiracy theories, lawsuits, investigations and documentaries. But they were never shown in a criminal trial.
Mr Epstein was arrested in July 2019 for recruiting dozens of girls to perform sex acts with him at his Palm Beach, Florida estate and Manhattan mansion, paying them hundreds of dollars in cash after each encounter, declared a federal indictment.
Ms Maxwell, who was arrested in July 2020, faces charges including sex trafficking of a minor, inciting and transporting minors to engage in illegal sex acts and three counts of conspiracy. She faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
She firmly maintained her innocence and her lawyer, Bobbi C. Sternheim, told the jury that the evidence would not support the charges against her client.
She described Ms Maxwell as a ‘scapegoat’ for Mr Epstein’s actions, adding: ‘Ever since Eve tempted Adam with the apple, women have been blamed for men’s bad behavior.
Ms Sternheim has repeatedly sought to separate her client from the disgraced financier, who, even in death, appeared to loom over the lawsuit. Her death had left “a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice” for many, Sternheim told the jury. Ms Maxwell “fills that hole,” she added. “Fill an empty chair”.
Ms Maxwell – who has been held in a Brooklyn jail since her arrest – was escorted into the courtroom Monday morning without handcuffs, wearing a cream sweater and black pants. During the day, about two dozen spectators – including Damian Williams, the new U.S. prosecutor in Manhattan – lined up on the benches of the courtroom, which was reconfigured during the pandemic to create more space for jurors and less room for spectators, who could watch the proceedings on closed-circuit video in other courtrooms.
Outside the courthouse, a crowd of press cameras and spectators formed early Monday morning, hoping to be able to watch the first day of the trial. While the recent state trials of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and three men who were convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, were televised, there will be no video or d Ms Maxwell’s Case Recordings: Cameras are largely excluded from federal courtrooms.
The trial could last up to six weeks, the parties told Judge Alison J. Nathan.
The charges against Ms Maxwell revolve around four accusers who say she prepared them to be abused by Mr Epstein between 1994 and 2004 when they were minors. These now adult accusers are expected to testify at trial, some under pseudonyms or with partial names, the government said.
Ms Pomerantz opened her presentation to the jury with the story of one of these accusers, whom she identified only as “Jane”. Ms Pomerantz said Jane, then 14, met Mr Epstein and Ms Maxwell when the couple visited a talented children’s summer camp.
What Jane didn’t know at the time, Ms Pomerantz said, was “this man and woman were predators.” For Jane, she said, the reunion “was the start of a nightmare that would last for years.”
Ms Sternheim, in her opening statement, described Mr Epstein as a patron of the arts and a “support for young talent” who has supported girls like Jane in their endeavors – in Jane’s case, providing an apartment in Manhattan for her and her family.
But Ms Pomerantz described this financial support as a pretext that allowed Mr Epstein, along with Ms Maxwell, to lure vulnerable girls into his orbit with the ultimate goal of mistreating them.
Later, Ms Pomerantz said, Mr Epstein and Ms Maxwell ditched “scholarship coverage” and instead “devised a pyramid scheme of abuse,” in which they encouraged girls to bring in other girls.
Ms Pomerantz said that when Ms Maxwell sent a 14-year-old girl to a massage room with an adult male, “she knew exactly what was going to happen”.
Understanding the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell
A confidant of Epstein. Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of a British media mogul and once a fixture on New York’s social scene, was a longtime companion of Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide after his arrest for sex trafficking in 2019.
“Calling it a massage was a trick,” said Ms. Pomerantz, “a trick designed to get young girls to touch Epstein, an excuse for Epstein to touch girls.” Ms Pomerantz said the massages would intensify and Mr Epstein touched the girls, sometimes with a sex toy, and occasionally had sex with them.
In addition to bringing in girls as masseuses for Mr Epstein, Ms Maxwell was sometimes in the room while the abuse was taking place and sometimes touched the girls herself, Ms Pomerantz said.
The government also provided a specific rationale for what it said was Ms Maxwell’s involvement in the scheme with Mr Epstein: money.
“While this horrific abuse took place behind closed doors, the accused was in a jet set on private planes and living a life of extraordinary luxury,” Ms Pomerantz told the jury. “These girls were just a way to support his lifestyle.”
Ms Pomerantz described how Ms Maxwell prepared girls for Mr Epstein – taking them shopping and asking them questions about their lives, schools and families. “She won their trust,” Ms. Pomerantz said.
“Grooming” describes a strategy predators use to try to break a potential victim’s resistance to abusive behavior.
She said Ms Maxwell discussed sexual matters with the girls and helped normalize sexually abusive behavior.
“She made them feel comfortable and made them feel safe,” Ms. Pomerantz said, “all so they could be molested by a middle-aged man.”
Ms Sternheim told the jury that what prosecutors called “the grooming” was “legal conduct”.
“The government wants you to put a sinister subjective motive in Ghislaine,” she said, “where the evidence will show there was none.”
Ms Sternheim also introduced the jury to the four accusers who are expected to testify, claiming their stories were “slim” and likening the prosecutors’ case to “taking cutouts and putting them together.”
She urged the jury to keep three words in mind: “Memory, manipulation and money”. The stories of the victims, she said, were several years old and prone to contamination. They have been manipulated, she said, by coaching lawyers seeking to capitalize on Mr Epstein’s case. And they were motivated by money – at least two of the accusers received payments from a victims’ compensation fund drawn from Mr Epstein’s estate.
Late Monday afternoon, the government called its first witness: Larry Visoski, one of Mr. Epstein’s longtime pilots. Mr. Visoski testified that over the course of nearly three decades, he regularly shuttled Mr. Epstein and one of the financier’s private jets between his residences in New York City, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New Mexico and Paris.
“About every four days we were on the road flying somewhere,” Visoski said.
Mr. Visoski, who is expected to continue testifying on Tuesday morning, described Mr. Epstein’s homes and the abundant support staff needed to keep his home running. Ms Maxwell, he said, was instrumental in running those homes and planning Mr Epstein’s trip.
Colin Moynihan and Chelsea Rose Marcius contributed reports.