Longtime Jeffrey Epstein associate found guilty on five of six counts in sex trafficking trial
A jury has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty on five of the six charges in her sex-trafficking trial.
Accused of procuring young girls for her former boyfriend and serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to abuse, Maxwell faced six counts — a conspiracy charge (for agreeing to do the crime) paired with a substantive charge (for committing the crime) for each of the following: enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and sex trafficking a minor. She was found guilty of all, except the second count, enticement of an individual under the age of 17 to travel with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity.
Maxwell will likely face decades in prison. Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors charges carry a maximum of 40 years, while the other charges she faced carry potential prison terms of five to 10 years.
“I am so relieved and grateful that the jury recognized the pattern of predatory behavior that Maxwell engaged in for years and found her guilty of these crimes,” Annie Farmer, PhD — one of Epstein’s accusers and a witness in the case — said in a statement. “She has caused hurt to many more women than the few of us who had the chance to testify in the courtroom. I hope that this verdict brings solace to all who need it and demonstrates that no one is above the law. Even those with great power and privilege will be held accountable when they sexually abuse and exploit the young.”
The jury’s decision came after five full days of deliberation — spread over two weeks with a Christmas break in the middle — following 12 days of trial, much shorter than the originally estimated six weeks. The prosecution presented its case over two weeks starting Nov. 29. They called 24 witnesses, while the defense rested Dec. 17 after just two days and nine witnesses, including Eva Andersson-Dubin, a former girlfriend of Epstein’s.
In their case, the state focused on alleged crimes between 1994 and 2004, during which time Maxwell, according to the indictment, “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18.”
Epstein and Maxwell used the guise of mentoring young girls to get close to them, the government claimed. One witness said Epstein had paid for her to attend a performing arts camp. Another said he had funded her travels abroad to enhance her resume for college. All the while, prosectuors said, Maxwell helped Epstein groom the children for sexual abuse.
In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz said Maxwell had been “essential to the scheme,” that her presence as an adult woman had lent Epstein’s overtures to young girls a “cover of respectability,” and helped ease the unwitting victims into a friendship with the two adults. The prosecution called Lisa Rochhio, a therapist and expert witness on childhood sexual assault, to describe the stages of grooming, whereby predators choose their victims, isolate them, earn their trust, and then normalize abuse. In testimony, witnesses told the jury how Maxwell had taken them shopping and talked to them about school, their family, and boyfriends. One said Maxwell had at first felt like a big sister to her, but soon began talking about sexual topics and later coached her on how to touch Epstein during sexualized massages — the main setting for abuse victims described. “It seemed very casual, like it was very normal, like it was not a big deal,” said the witness, who went by the pseudonym Jane.
The testimonies of four women formed the backbone of the government’s case. The women claimed they’d been abused by Epstein — with Maxwell’s help — when they were teenagers. Three of the women also told the jury Maxwell had touched their breasts.
Jane, now a successful soap opera star, said she had turned 14 the summer she said Epstein and Maxwell approached her at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Michigan. The encounter was the beginning of several years of recurring abuse at Epstein’s Palm Beach, Florida, mansion, where she was compelled to give Epstein massages that turned sexual. She described him using a vibrator on her, and said Maxwell had instructed her to twist Epstein’s nipples during the abuse.
Carolyn, who used her first name only, was recruited at 14 to massage Epstein for money in Palm Beach by Virgina Giuffre, another of Epstein’s victims. Carolyn’s testimony presented an example of the “pyramid scheme of abuse” prosecutors described in their opening statements, whereby Epstein paid returning victims a finder’s fee for bringing in more young girls for him to abuse. A former Palm Beach household employee, Juan Alessi, also testified to being asked to drive Maxwell around to massage parlors, spas, and massage training schools in the region, supposedly so she could hire more massage therapists for Epstein.
Farmer, the only accuser to testify using her full name, described meeting Epstein while visiting her sister in New York when she was 16 before being lured to his New Mexico ranch, where Maxwell coached her on how to rub Epstein’s feet while he groaned with pleasure and also gave Farmer a massage during which she rubbed her bare upper breasts. Epstein tried to cuddle her in her bed the next morning, but Farmer escaped to the bathroom and never saw the couple after that trip. Now a therapist with a PhD, Farmer said Epstein’s and Maxwell’s behavior felt like they were “working on confusing my boundaries” with the goal of further abusing her. The judge stipulated to the jury that the events Farmer described would not constitute “illegal sexual activity.
Kate — who also used a pseudonym — met Maxwell when she was 17 in London, where Maxwell told her her boyfriend was a philanthropist who could help with her singing career. Kate told jurors Maxwell had asked her to fill in for Epstein’s masseuse. During the massage, Epstein initiated sexual contact, and Kate described feeling “terrified and frozen.” Because she was over the age of consent at the time, Judge Alison Nathan told the jury she could not be considered a victim in this case, but a witness nonetheless. “To the extent you conclude that her testimony is relevant to the issues before you,” Nathan said, “you may consider it.”
In addition to accusers’ testimonies, prosecutors also questioned former Epstein staffers and private pilots, some of whom described Maxwell as Epstein’s “Number Two” and “the lady of the house.” They shared evidence in the form of photos — of Epstein, his properties and jets, Maxwell, and victims — phone-message records, a household manual with detailed instructions for staff behavior, a little black book containing victims’ names, FedEx invoices, flight logs that included powerful passengers like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, and bank records showing Epstein paid Maxwell $30.7 million during and shortly after the years of the abuse alleged by the four victims.
During opening arguments, Maxwell’s attorney Bobbi Sternheim had said that this case was about “memory, manipulation, and money,” and she was right. Those themes recurred over and over throughout the trial.
The defense called their own memory expert, Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher of false memories notorious for defending the likes of Ted Bundy, Robert Durst, and Harvey Weinstein, to introduce doubt about the accusers’ testimonies. Loftus described how memories fade over time and can be corrupted by outside information. The prosecution cross-examined Loftus and got her to testify to the lasting quality of traumatic memories. “The core memories of a trauma event remain stronger, right?” Pomerantz asked. “I probably agree with that,” Loftus answered.
The defense returned repeatedly to the idea that the accusers had been manipulated — by their personal injury lawyers who represented them in civil lawsuits and helped them get payments from a compensation fund established by Epstein’s estate for victims; by “the media” both in their consumption of news and in their sharing of their stories in interviews; and by their own greed and desire for money which led them to lie on the stand. With that in mind, Maxwell’s attorneys grilled each accuser for inconsistencies in prior statements about their alleged abuse. “Did they demonstrate to you that their stories were credible” Menninger asked the jury about the accusers. “I submit to you that they did not.”
In an effort to distance Maxwell from Epstein, the defense also argued throughout the trial that Epstein had manipulated her the same way he did others in his orbit. “Everyone knew Jeffrey was keeping secrets from Ghislaine besides Ghislaine,” Laura Menninger said during closing statements. She added that Maxwell was on trial simply for “being with” Epstein. “Maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life,” Menninger said, echoing the defense’s sentiment that Maxwell was a scapegoat for Epstein. “But it was not a crime.”
The state claimed Epstein and Maxwell were the ones who did the manipulating, by luring in young girls to be “molested by a middle-aged man,” U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said during her closing statement. Moe added that as a wealthy couple, Maxwell and Epstein had used their power to target vulnerable kids. “It is not an accident that Jane and Kate and Carolyn and Annie came from single-parent households that were struggling in different ways,” Moe said.
In closings, the prosecution also pointed to more than $30 million that Epstein had transferred to Maxwell, calling the payments “‘we molested kids together’ money.”
Maxwell attended the proceedings each day wearing a mask and a sweater, often a turtleneck. She would hug and kiss her lawyers in greeting, and beside the attorneys at a wide table. She’d leaning over to consult with them, and took notes during testimony. She showed agitation sometimes, running her fingers through her hair and taking her glasses on and off, but little emotion otherwise. One day, she drew the courtroom sketch artist. Despite a recent trend of high-profile defendants testifying on their own behalf — Kyle Rittenhouse, Elizabeth Holmes, Kim Potter — Maxwell did not take the stand. The only time she addressed the court, it was to say she would not testify. “Your honor, the government has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, so there is no need for me to testify,” she told the judge. The jury was not in the room at the time.
Trial represented one of the last avenues for victims of Epstein’s abuse to seek justice, since Epstein died by suicide in August 2019 while awaiting his own sex-trafficking trial in a New York jail. Maxwell’s defense took advantage of the unavoidable connection to Epstein to claim she was only on trial because the real criminal was dead and that she was being blamed “for his sins.”
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