Ghislaine Maxwell goes on trial: What to know about Jeffrey Epstein's ex-girlfriend

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

November 29, 2021, 7:03 AM

More than 16 years after a teenage girl reported to Palm Beach police that she had been sexually molested by a wealthy older man during a massage at his seaside mansion, the allegations surrounding serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his alleged co-conspirators will finally be tested in a court of law.

The criminal trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend and longtime associate, is set to open Monday morning in a Manhattan courthouse that sits in the shadow of the jail where Epstein died by suicide while awaiting trial for alleged child sex trafficking in 2019.

She faces a six-count indictment for allegedly conspiring with and aiding Epstein in the recruitment, enticement and trafficking of underage girls between 1994-2004. Federal prosecutors say Maxwell played a "key role" in a multi-state sex trafficking scheme, in which she allegedly "befriended" and later "enticed and groomed multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein” and was also, at times, "present for and involved" in the abuse herself.

“Maxwell was among Epstein’s closest associates, and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old,” said Audrey Strauss, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, at a press conference announcing Maxwell’s arrest.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges and proclaimed her innocence. She has been held without bail since her arrest in July 2020.

“Ghislaine Maxwell looks forward to her trial and to walking out of the courthouse uncuffed and unshackled following her acquittal,” wrote Bobbi C. Sternheim, one of Maxwell’s defense attorneys, in a recent letter to the court.

Maxwell, 59, is the youngest daughter of Robert Maxwell, the notorious British publishing baron whose rags-to-riches story captivated England. Educated at Oxford, she lived an extravagant life among the British elite until her father's business empire collapsed in the wake of his death in 1991. She relocated to New York, looking for a fresh start, and was soon seen in the company of the enigmatic multimillionaire Epstein, a one time math teacher turned investor who socialized with powerful politicians, celebrities and business leaders around the world.

The government’s case against Maxwell, however, is expected to sidestep some of the most headline-grabbing allegations involving Epstein and Maxwell. The pair’s most prominent public accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre -- who has repeatedly alleged that Epstein and Maxwell recruited her into a life of sexual servitude and directed her to have sex with prominent men -- is not anticipated to be a witness at the trial.

Federal prosecutors have indicated in pretrial court filings that they intend to present to jurors a “streamlined case focused primarily on the experiences” of four women whose allegations are detailed in Maxwell’s indictment. Three of those women will be permitted by the court to testify under pseudonyms to protect their privacy. The fourth, Annie Farmer, has publicly identified herself as one of the alleged minor victims.

“As the facts set forth in this indictment make plain, the evidence in this case is strong,” prosecutors wrote in a motion to detain Maxwell pending trial. “Multiple victims have provided detailed, credible, and corroborated information against the defendant.”

But from the outset of the case, Maxwell’s legal team has assailed her prosecution as an attempt by the government to “substitute” Maxwell for Epstein.

In 2007, Epstein reached a controversial so-called “sweetheart deal” with federal prosecutors in Florida to avoid charges stemming from his alleged sexual abuse of more than 30 minor girls. He ultimately served just 13 months in a private wing of a county jail after pleading guilty to two prostitution-related charges in Florida state court. One month after being charged in a new indictment in New York in 2019, Epstein died by suicide while in federal custody at the now-shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan.

“Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein,” her attorneys wrote in court filings. “She was not named in the government’s indictment of Epstein in 2019, despite the fact that the government has been investigating this case for years. Instead, the current indictment is based on allegations that allegedly occurred roughly twenty-five years ago. Ms. Maxwell vigorously denies the charges, intends to fight them, and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.”

With the trial date approaching, Maxwell’s lawyers have had some limited success chipping away at the government’s case, in particular with respect to the woman identified in the indictment as “Minor Victim-3” and referred to by Maxwell’s team as “Accuser-3”.

Maxwell’s lawyers sought to entirely exclude the woman’s testimony, because she was over the legal age-of-consent in all locations - including New York and London - where she alleges sexual activity with Epstein occurred.

“Accuser-3’s evidence does not show that Epstein was attracted to underage girls,” Maxwell’s attorneys argued in court filings. “At most, it shows that he was attracted to young women above the age of consent, which is neither a crime nor evidence of a crime.”

Prosecutors conceded that the woman was not a minor, but argued that her testimony would provide evidence of Maxwell’s role in the alleged conspiracy, as well as establish Maxwell’s knowledge that massages with Epstein would be sexualized.

U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan, who is presiding over Maxwell’s case, declined to bar the woman’s testimony, but she intends to instruct the jury that they cannot convict Maxwell of any of the charges in the case based on her account.

Maxwell’s attorneys have also indicated that they intend to challenge her accusers on cross-examination about delayed reporting of their alleged abuse and, in some instances, their sexual histories and issues with substance abuse.

Her legal team recently subpoenaed records pertaining to the accusers’ claims filed with the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program, a confidential settlement program established by the executors of Epstein’s estate. Maxwell’s lawyers contend the accusers and their civil attorneys “stood to benefit” if the criminal prosecution against Maxwell went forward.

“[T]he four accusers referenced in the indictment applied for and received millions of dollars [from the program],” Maxwell’s lawyers argued in court filings. “The documents sought are obviously relevant statements of the accusers about what they claim happened for purposes of securing a settlement.”

The government’s case against Maxwell, meanwhile, could be buttressed by the testimony of another of Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators, a woman identified in public filings only as “Employee-1,” who is expected to testify as a cooperating witness for the prosecution that Epstein told her in 2005 that Maxwell “used to find girls for him,” according to prosecutors.

“The Government expects that Employee-1 will testify that at the time Epstein made this statement, Employee-1 was a participant in a conspiracy to sex traffic minors for Epstein,” the prosecutors wrote. “As part of that conspiracy, Employee-1 made phone calls to schedule girls, whom Employee-1 knew to be underage, to provide Epstein with massages, which Employee-1 knew would involve sex acts in exchange for money.”

ABC News is not naming the woman because the government has redacted her name from court filings, and ABC News has been unable to reach her or identify an attorney representing her.

There is no indication in the public record that the woman -- who was previously a target of the Epstein investigation in Florida more than a decade ago -- has received any assurances of immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, where Maxwell will be tried, declined comment.

The disclosure of the alleged co-conspirator’s anticipated testimony triggered objections from Maxwell’s legal team. Her attorneys have sought to limit or exclude her testimony, contending that her account is inadmissible as evidence because she didn’t start working for Epstein until 2005, a year after the end of the alleged sex-trafficking conspiracy charged in Maxwell’s indictment.

“I don't believe that the witness we are talking about…would be able to set forth the foundation that they're claiming,” Maxwell’s attorney Laura Menninger said in court last week. “I don't think it is relevant to the time period of the conspiracy.”

Judge Nathan deferred a ruling on the admissibility of her testimony until the woman is called to the stand during the trial.

Prosecutors have indicated in court filings that the alleged co-conspirator is also expected to testify about Epstein’s infamous “black book” containing contact information for various politicians, princes and powerbrokers both in the United States and abroad. The address book also contains, according to prosecutors, phone numbers for some of the alleged minor victims associated with the case against Maxwell.

“It would be a page of that a section marked ‘massage’ that…would include contact information for some minor victims under a certain heading that has relevance to the case,” prosecutor Allison Moe said in court.

The alleged co-conspirator is expected to testify that the address book, identified as “Government Exhibit 52” in court records, is similar in appearance to those belonging to Maxwell.

“Employee-1 has examined Government Exhibit 52 in preparation for trial and recognizes it to be the defendant’s contact book, copies of which were maintained in Epstein’s Palm Beach residence, among other locations,” prosecutors wrote. “Employee-1 recognizes the shape, color, and binding of the book, and recognizes the formatting and style of the entries as consistent with the manner in which the defendant’s book was organized and the way in which entries appeared.”

An attorney for Maxwell, Jeffrey Pagliuca, protested that he was “highly suspect” of the government’s assertions about the address book and argued that – given the document’s twisted history – it should be excluded from evidence at Maxwell’s trial.

The address book first surfaced in 2009 when Alfredo Rodriguez, a former house manager of Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion, attempted to sell it for $50,000 to an attorney for alleged victims of Epstein’s sexual abuse. Rodriguez was subsequently arrested in a sting operation by the FBI and later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and felony weapons charges. Rodriguez was sentenced to four years in prison and died in 2014.

“This is an exhibit that surfaces in 2009, and we don't know how it surfaced,” Pagliuca said. “Assuming it was stolen by now deceased, twice convicted felon Alfredo Rodriguez and sold to the government, we don't know where it came from or how it was created.”

At the final pretrial hearing last week, Judge Nathan declined to exclude the address book from evidence, indicating that her ruling on the admissibility of pages from the book will have to wait until the government seeks to present them as evidence during the trial.

“I don't know if it's admissible. I think, from what I see, it's a close question. It's going to turn on the testimony. So I'll allow that testimony to take place. And then I'll make a ruling, depending on how that goes,” Nathan said at the hearing. “But as I sit here, I don't know until I hear that testimony.”

Opening statements in the case are scheduled to begin Monday, immediately after government prosecutors and Maxwell’s attorneys exercise their final jury strikes to reach the final panel of 12, plus six alternates. The trial is expected to last approximately six weeks, and there will be no cameras or audio recording devices permitted during the trial, in accordance with the rules of federal courts.

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