The US Justice Department has accused Ghislaine Maxwell of being a confidante and provider of underaged girls to Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who killed himself in 2019 before he could be tried for sex abuse crimes
New York (AFP) - Ghislaine Maxwell set young girls up to be abused by “predator” Jeffrey Epstein, prosecutors said Monday, as the sex trafficking trial of the British jet-set socialite and heiress began in New York.
While the defense urged jurors not to “scapegoat” Maxwell for Epstein’s crimes, government attorneys described her as the late financier’s “lady of the house,” who maintained “a culture of silence” over a years-long arrangement to sexually exploit girls under 18 years old.
Maxwell “made those girls feel seen. They made them feel special. But that was a cover,” federal attorney Lara Pomerantz told the jury.
In fact, she “served them up to be sexually abused,” the prosecutor said.
Two years after Epstein killed himself in jail before he went on trial for similar charges, Maxwell sat in the Manhattan courtroom facing six counts of enticing and transporting minors for sex.
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell with Jeffrey Epstein, who with her help abused teenage girls, according to US federal charges against her
Four women who allegedly suffered at the hands of the duo are key witnesses in the trial, which is taking place under intense media attention.
Masked and wearing a beige sweater and black slacks, the 59-year-old daughter of the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell fidgeted during the final steps of jury selection, frequently passing notes with her legal team, before staring stoically as the government delivered its opening arguments.
She could spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted.
- Epstein’s ‘right-hand’ partner -
Maxwell, whose sister Isabel was seated in the courtroom’s gallery, has pleaded not guilty to all six counts.
Her legal team is aiming to spear accusers’ stories as “thin,” and their memories as “unreliable.”
In opening statements attorney Bobbi Sternheim argued their recollections have faded or been “corrupted” by forces including media attention and the prospect of “a big jackpot of money” in potential civil suits against Epstein’s estate.
Isabel Maxwell leaves the courthouse at the end of the first day of her sister Ghislaine Maxwell's sex trafficking trial in federal court on November 29, 2021 in New York City
Sternheim meanwhile cast Maxwell as a “target” being blamed for the late Epstein’s crimes.
The lawyer dubbed Maxwell a “bullseye” for “anger from women who were or who believe they were victimized by Epstein,” whose death left “a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice,” she said.
Maxwell is “filling that hole,” Sternheim said.
But Pomerantz said that during the period the charges against her cover, 1994-2004, Maxwell was Epstein’s “right-hand” partner, winning the trust of girls as young as 14 and then conditioning them to give nude massages and then sex to the late magnate.
Maxwell “knew exactly what Epstein was going to do to those children when she sent them in those massage rooms” in Epstein’s luxurious homes in New Mexico, Manhattan, Paris and Palm Beach, Florida, the prosecutor said.
Epstein was a multi-million-dollar money manager who befriended countless celebrities, including Britain’s Prince Andrew, and was accused of providing them with women, including minors.
Factfile on Ghislaine Maxwell who was arrested in July 2020 and charged with sex trafficking minors for late financier Jeffrey Epstein
Prosecutors say Maxwell facilitated and took part in the abuse of the four unidentified women, befriending them with shopping and movie theater trips before coaxing them to engage in sex acts with Epstein, later giving them money.
Following opening statements the prosecution called its first witness, Lawrence Visoski, who worked as a pilot for Epstein from 1991 to 2019.
During initial questioning, which is set to continue Tuesday, Visoski described Maxwell’s general relationship to Epstein, which he called “couple-ish” as he depicted their jet-set lifestyle and the businessman’s luxury properties.
- Facing 80-year sentence -
Epstein, who for years skirted charges with the help of flawed laws, powerful connections and sympathetic law enforcement, was arrested in July 2019.
But a month later he committed suicide while in prison.
Prosecutors vowed to go after anyone who helped him in the abuse of the girls, and arrested Maxwell in July 2020.
The trial is expected to stretch over six weeks, and Maxwell faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Due to the continued threat of Covid-19, plexiglass boxes with air filters have been set up for the witnesses and questioning attorneys.
In the days leading up to the trial fake claims spread across social media – and were echoed by some prominent political conservatives – that the judge in the case had banned media coverage, ostensibly to protect Epstein’s powerful friends and associates.
Yet hundreds of professional journalists gathered at the courthouse Monday, with some reporters allowed in the courtroom, in limited numbers due to the pandemic.
The proceedings are not being televised – as is customary in accordance with federal law – but dozens more journalists observed the trial from separate overflow viewing rooms inside the courthouse.