A defense lawyer suggested to jurors on Monday that the sex trafficking case against Ghislaine Maxwell was a misdirected effort by prosecutors who targeted her because they had lost the chance to put the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein on trial.
The lawyer, Bobbi C. Sternheim, took her turn addressing jurors after a prosecutor delivered a 35-minute opening statement that painted Ms. Maxwell in harsh terms as someone who “played an essential role” in a decade-long scheme to entice and manipulate teenage girls who were groomed methodically then sexually abused by Mr. Epstein.
Ms. Sternheim described her client as a “scapegoat” for Mr. Epstein’s actions. “Ever since Eve was accused of tempting Adam with the apple,” she said, “Women have been blamed for the bad behavior of men.”
She went on to say that Mr. Epstein’s death, while in federal custody in Manhattan, had left “a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice” for many people. Ms. Maxwell is “filling that hole,” Ms. Sternheim added. “Filling that empty chair.”
Ms. Sternheim urged jurors to be skeptical of the accounts they would hear from four witnesses who are expected to testify that they were abused by Mr. Epstein, saying: “This case is about memory, manipulation and money.”
She added that accusations from “the mouths of four accusers” include “unreliable and suspect” memories that could have been “corrupted” over the years or “contaminated” by “constant media reports.”
Ms. Sternheim also suggested repeatedly that testimony in Ms. Maxwell’s trial could be connected to a “desire for a big jackpot of money.”
At one point, Ms. Sternheim likened Mr. Epstein to a “21st century James Bond,” saying that his mystique had spurred curiosity and “his accusers have shaken the money tree.”
During her opening statement, Ms. Sternheim also sought to counter parts of the government’s narrative. Prosecutors had presented Ms. Maxwell as helping to lure girls who were sometimes flown by private jet to one of Mr. Epstein’s residences where they were said to have been abused.
The flights took place, Ms. Sternheim acknowledged but they should be thought of as a sort of “Hamptons Jitney in the air,” ferrying an array of Mr. Epstein’s many accomplished friends, including academics and a former astronaut.
And, Ms. Sternheim told jurors, some activity that prosecutors had referred to as “grooming” was “lawful conduct.”
“The government wants you to put a sinister, subjective motive,” she said, “where the evidence will show none existed.”
A federal prosecutor described Ghislaine Maxwell as a “predator” who targeted young girls for sexual abuse, as opening arguments in the former socialite’s trial began Monday afternoon in a Manhattan courtroom.
“The defendant sexually exploited young girls,” Lara Pomerantz, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the jury, saying Ms. Maxwell developed trust with girls, “helped normalize abusive sexual conduct” and then “served them up” to Jeffrey Epstein, her longtime companion.
Ms. Maxwell, 59, the daughter of a British media tycoon, faces six counts stemming from what prosecutors say was her role in facilitating the sexual exploitation and abuse of girls by Mr. Epstein. She has steadfastly maintained her innocence.
Ms. Pomerantz on Monday depicted Ms. Maxwell as more than just a facilitator of Mr. Epstein’s abuse, saying they were “partners in crime.” In addition to bringing girls in as masseuses for Mr. Epstein, Ms. Maxwell was sometimes in the room while the abuse took place and sometimes touched the girls herself, Ms. Pomerantz said.
“Behind closed doors, the defendant and Epstein were committing heinous crimes,” Ms. Pomerantz said. “They were sexually abusing teenage girls.” (Ms. Maxwell is not charged with sexual abuse.)
The recruitment of girls for abuse “evolved over the course of a decade,” Ms. Pomerantz said. In the 1990s, she said, Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein themselves recruited girls, under the guise of mentorship and scholarship opportunities. By the 2000s, Ms. Pomerantz said, “they had devised a pyramid scheme of abuse,” in which they encouraged girls to recruit other young girls.
On Monday, Ms. Maxwell entered the courtroom without handcuffs, wearing a cream-colored sweater and black pants. About two dozen spectators lined the courtroom benches during opening statements.
The charges against Ms. Maxwell center on four accusers who say she groomed them to be abused by Mr. Epstein between 1994 and 2004, when they were underage. Those accusers, now adults, are expected to testify at trial, some under pseudonyms or with partial names, prosecutors have said.
Ms. Pomerantz began her opening with the story of one of those accusers, identified in court only as “Jane,” who Ms. Pomerantz said met Mr. Epstein and Ms. Maxwell when the couple visited a summer camp for talented children. Jane was 14, Ms. Pomerantz said, and “this meeting was the beginning of a nightmare that would last for years.”
Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers have signaled that they will try to undermine the credibility of the accusers’ testimony and question the government’s motives for bringing a case against Ms. Maxwell. Her trial is widely seen as a proxy for the prosecution of Mr. Epstein, which was thwarted when he died in custody in 2019, about a month after his arrest.
Ms. Pomerantz suggested a possible motive for Ms. Maxwell’s participation, noting that as the abuse took place, Ms. Maxwell was “jet-setting in private planes and living a life of extraordinary luxury.”
The girls, Ms. Pomerantz said, “were just a means to support her lifestyle,” a way of making sure that Epstein, “who demanded constant sexual gratification from young girls, remained satisfied.”
The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell got underway in earnest on Monday afternoon, with opening statements from the prosecution defense, after resolving some last minute issues involving two jurors.
Ms. Maxwell, 59, the daughter of a British media mogul and once a fixture in New York City’s social scene, faces six counts stemming from what prosecutors say was her role in facilitating the sexual exploitation and abuse of teenage girls and young women by Jeffrey Epstein, her longtime companion.
Even in death, Mr. Epstein looms over Ms. Maxwell’s trial, and his conduct is at the heart of the case. The trial is expected to provide a window into the life of one of the most notorious sex offenders in modern American history: Mr. Epstein’s exploits, his dealings with the criminal justice system and his death have been the subject of books, exposés, podcasts, conspiracy theories, lawsuits, investigations and documentaries. But they have never been aired in a federal trial.
Prosecutors say Ms. Maxwell “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to” Mr. Epstein’s crimes by helping him recruit, groom and abuse girls who were under 18.
Ms. Maxwell has denied wrongdoing. Her lawyers have questioned the motives of the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office in bringing the case, which is widely seen as a proxy for trying Mr. Epstein himself. The disgraced financier was arrested on sex-trafficking charges in July 2019 and was found dead in a Manhattan jail cell a month later.
A long line of spectators and members of the news media lined up outside the courthouse in Lower Manhattan in the early morning hours on Monday, with hopes of being able to watch the first day of Ms. Maxwell’s trial. Unlike in the recent televised state trials of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wis., and of three men who were convicted in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga., there will be no video or recordings of Ms. Maxwell’s case, as cameras are barred from federal courtrooms.
The trial, which is expected to last around six weeks, is likely to include graphic testimony — including from women who say Mr. Epstein abused them when they were teenagers — and accounts from inside Mr. Epstein’s entourage. Possible government witnesses include at least one of his pilots and a former employee.
While the charged conduct in the case dates from around 1994 to 2004, Judge Alison J. Nathan has said she will allow prosecutors to present evidence that extends beyond this date range.
The jury will learn about the details of Mr. Epstein’s household and also about psychological terms like “grooming,” which is used to describe deliberate efforts made to make somebody — in this case, young girls — susceptible to abuse.
Jurors may also learn about the identities of other people who federal prosecutors say conspired with Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein in the sex-trafficking ring, pretrial filings show. They may learn of “influential men” whom Ms. Maxwell offered to set up on dates with young women, and others with whom Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein socialized.
After a two-hour delay, a jury has been sworn in for Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial in downtown Manhattan, and opening statements are set to begin after lunch.
Eleventh-hour juror conflicts delayed the start of the trial, as two members of the panel raised scheduling and work-related issues.
At around 10 a.m., Judge Alison J. Nathan read out 18 numbers of potential jurors from a whittled-down pool culled from 231 candidates over several days of selection, and seated the jury. The anonymous jurors — including six alternates — were sent out of the courtroom. Opening arguments seemed to be about to begin.
But about 20 minutes later, Judge Nathan told the courtroom that one juror’s employer had told the juror it might not pay a salary during the expected six-week trial. Another juror’s spouse had booked a surprise trip over the Christmas holiday, which would interfere with two days of trial.
Balking by jurors late in the game is not uncommon, but neither is last-minute juror wrangling. Shortly before noon, Judge Nathan told the courtroom she had spoken with the first juror’s employer and had urged the employer to reconsider the leave policy — and she was giving the employer 10 minutes to figure it out.
That stretched into the next hour, as Judge Nathan continued ex parte negotiations with the employer. At around 12:15, she asked the prosecutors and the defense if they wanted to dismiss the juror or name an additional alternate from the remaining prospective jurors left in the pool, who were waiting elsewhere in the federal courthouse.
The decision was made to wait. As for the juror with the surprise vacation, Judge Nathan said she planned to keep that person on the jury.
At around 12:35, Judge Nathan said the employer issue had been resolved.
Ghislaine Maxwell, 59, a former girlfriend and business associate of Jeffrey Epstein, goes on trial Monday on charges that she helped recruit and traffic young women and girls to have sex with Mr. Epstein.
Ms. Maxwell, whose first name is pronounced ghee-LANE, is the youngest of nine children. She was born in France and grew up in a 53-room mansion in Buckinghamshire, England.
Her father, Robert Maxwell, was a publishing and media mogul. He founded Pergamon Press, a publishing house for science and medical books, owned the British tabloid The Mirror and had stakes in MTV Europe and Macmillan, an American publishing house. He would go on to buy The Daily News.
Ms. Maxwell moved to the U.S. in 1991 after her father’s death, and while living in a modest apartment on the Upper East Side, she began dating Mr. Epstein.
She and Mr. Epstein became close, and by the late 1990s, she was, as one former employee said, “the lady of the house,” because of how much time she spent at Mr. Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion.
Her personality was magnetic and she attracted high-profile visitors to the estate, including former President Donald J. Trump and Prince Andrew of Britain. Christopher Mason, a friend of Ms. Maxwell and a journalist, described her in 2019 to The New York Times as “saucy” and “fantastically entertaining.”
Ms. Maxwell moved in 2000 to a 7,000-square-foot townhouse that was less than 10 blocks away from Mr. Epstein’s mansion. The house cost $4.95 million and was purchased by an anonymous limited liability company with the same address as the office of J. Epstein & Co.
She continued to spend time at Mr. Epstein’s Florida and New York mansions, and, according to former employees, lawsuits and law enforcement officials, Ms. Maxwell helped recruit masseuses for Mr. Epstein, some of them teenagers.
But Mr. Epstein, who killed himself in 2019, was charged with sexually exploiting those minors during those massages. And Ms. Maxwell is accused of helping to facilitate the abuse.
Ghislaine Maxwell faces six counts in her federal trial, which relate to accusations that she facilitated the sexual exploitation of girls for her longtime companion, the disgraced financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The six counts center on the accounts of four accusers. The charges include:
One count of enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, in which Ms. Maxwell is accused of coercing one girl — identified as Minor Victim 1 in charging documents — to travel from Florida to New York, between 1994 and 1997, to engage in sex acts with Mr. Epstein.
One count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sex acts, which accuses Ms. Maxwell of bringing the same girl from Florida to New York on numerous occasions.
One count of sex trafficking of a minor, which charges that between 2001 and 2004, Ms. Maxwell recruited, enticed and transported another girl — identified in the charges as Minor Victim 4 — to engage in at least one commercial sex act with Mr. Epstein.
And three counts of conspiracy, which are related to the other counts. The conspiracy counts in the indictment are more expansive, involving all four accusers and homes in the United States and in London. These charges involve accusations that Ms. Maxwell worked with Mr. Epstein to secure underage girls for sex acts, for example, by encouraging one to give Mr. Epstein massages in London between 1994 and 1995.
Ms. Maxwell, 59, could face a lengthy prison term if convicted. Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors carries a maximum 40 year sentence; the other charges have maximum penalties of five or 10 years.
When Ms. Maxwell was arrested in July 2020, she was also charged with two counts of perjury, accusing her of lying under oath in 2016 during depositions for a lawsuit related to Mr. Epstein. In April, Judge Alison J. Nathan granted the defense’s request to sever the perjury counts, which will be tried separately.
Ghislaine Maxwell, a former girlfriend and longtime associate of Jeffrey Epstein, accused him and his estate in a March 2020 lawsuit of not following through on promises to pay her legal fees. The lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court in the U.S. Virgin Islands, appears to have been at a standstill since August 2020.
Ms. Maxwell argued in the lawsuit that Mr. Epstein promised to support her financially numerous times, including in writing and in conversation. She also argued that Darren Indyke, a longtime lawyer for Mr. Epstein and the executor of Mr. Epstein’s estate, also said the estate would pay her legal fees.
But her legal fees mounted as numerous women accused her of having helped Mr. Epstein recruit young women for sex trafficking. Those fees were not paid, she argued, and a letter she sent to the estate in November 2019 had been ignored.
It remained unclear who was footing the bill for Ms. Maxwell’s defense as opening arguments were expected to start on Monday in her sex-trafficking trial in Manhattan federal court.
Mr. Indyke and Richard D. Kahn, another executor of the state, responded in May 2020 by asking the court to dismiss the case. They pointed to a U.S. Virgin Islands law that prevented Ms. Maxwell from filing a complaint against the estate until September 2020. They called her lawsuit “premature.” Ms. Maxwell agreed shortly afterward to halt proceedings until September 2020.
But in July 2020, U.S. Virgin Island authorities moved to intervene in the case. They noted that Ms. Maxwell had just been arrested, and that Mr. Indyke and Mr. Kahn had a pending civil action against them accusing them of involvement in Mr. Epstein’s sex-trafficking scheme. In its court papers, the government’s lawyers argued Mr. Epstein’s assets should not be “wrongfully dissipated by Maxwell’s suspect claims” regarding paying her legal fees.
Government lawyers also moved to intervene on the ground that Ms. Maxwell had ignored a subpoena in a Virgin Islands investigation into whether she had participated in Mr. Epstein’s sex-trafficking scheme. They called her use of the courts “inappropriate.” The government gave her until August 2020 to respond to the motion.
But there has been no further movement in the case since August 2020, according to documents filed on the case docket. Ms. Maxwell has been in jail since July 2020.
A science teacher, a real estate broker, two retired judges and a former personal assistant who reads at least one book a day: They were among the dozens of prospective jurors who appeared in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday as jury selection wrapped up in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial.
A pool of 231 candidates was whittled down to just under five dozen earlier this month during two-and-a-half days of jury selection, where prosecutors, Ms. Maxwell and her lawyers watched as Judge Alison J. Nathan asked each of them a series of questions, including what they knew about Ms. Maxwell and her longtime companion, Jeffrey Epstein, and if that information would affect their ability to be impartial.
Many of the potential jurors said they had heard or seen news reports about Mr. Epstein, a financier who died in July 2019 at a Manhattan detention center while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. His death was later ruled a suicide.
Yet most said they knew little, if anything, about Ms. Maxwell. Some prospective jurors told the court they had seen her name appear in headlines, articles or nightly newscasts in connection to Mr. Epstein, and a few recalled seeing photographs of them together. And while others remembered a bit more, like the nature of the charges against her, all 58 said that, whatever they had heard, they could set it aside and decide the case based on the facts presented at trial.
“It’s my duty as a citizen to be impartial,” said one 25-year-old Walgreens manager, who will be a part of Monday’s jury pool. “This is the cornerstone of our justice system, so I have to do my job.”
As Judge Nathan questioned the jurors about their education, occupations and their familiarity with names and places that were likely to come up during the trial, Ms. Maxwell periodically scribbled in her notebook, ran her fingers through her dark hair and adjusted the collar of her black turtleneck. From time to time she also put her arm around the shoulders of her lawyer, Bobbi C. Sternheim, and whispered in her ear.
On the final day of the jury selection process, Ms. Maxwell embraced each member of her defense team and blew kisses to her sister, Isabel Maxwell, before two U.S. marshals escorted her out of the courtroom.
The final jury was chosen on Monday morning ahead of opening arguments.
The sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, a former girlfriend and longtime associate of Jeffrey Epstein, is set to begin Monday. Here are some of the events that led to the highly anticipated trial:
July 7, 2019
Mr. Epstein was arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
Federal prosecutors accused Mr. Epstein of engaging in criminal sex acts with minors and women, some as young as 14.
Aug. 10, 2019
Mr. Epstein killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell.
Mr. Epstein hanged himself in his jail cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center; he was not under suicide watch at the time of his death. He had just been denied bail on federal sex trafficking charges.
Ms. Maxwell sued Mr. Epstein’s estate.
Ms. Maxwell said in the lawsuit that Mr. Epstein and Darren Indyke, a longtime lawyer for Mr. Epstein and the executor of his estate, both promised to pay her legal fees, but she said they hadn’t. Her legal fees mounted as more women claimed she helped Mr. Epstein recruit them for sexual activity when they were underage.
Ms. Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire.
The indictment listed three minor victims who say they were recruited by Ms. Maxwell from 1994 to 1997 for criminal sexual activity.
Ms. Maxwell asks for release on $5 million bond.
Her lawyers asked a federal judge in Manhattan to release her from jail on $5 million bond. Judge Alison J. Nathan of the Federal District Court in Manhattan denied the request after prosecutors argued that Ms. Maxwell posed a high risk of fleeing before her trial.
Ms. Maxwell calls jail “oppressive.”
Ms. Maxwell asked again to be released, this time on $28.5 million bond, arguing that the conditions of her Brooklyn jail were “oppressive.” But once again the request was denied, after prosecutors said the probability she would flee was extremely high. Prosecutors also said the conditions in jail were reasonable, pointing to her personal shower, phone and two computers.
Ms. Maxwell is charged with sex trafficking a 14-year-old.
A new indictment accuses Ms. Maxwell of grooming an additional minor. She is charged with sex trafficking a 14-year-old girl who engaged in sexual acts with Mr. Epstein at his Palm Beach, Fla., estate.
Ms. Maxwell goes on trial.
Opening arguments are set for Monday.