A federal jury on Wednesday found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of operating a sex-trafficking ring with her late boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein, capping a decades-long effort to bring the two to justice for victimizing dozens of girls as young as 14.
She was convicted on five of six charges, after a two-and-a-half-week trial in a Manhattan federal courthouse. Maxwell now faces a second trial on two perjury charges. The 60-year-old potentially faces decades in prison.
Before they were outed as sexual predators, Maxwell and Epstein were fixtures of high society on both sides of the Atlantic. She was a British socialite, and he lived the life of a billionaire — complete with a private island, private jets, and personal assistants who cleaned his sex toys — without any obvious source of income. They variously jet-setted with Bill Clinton, dined with Bill Gates, partied with Donald Trump before he was president, and palled around with the Duke of York, Prince Andrew. The couple’s “little black books,” introduced as evidence at trial, were directories of the most influential people on the planet.
Behind the glitz was a dark secret. They used their wealth and privilege to shelter themselves from retribution for abusing teenage girls for years. An initial police investigation into Epstein more than a decade ago in Palm Beach ended in a sweetheart non-prosecution deal negotiated by Epstein’s high-powered attorneys with the top federal prosecutor in Miami, Alexander Acosta, who was later forced to resign as Trump’s Labor secretary after a Miami Herald series exposed the circumstances surrounding the agreement.
Even after Epstein emerged from a lenient state jail term as a registered sex offender, his elite friends helped prop him up, appearing to turn the other way regarding his sexual relationships with teenage girls. Epstein organized a science event with Stephen Hawking, attended a tech dinner with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. He hosted a dinner party at his Manhattan mansion attended by Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos, and Prince Andrew — who has been accused of sexually abusing one of Epstein’s victims, though he denies the allegations. It wasn’t until the Miami Herald highlighted Epstein’s alleged misdeeds in 2018 that Manhattan federal prosecutors turned their sights to him and subsequently to Maxwell.
She was indicted in July 2020, roughly one year after Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on federal charges of the sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy. Maxwell’s lawyers argued in court that the criminal case against her was merely a desperate effort by prosecutors to compensate for the loss of their prime target.
“She is a scapegoat for a man who behaved badly,” her lawyer Bobbi Sternheim told the jury in opening remarks. “She is a target, a bull’s-eye of anger for women who were or otherwise believed they were victimized by Epstein.”
But prosecutors and witnesses told a very different story, recalling exploitation, grooming, and sexual abuse — all at the hands of Maxwell herself. In the words of prosecutor Lara Pomerantz, Maxwell “preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them, and served them up to be sexually abused.” Maxwell was the “lady of the house,” Pomerantz said, and she and Epstein were “partners in crime.”
The jury heard testimony from four alleged victims, three of whom testified using pseudonyms or only their first names. All recalled meeting Epstein and Maxwell as young teenagers, at times when their families were stretched financially or had a single or sick parent. Maxwell, an older, educated, and stylish woman with a clipped British accent connoting sophistication, would befriend them, prosecutors said, coaxing them into situations where Epstein could prey on them.
With her help, prosecutors alleged, he sexually abused them, rewarding them afterward with handfuls of cash, and eventually convinced many of them to recruit others in order to earn even more money.
“Jane” recalled visiting Epstein’s Palm Beach estate beginning when she was 14. Epstein and Maxwell bought her gifts and took her shopping, on one occasion to Victoria’s Secret, where they bought her white cotton briefs. Jane’s family was living in their friend’s pool house at the time because Jane’s father had recently died and they were homeless, and Epstein began giving her cash. One day, when Jane was still 14, Epstein took her by the hand, led her into a room, pulled down his pants and masturbated onto her, she said. “I was frozen in fear,” Jane told the jury.
Shortly after that attack, she said, Epstein and Maxwell took Jane to a bedroom in the house, took off their clothes and instructed her to remove her top. Then they fondled each other. During every subsequent visit to his home, Jane testified, she was instructed to give Epstein a massage that included touching his penis, and he often touched her, sometimes using a sex toy on her. She said Maxwell also sometimes participated and would touch her breasts. Whenever she would be summoned to see Epstein, Jane said, she would feel “my heart sink into my stomach.”
Several of the charges against Maxwell concerned interstate travel, and Jane testified that Epstein and Maxwell brought her on his private planes to his homes in New York City and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that Epstein, sometimes with Maxwell present, would sexually abuse her at those locations, too.
Prosecutors repeatedly made the point that Epstein used his extreme wealth to keep vulnerable girls coming back to him. In Jane’s case, Epstein eventually paid for her tuition at a private high school for performing-arts students and picked up the tab for a New York City apartment for her mother.
Another witness, who went by “Kate,” testified that Maxwell said her boyfriend could help her with her aspiring music career and convinced her to go to his house to give him a massage, which turned into the first of many sexual encounters. On another occasion, Maxwell gave Kate a schoolgirl outfit to wear for Epstein, and she was gifted a small black Prada handbag.
Kate first met Maxwell and Epstein in Britain when she was 17; because she was over the age of consent, the judge said her testimony could be used only to corroborate patterns in Maxwell and Epstein’s behavior.
After Maxwell’s lawyers suggested that Kate had memory lapses owing to drug use, she told the jury that her memories regarding Epstein and Maxwell were clear because she was “terrified and frozen.”
“I remember what happened when I was 17 with Ghislaine and Jeffrey because those events come back to me all the time,” Kate said. “I have nightmares about them.”
But perhaps the most devastating testimony came from a victim who testified under her first name, Carolyn. Unlike Jane, who became a successful soap-opera actress, or Kate, who ended up modeling in Europe, Carolyn testified that she eventually worked for an escort service and as a stripper.
Her mother was an alcoholic and drug addict, and Carolyn said she began visiting Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion at age 14 to make money. During the years she visited Epstein’s home, he would often send a Town Car to pick her up because she was too young to drive herself.
Carolyn told the jury that she gave Epstein massages that often escalated into sexual encounters and that twice another girl entered the massage room while she was there and Epstein had intercourse with the girl while she performed oral sex on Carolyn.
She also testified that Maxwell entered the massage room while she was setting up one day and Maxwell “felt my boobs and my hips and my buttocks and said … that I had a great body for Mr. Epstein and his friends.” Carolyn was 14 at the time.
During rigorous questioning from defense counsel suggesting Maxwell played little role in her abuse, Carolyn said: “The only thing Ms. Maxwell was involved in was fondling and touching my breasts and my buttocks, and for that, my soul is broken and so is my heart.”
Beyond victims, several of Epstein’s former employees testified. Prosecutors suggested that Maxwell was motivated in part by her desire for Epstein to support her lifestyle after the death of her father, the British media baron Robert Maxwell.
One of Epstein’s pilots told the jury that when he first met Maxwell, she lived in a large apartment at 59th Street and Columbus Circle. After her father died in 1991, she moved to a significantly smaller apartment, the pilot recalled. Eventually, though, during the years she became closer and closer with Epstein, she abandoned the smaller apartment for a spacious townhouse on the Upper East Side, not far from Epstein’s mansion.
Prosecutors introduced evidence showing that between 1999 and 2007, Epstein gave Maxwell about $30 million, what prosecutors said was effectively compensation for her work procuring girls for Epstein. “You know exactly what that money was for,” assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe told jurors.
The prosecution had its share of hiccups, however. Though prosecutors had planned to call one of Jane’s brothers as a witness, they discovered that hours after Jane testified, she called her brother and told him about a document she had been asked about on the stand. She also described the defense attorney who cross-examined her “using an expletive that rhymes with ‘front,’” as one of Maxwell’s attorneys told the judge. Prosecutors ended up dropping Jane’s brother as a witness.
Maxwell’s attorneys sought to demonstrate that witness testimony was the product of, in the words of attorney Laura Menninger, “erroneous memories, manipulation and money,” citing in particular a victim-compensation fund that awarded millions to those abused by Epstein, including the witnesses who testified at Maxwell’s trial.
The defense called a handful of witnesses for its own case, but none offered testimony that did much to defuse the accounts of the victims. One defense witness, Elizabeth Loftus, a professor who specializes in studying “false memory,” appeared to have made a career out of testifying on behalf of defendants, even having written a book titled Witness for the Defense. She said she was billing Maxwell $600 an hour to testify.
Another defense witness, a former beauty queen and doctor named Eva Dubin, who dated Epstein for seven or eight years in the 1980s, testified that she never witnessed Epstein express interest in young girls. But in addition to saying seemingly little that could exonerate Maxwell, Dubin admitted that she had problems with her memory due to what she termed as medical issues.
In the end, Maxwell’s attorneys proclaimed both her ignorance — “Everyone knew that Jeffrey was keeping secrets from Ghislaine, except Ghislaine,” Menninger told jurors in her closing arguments — and her innocence, saying she shouldn’t be punished for her relationship with Epstein.
“She’s being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein,” said Menninger. “And maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life, but it was not a crime.”
But prosecutors spoke directly to the notion that Maxwell was a bystander or an unwitting participant.
“The evidence at this trial showed you that Ghislaine Maxwell made her own choices. She committed crimes hand-in-hand with Jeffrey Epstein. She was a grown woman who knew exactly what she was doing,” Moe told jurors. “And now she’s sitting here in this courtroom being held accountable for breaking the law.”