Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of sex trafficking, other charges related to Jeffrey Epstein's abuse of girls
Socialite charged with recruiting, grooming teenaged girls for convicted sex offender
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted on Wednesday by a New York federal court jury of luring teenage girls to be sexually abused by the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The verdict capped a month-long trial featuring sordid accounts of the sexual exploitation of girls as young as 14, told by four women who described being abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein's palatial homes in Florida, New York and New Mexico.
Jurors deliberated for five full days before finding Maxwell guilty on five of six counts.
With the maximum prison terms for each charge ranging from five to 40 years in prison, Maxwell faces the likelihood of years behind bars — an outcome long sought by women who spent years fighting in civil courts to hold her accountable for her role in recruiting and grooming Epstein's teenage victims and sometimes joining in the sexual abuse.
As the verdict was read, Maxwell was largely stoic behind a black mask. Afterward, she could be seen pouring herself water as one of her lawyers patted her back. She stood with her hands folded as jurors filed out and glanced at her siblings — faithfully in attendance each day of the trial — as she was led from the courtroom.
She did not hug her lawyers on the way out, a marked change from previous days during which Maxwell and her team were often physically affectionate with one another.
One of her victims, Annie Farmer, said she was grateful the jury recognized Maxwell's "pattern of predatory behaviour."
"She has caused hurt to many more women than the few of us who had the chance to testify in the courtroom," Farmer said in a prepared statement. "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."
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams praised the victims who testified against Maxwell after experiencing what he called "one of the worst crimes imaginable."
"I want to commend the bravery of the girls — now grown women — who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom. Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case, and today's result, possible," he said in a statement.
No sentencing date was set.
The defence had insisted Maxwell was a victim of a vindictive prosecution devised to deliver justice to women deprived of their main villain when Epstein killed himself while awaiting trial in 2019.
Family believes Maxwell is innocent
Her brother, Kevin Maxwell, said the family believes she will be vindicated on appeal. "We firmly believe in our sister's innocence," he said in a written statement.
During the trial, prosecutors called 24 witnesses to give jurors a picture of life inside Epstein's homes — a subject of public fascination and speculation ever since his 2006 arrest in Florida in a child sex case.
A housekeeper testified he was expected to be "blind, deaf and dumb" about the private lives of Epstein, a financier who cultivated friendships with influential politicians and business tycoons, and Maxwell, who had led a jet-setting lifestyle as the favourite child of a media mogul.
Pilots took the witness stand and dropped the names of luminaries — Britain's Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump — who flew on Epstein's private jets.
Jurors saw physical evidence like a folding massage table once used by Epstein and a "black book" that listed contact information for some of the victims under the heading "massages."
There were bank records showing he had transferred $30.7 million US to Maxwell, his longtime companion — one-time girlfriend, later employee.
4 women's testimony
But the core of the prosecution was the testimony of four women who said they were victimized by Maxwell and Epstein at tender ages.
Three testified using first names or pseudonyms to protect their privacy: Jane, a television actress; Kate, a former model from Great Britain; and Carolyn, now a mom recovering from drug addiction. The fourth was Farmer, who chose to use her real name after being vocal about her allegations in recent years.
They echoed one another in their descriptions of Maxwell's behaviour: She used charm and gifts to gain their trust, taking an interest in their adolescent challenges and giving them assurances that Epstein could use his wealth and connections to fulfil their dreams.
They said the script would darken when Maxwell coaxed them into giving massages to Epstein that turned sexual, encounters she played off as normal: After one sexual massage, Kate, then 17, said Maxwell asked her if she'd had fun and told her: "You are such a good girl."
Carolyn testified that she was one of several underprivileged teens who lived near Epstein's Florida home in the early 2000s and took up an offer to give massages in exchange for $100 bills, which prosecutors described as "a pyramid of abuse."
Maxwell made all the arrangements, Carolyn told the jury, even though she knew the girl was only 14 at the time.
Didn't take stand
Maxwell, who turned 60 on Christmas, vehemently denied the charges through her lawyers.
Still, she declined to take the risk of testifying, telling the judge: "The government has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt so there is no reason for me to testify."
"The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did," one of Maxwell's lawyers, Bobbi Sternheim, emphasized to the jury. "But she is not Jeffrey Epstein and she is not like Jeffrey Epstein."
Maxwell's legal team questioned whether the accusers' memories were faulty, or had been influenced by lawyers seeking big payouts from Maxwell and from Epstein's estate in civil court.
Maxwell's family complained she was under duress from harsh conditions at the Brooklyn jail where she's been held since her arrest in July 2020. She had repeatedly, and futilely, sought bail, arguing that she was unable to adequately contribute to her defence.
With files from Reuters