Ghislaine Maxwell pleads not guilty in trafficking case

Maxwell, who faces up to 35 years in federal prison, was denied bail and will remain in custody

Ghislaine Maxwell appeared in Manhattan federal court via video feed on Tuesday, to plead not guilty regarding her alleged involvement in Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking of minor girls.

She was denied bail and will remain in custody, following lengthy arguments in which prosecutors painted her as a flight risk. The court also heard testimony from accusers. One, in an anonymous statement read to the court, described “the sociopathic manner in which [Maxwell] nurtured our [relationships]” and said that “she would have done anything to get what she wanted, to satisfy Mr Epstein”.

Long out of the public eye, Maxwell, 58, appeared unsettled, a far cry from the glamorous, jet-setting image she once cultivated. She removed her glasses and mostly looked at the screen. At times, she shook her head.

Maxwell was arrested on 2 July at a Bradford, New Hampshire, estate. She is charged in a 17-page indictment with conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and perjury.

If convicted, Maxwell faces up to 35 years in federal prison.

“Ms Maxwell,” Judge Alison Nathan asked, “have you had an opportunity to discuss the indictment in this case with your attorney?”

Maxwell said she had and waived a public reading of the indictment. Asked how she pleaded, she said: “Not guilty, your honor.”

Born in Maisons-Laffitte, Île-de-France, in 1961, Ghislaine Maxwell is the youngest of the nine children of Betty and Robert Maxwell, the media tycoon owner of the Mirror Group.

Ghislaine was rumoured to be his favourite child, and the former Labour MP named his £15m ($18.6m) yacht Lady Ghislaine after her. He put his daughter in charge of the football club he owned, Oxford United, and when he acquired the New York Daily News, he reportedly sent Ghislaine to warm up Manhattan society for his arrival.

Following her father’s death in 1991 – after apparently falling overboard from Lady Ghislaine near the Canary Islands – Ghislaine Maxwell flew to New York onboard a Concorde. She left behind a huge uproar over $460m found to be missing from her father’s companies’ pensions funds.

Her family’s wealth, status and influence considerably depleted, Maxwell found something of a replacement in her relationship with  Jeffrey Epstein. Their relationship was initially romantic, but it evolved into something more akin to that of a close friend, confidante and personal assistant. Epstein was later convicted of sex offences, and subsequently died in prison in 2019.

In 2015, Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers, sued Maxwell, alleging Epstein's confidante defamed her by claiming she was a liar in her accusations against the pair. Giuffre has accused Maxwell of recruiting her to work as Epstein’s masseuse at the age 15, when she was a locker-room attendant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in south Florida. Documents released as part of the lawsuit contain lurid claims about the alleged sex trafficking.

In July 2020, after having been in hiding, Maxwell was arrested by the FBI on charges related to Jeffrey Epstein. She has pleaded not guilty, was refused bail, and will remain in custody.

She is charged in a 17-page indictment with conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and perjury. If convicted, Maxwell faces up to 35 years in federal prison.

The court video feed featured four panels, one showing Maxwell, one her defense team, one the judge and one prosecutors. Audio cut out continually and the judge told Maxwell to inform her if the audio feed didn’t work.

“Thank you, your honor, I will do that,” Maxwell said.

Prosecutors read a statement from one of Maxwell’s accusers, identified as Jane Doe. Maxwell, the statement said, “enjoyed drawing her victims in with perceived caring”. The same accuser also described Maxwell’s “sociopathic manner”.

Another accuser, Annie Farmer, spoke to the court by phone. Maxwell “tormented her survivors”, she said.

Maxwell has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Her lawyers have said she “vigorously denies the charges” and is “entitled to the presumption of innocence”.

But in court papers, prosecutors insisted she posed an “extreme risk of flight” owing to her vast wealth and background. Maxwell is a citizen of France, the UK and the US, possessing passports for all three countries. France, prosecutors noted, “does not extradite its citizens to the United States pursuant to French law”.

Maxwell, they further claimed, “appears to be skilled at living in hiding”. When FBI agents arrived at the “remote” 156-acre property, she “tried to flee” and agents discovered a “cellphone wrapped in tin foil” which they maintain was “a seemingly misguided effort to evade detection … by law enforcement”.

Prosecutors also said they learned Maxwell “had hired a security company staffed with former members of the British military to guard [her] at the New Hampshire property, in rotations”.

“There are no conditions of bail that would assure the defendant’s presence in court proceedings in this case,” they wrote. “Accordingly, any application for bail should be denied.”

In court, pointing to such “serious red flags”, the US attorney Alison Moe claimed Maxwell was not being forthright about her finances, having claimed a “monthly income of nothing, zero dollars per month of income”.

“It is simply implausible,” Moe said, “especially given the lifestyle she’s been living. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Maxwell also told pre-trial services she “does not know the name of the corporation” that purchased the New Hampshire property, “but … was just permitted to stay in the house”.

A real estate agent involved in the property’s sale in November 2019, meanwhile, told an FBI agent two people seeking to buy it, who apparently introduced themselves as Scott and Janet Marshall, “both had British accents”. The man said he was “retired from the British military and currently working on a book”. The woman said she was a journalist.

The court audio was unclear, and the authorities later clarified that the pseudonym was Jen Marshall. The woman who introduced herself as Jen Marshall was in fact Ghislaine Maxwell, Moe said.

Born in Brooklyn in 1953, Jeffrey Epstein was a convicted sex offender and financier who died in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial for the sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. He had previously served 13 months in jail after being convicted in 2008 of procuring an underage girl for prostitution and of soliciting a prostitute. A medical examiner declared Epstein's death a suicide.

His death came after unsealed documents in New York revealed the extent of his abuse of young women at his home in Palm Beach, New York and the Virgin Islands. An earlier attempt to prosecute him on similar charges had collapsed when authorities granted him an unusually generous deal to plead guilty to state prostitution charges in Florida.

Epstein made his name at the investment bank Bear Stearns before opening his own firm in 1982, managing money for clients with wealth in excess of $1bn. The business came with an intensive social schedule. Epstein positioned himself as a party figure in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, and courted the rich, famous and powerful across America and the world.

Epstein’s circle of friends and acquaintances has included Donald Trump; Bill Clinton; Prince Andrew; Leslie Wexner, founder of the company that owns the Victoria’s Secret lingerie brand; and many other prominent names in law, entertainment and politics.

In July 2020, his long-term confidante and personal assistant Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested by the FBI on charges related to Epstein's sex crimes.

Maxwell’s lawyers had contended that Covid-19 presented a danger to Maxwell and limits her legal defense. They insisted that she was not a flight risk, and said she had remained out of public view to avoid the media following Epstein’s arrest last July. Epstein killed himself in federal jail last August.

In court, one of Maxwell’s lawyers, Marc Cohen, repeated his argument that she should be released – claiming prosecutors had overplayed the circumstances surrounding Maxwell’s arrest.

When the FBI came to Maxwell’s home, he said, she was wearing pyjamas. There was one security guard at the house.

“The front door was unlocked,” Cohen said. “The windows were open.”

They were asking the judge to release Maxwell on a $5m personal recognizance bond co-signed by six financially responsible individuals, backed by property in the UK worth more than $3.75m.

Maxwell’s legal team also proposed limiting her travel to the New York City region, turning in all her passports and requiring home confinement in New York City with GPS monitoring.

It was revealed in court that Maxwell had asked to be on house arrest in a “luxury hotel” in Manhattan.

Denying bail, the judge ruled Maxwell “a risk of flight” and said “no combination of conditions could reasonably assure” her return to court.

Maxwell’s trial was scheduled for 12 July 2021. It is expected to take about two weeks.


Victoria Bekiempis in New York

The GuardianTramp

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