In Ghislaine Maxwell’s child sex-trafficking trial, Manhattan federal prosecutors shared a simple, chilling message with jurors in their opening statement: “She knew what was going to happen to those girls.”
Maxwell “preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up to be sexually abused” by Jeffrey Epstein, said prosecutor Lara Pomerantz. “The defendant was trafficking kids for sex.
“Maxwell was Epstein’s best friend and right hand,” Pomerantz said of the late financier, who was arrested in July 2019 in relation to sexually abusing teen girls. “She was involved in every detail of Epstein’s life. The defendant and Epstein were partners in crime.
“She used the same excuse over and over to get the girls to touch Epstein – massage,” Pomerantz argued. “You’ll learn the cover of massage was the primary way the defendant and Epstein lured girls into sexual abuse.
“The defendant massaged Epstein in front of the girls, then encouraged the girls to massage Epstein,” she said. “But what was happening inside those massage rooms was not a massage – it was sexual abuse.
“Sometimes she was even in the room for the massages herself and sometimes, she touched the girls’ bodies,” Pomerantz continued. “And even when she was not in the room, make no mistake: she knew exactly what Epstein was going to do to those children when she sent them to him inside the massage rooms.”
Maxwell, 59 and the daughter of the late British press baron Robert Maxwell, has pleaded not guilty on six counts related to her alleged involvement in Epstein’s abuse of minors, some as young as 14 years old.
“When the defendant sent a 14-year-old girl [to] an adult man, she knew exactly what was going to happen,” Pomerantz said.
“She knew exactly what she was doing. She was dangerous,” Pomerantz also remarked. “She was setting young girls up to be molested by a predator.”
Bobbi Sternheim, Maxwell’s lead attorney, used an Old Testament flourish in arguing that Maxwell was getting punished for Epstein’s misdeeds.
“Ever since Eve was accused of tempting Adam for the apple, women have been blamed for the bad behavior of men, and women are often villainized and punished more than the men ever are,” Sternheim said in her opening statement. “The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did.
“But she is not Jeffrey Epstein. She is not like Jeffrey Epstein – and she is not like any of the other men, powerful men, moguls, media giants, who abuse women.”
The indictment cites four accusers – referred to as Minor Victim-1, Minor Victim-2, Minor Victim-3 and Minor Victim-4. Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail in August 2019, while awaiting trial. Maxwell’s alleged crimes took place from 1994 to 2004, prosecutors have said.
In court on Monday, Maxwell wore a cream-colored sweater and black pants. When she first walked into the courtroom at about 8.30am local time, Maxwell lifted her eyebrows and acknowledged her sister, who was seated in the first row.
During the lunch break, which came before opening statements, a group gathered outside the courthouse for a purported rally against sex trafficking, though the comments were largely conspiratorial.
A speaker, using a megaphone, said Epstein “didn’t kill himself”. One attendee sported a red-and-white cap, similar to those worn by supporters of Donald Trump, that said the same thing.
Some protesters set up a tent to facilitate the distribution of stickers, some of which expressed skepticism about Covid-19. One woman held a sign that read: “COVID IS NOT A PANDEMIC BUT A HUMAN TRAFFICKING” [issue], along with the words “Illegal Organ Harvesting”.
Authorities arrested Maxwell on 2 July 2020 at a secretive, expensive estate in the small New Hampshire town of Bradford.
Audrey Strauss, acting Manhattan US attorney at the time, contended that Maxwell “played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims” and that “in some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse”.
The Manhattan US attorney’s office has also accused Maxwell of trying to cover up her involvement in Epstein’s crimes by providing untrue information “under oath” during civil litigation.
That lawsuit was the defamation case which Virginia Giuffre, a longtime Epstein accuser, brought against Maxwell. Giuffre has claimed Maxwell and Epstein coerced her into sexual activity with Prince Andrew when she was 17.
Giuffre sued Maxwell, who called her a liar. Both Maxwell and the Duke of York maintain their innocence. Maxwell is charged with two counts related to the alleged lying. Those will be tried in a separate proceeding.
Prosecutors also called their first witness before trial ended for the day: Epstein’s longtime pilot, Lawrence Paul Visoski Jr, who worked for him from 1991 to 2019. Visoski said Maxwell was about 30 years old when he met her in 1991, and that “we interacted quite often. She was on a lot of the flights.”
Visoski said that Maxwell managed Epstein’s households. Asked about the relationship between Epstein and Maxwell, he remarked: “I thought it was more personal than business.”
Maxwell and Epstein’s close contact went into the 2000s, Visoski said. It wasn’t romantic per se, Visoski explained, but “couple-ish”. Visoski didn’t see the pair hold hands or kiss, he said.
Visoski’s testimony resumes Tuesday morning.
Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html