More than two years after Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide behind bars, and following a shorter-than-expected trial, his longtime companion Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of multiple sex trafficking charges.
A New York City jury found that Maxwell was Epstein’s chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse. The twelve jurors found Maxwell guilty on five of the six charges she faced, which included: conspiracy to entice minors 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; sex trafficking conspiracy; sex trafficking of a minor.
The only charge the jury found Maxwell not guilty of was the second count against her, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.
Maxwell sat still and faced forward as the verdict was read remaining stoic behind a black facemask. Afterward, she poured herself a cup of water and leaned over to confer with one of her lawyers, Jeffrey Pagliuca, who patted her on the back. Each member of the jury confirmed to judge that the verdict was unanimous. As she left the courtroom, Maxwell looked briefly at her siblings — who were present each day of the trial — in the front row, but seemed almost expressionless.
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.
“A unanimous jury has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of one of the worst crimes imaginable – facilitating and participating in the sexual abuse of children. Crimes that she committed with her long-time partner and co-conspirator, Jeffrey Epstein. The road to justice has been far too long. But, today, justice has been done," Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. "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 ... This Office will always stand with victims, will always follow the facts wherever they lead, and will always fight to ensure that no one, no matter how powerful and well connected, is above the law.”
Maxwell was remanded back to Metropolitan Detention Center, where she has been in custody since the days after her arrest. Before the trial was adjourned, the attorney for Maxwell, Bobbi Sternheim, asked the judge about getting a booster shot for Maxwell. Judge Alison J. Nathan said that it was her understanding the booster would be available at MDC.
Maxwell could face up to 60 years in prison at her sentencing, the date of which has not yet been set. The most serious charge, sex trafficking of a minor, alone carries up to a 40-year sentence. However, it is not likely that she will face the maximum time, legal experts said.
"We firmly believe in Ghislaine's innocence, obviously we are very disappointed with the verdict. We have already started working on the appeal, and we are confident that she will be vindicated," said Sternheim, as she left the courthouse.
The jury began deliberating Dec. 20 at 5 p.m., after Judge Nathan urged lawyers to keep their closing arguments tight so the jury could begin deliberating as early as possible amid a worsening COVID-19 outbreak in NYC. Deliberations lasted five full days before the verdict was reached, lasting over the long Christmas weekend that coincided with Maxwell's 60th birthday.
The central question that was posed to jurors throughout the trial was: Was Maxwell the puppet of Epstein, or his accomplice? The charges against her stemmed from the allegations of four women who say she and Epstein victimized them as teens from 1994 to 2004.
Prosecutors alleged there’s evidence Maxwell knew that the victims, including a 14-year-old, were below the age of consent and that she arranged travel for some between Epstein’s homes, including his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, his posh Manhattan townhouse and at other residences in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and London.
The prosecution, mounted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, hinged on the accusations of four women who say they were teenagers when Maxwell and Epstein sexually exploited them in the 1990s and early 2000s. Starting on Nov. 29, three testified under the pseudonyms Jane, Kate and Carolyn. One, Annie Farmer, decided to tell her story publicly.
The women’s testimony in federal court in Manhattan, at times emotional, offered sordid details about allegations Maxwell groomed them to participate in sexual massages with Epstein.
The first woman, Jane, spelled out an alleged pattern of deception by Maxwell that would be echoed by the others. She said she was 14 when she met Maxwell and Epstein at a music camp where Epstein was a benefactor.
Maxwell showered her with attention in a way that left her vulnerable the moment she was first instructed to follow Epstein into his pool house in his Palm Beach estate in 1994, she said. When he began to sexually abuse her, “I was frozen in fear,” she said. “I’d never seen a penis before.”
Prosecutors wanted evidence that Maxwell was a direct participant. Jane gave it to them by claiming Maxwell and Epstein fondled her together. When a prosecutor asked her why, as the defense pointed out, she didn’t initially reveal everything about her experiences with Epstein in initial interviews with law enforcement, she said fighting back tears: “Because it was too difficult — too difficult emotionally, too difficult on every level.”
The second accuser, Kate, recalled Maxwell praising and encouraging her, before Epstein sexually abused her during interactions that started in the early 1990s when she was 17.
The British woman described being intrigued by Maxwell and wanting to be her friend. She also testified about seeing Epstein naked for the first time after Maxwell stood next to him and asked her to massage him — and about feeling ashamed when it was over.
Kate still may have struck a blow for the government with her account of an interaction with Maxwell after a sexual massage with Epstein. Maxwell “asked me if I had fun” and told her: “You are such a good girl.”
A fourth accuser, Farmer, repeated how Epstein and Maxwell led her to believe they could be mentors, only to betray her trust. On the stand, the now-42-year-old described how she was creeped out when Epstein held her hand at the movies in New York; when Maxwell touched her breasts while giving her a massage at Epstein’s New Mexico ranch; and when Epstein unexpectedly crawled into bed with her and pressed himself against her.
Feeling helpless, she made an excuse to go to the bathroom and hid there, thinking she “wanted to be in there long enough that this situation would be over,” she said.
The defense tried to rattle Farmer by suggesting she exaggerated her allegations in a $1.5 million claim awarded by a compensation fund set up for victims of Epstein by saying Maxwell had “groped” her and that Epstein had rubbed his genitals against her. Farmer pushed back, insisting that her goal all along was to see Maxwell “held accountable for the harm she's caused.”
Defense lawyer Laura Menninger had argued that the women's recollections of abuse by Epstein and Maxwell were flawed memories manipulated decades later by lawyers seeking payouts or U.S. government investigators seeking a scapegoat after Epstein killed himself in a federal jail in 2019 while awaiting his own sex trafficking trial.
Maxwell’s lawyers are trying to cast doubts about the women’s allegations after using cross-examination to highlight inconsistencies in some of their accounts. In some cases, the encounters the women were recalling happened more than two decades ago.
To support that argument, the defense relied on testimony from cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who has for decades studied false, repressed and unreliable memories. Loftus also testified last year at Harvey Weinstein’s New York City rape trial. As memories fade, Loftus said, people become more vulnerable to “post-event” information, including media reports that can distort what they remember.
The trial was originally projected to last six weeks, but prosecutors rested much earlier than expected.
Epstein killed himself at a Manhattan federal lockup in August 2019, a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges. Authorities charged Maxwell in July 2020, arresting her after tracking her to a $1 million New Hampshire estate where she had been holed up during the coronavirus pandemic.
Maxwell, who declined to testify during the trial, pleaded not guilty and vehemently denied wrongdoing. The 60-year-old British socialite, jailed in Brooklyn since her arrest, called the claims against her “absolute rubbish.” Maxwell’s lawyers and family said she was merely Epstein’s pawn, now paying “a blood price” to satisfy public desire to see someone held accountable for his crimes.
The wealthy, Oxford-educated Maxwell is the daughter of British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991 after falling off his yacht — named the Lady Ghislaine — near the Canary Islands. Robert Maxwell, whose holdings at the time included the New York Daily News, was facing allegations that he had illegally looted his businesses’ pension funds.
Ghislaine Maxwell holds U.S., British and French citizenships and was repeatedly denied bail in the run-up to her trial.
A superseding indictment in March also charged Maxwell with two counts of perjury, but the judge granted the defense's request to spin those off into a separate trial. Prosecutors have not said whether they intend to try Maxwell on those two remaining counts.