Ghislaine Maxwell’s criminal trial began Monday, and a prosecutor said the British socialite lured underage girls to be sexually abused by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, while a defense attorney urged jurors not to turn Maxwell into a scapegoat.
“He took advantage of vulnerable young women, manipulated them and served them to be sexually abused,” Deputy District Attorney Lara Pomerantz said in her opening statement.
Maxwell, 59, is on trial for recruiting and grooming four underage girls for abuse by Epstein between 1994 and 2004. Epstein died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of sexual abuse.
He has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of sex trafficking and other crimes, including two counts of perjury that will be tried at a later date.
Maxwell faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted.
“The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did, but she is not Jeffrey Epstein,” Maxwell’s attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, said in Manhattan federal court.
The trial comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged victims of sexual abuse to speak out against powerful men like film producer Harvey Weinstein and R&B singer R. Kelly accused of misconduct. Maxwell’s case stands out in part because she is a woman.
Prosecutors say Maxwell, a former employee and Epstein’s romantic partner, sent gifts such as lingerie and discussed sexual issues with the girls to gain their trust before encouraging them to give Epstein erotic massages. Sometimes he was present and sometimes he participated, they say.
Pomerantz began by describing how Maxwell and Epstein met a 14-year-old girl named Jane, a pseudonym, at an arts summer camp in 1994. Epstein introduced himself as a donor interested in awarding scholarships to talented youth and asked for the phone number of Jane, Pomerantz. said.
“In that first year, when Jane was only 14 years old, Epstein began to sexually abuse Jane. He did not abuse her alone,” he said. “Jane wasn’t his only victim. There were other young girls.”
Maxwell sat in the well in the courtroom, a white mask covering his face amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He was wearing a cream-colored sweater and black pants.
The government’s first witness, Lawrence Paul Visoski Jr, an Epstein pilot, testified that Maxwell sometimes notified him of Epstein’s upcoming travel plans. Visoski described Maxwell as “one of the assistants in Mr. Epstein’s office.”
Four accusers are expected to testify against Maxwell at the trial, which is expected to last at least until early January. Prosecutors said other witnesses will include relatives of the accusers and former Epstein employees.
Sternheim said prosecutors, unable to convict Epstein, are using the daughter of late British media mogul Robert Maxwell as a scapegoat. He said the government was asking jurors to attribute a “sinister” motive to legal activities such as taking teenagers shopping.
She told the jury that the memories of Maxwell’s accusers had been “manipulated” by attorneys who encouraged them to sue Maxwell and Epstein for damages.
A compensation fund established after Epstein’s death has been paying accusers’ claims on the financier’s estate. Sternheim said Maxwell’s accusers received payments and that their claims were “enhanced” by cooperating with the government.
“This case is about memory, manipulation and money,” Sternheim said. “The memories fade over time, and in this case you will learn that not only have the memories faded, but that they have been tainted by outside information.”
After the day’s testimony concluded, Maxwell hugged his defense attorneys.