MANHATTAN (CN) — The long-awaited trial of Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend and longtime associate kicked off on Monday, setting up an expected six-week reckoning of Ghislaine Maxwell’s role in the deceased millionaire’s alleged pyramid scheme of sexual abuse.
Maxwell, 59, is accused of grooming girls as young as 14 years old to be sexually abused by Epstein — sometimes with her own participation — over the span of a decade, from 1994 to 2004.
Delivering opening arguments on a snowy New York afternoon, prosecutors said the British socialite recruited teenagers, studied their hopes and dreams, won their trust, then lured them into sex acts they couldn’t legally consent to.
“She helped normalize abusive sexual conduct. She put them at ease and made them feel safe, all so she could be molested by a middle-aged man. She knew what was going to happen to those girls,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz in opening arguments.
“She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them, and served them up to be sexually abused.”
After building a rapport with victims, Pomerantz said, Maxwell would ask them to give Epstein a massage in one of the designated massage rooms, filled with photos of nude women, that were in each of his residences — he had apartments in Manhattan and Paris, a villa in Palm Beach, and a ranch in New Mexico, in addition to his infamous private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The encounters would then turn sexual, with Epstein masturbating during the massage and touching, having sex with, or using vibrators on the minors. At times, Pomerantz said, Maxwell was in the room when it happened.
“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 those massage rooms,” Pomerantz said.
Maxwell, clad in a cream-colored sweater and black pants, passed notes with her attorneys while prosecutors for 30 minutes outlined the case against her. Her eyes were on the jury as members entered the room, and during attorney sidebars, Maxwell looked around the room.
Seated in the courtroom was Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, who stayed for the government's opening and most of the defense arguments.
While some estimates put Epstein as having abused hundreds of victims, Maxwell’s indictment focuses on four women, three of whom will testify anonymously.
Pomerantz focused her opening on a girl referred to as Jane, who met Epstein and Maxwell at an arts camp when she was just 14 years old.
“What Jane didn’t know then was that this meeting at summer camp was the beginning of a nightmare that would last for years. That this meeting would pull Jane into a relationship with the man and the woman, who were each more than double her age. What she didn’t know then was that this man and this woman were predators,” Pomerantz said.
According to her indictment, Maxwell facilitated hundreds of dollars in cash payments to the alleged victims, and during the latter part of the decade-long timeframe would also pay girls to recruit others to “massage” Epstein.
Pomerantz said Maxwell was essential to the “pyramid scheme of abuse,” both providing a “cover of respectability” that gave the girls and their families a false sense of security and, as the “lady of the house,” keeping the abuse under wraps.
“Employees were to see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. There was a culture of silence. That was by design — the defendant’s design,” she said. “Because behind closed doors, the defendant and Epstein were committing heinous crimes.”