MANHATTAN (CN) — Reigniting a sex-trafficking scandal that has embarrassed presidents, royalty, high-powered attorneys and international jet-setters, U.S. authorities on Thursday indicted London socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, described by many as disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein’s trusted lieutenant.
Maxwell’s federal indictment was widely anticipated, coming nearly a year to the day that Epstein was arrested on sex-trafficking charges ultimately scuttled by his jailhouse death in August. The 58-year-old Maxwell is charged in New York with grooming Epstein’s victims for abuse; together the six charges add up to a possible 35-year sentence.
Bill Sweeney, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, noted in a press conference this afternoon that authorities have spent the intervening months tracking Maxwell’s movements.
“We learned that she had slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire,” Sweeney told reporters today, adding that her arrest was executed this morning without incident.
Court papers indicate that 156-acre property in Bradford, New Hampshire, was purchased in an all-cash transaction last December through a “carefully anonymized LLC,” a form of corporation favored for eluding detection.
With most U.S. federal courts closed for the coronavirus pandemic, Maxwell appeared briefly this afternoon for an initial hearing via remote video from New Hampshire. Hundreds listened into an audio feed of the proceedings as a magistrate judge ordered her transfer to the Southern District of New York, where prosecutors from the public corruption unit are leading her case.
Earlier today in Manhattan, acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, whose predecessor Geoffrey Berman opened the 2019 case against Epstein, called Maxwell’s prosecution the “prequel” to the financier’s sordid affair.
“In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse herself,” Strauss told reporters at a noon press conference at the prosecutors’ headquarters in lower Manhattan, describing how Epstein and his associate won the trust of girls as young as 14.
“They would take them to the movies and treat them to shopping trips,” racking up purchases to make the girls feel “indebted” to their new friends, Strauss said.
Bradley Edward, an attorney for more than 20 alleged victims, shared his clients’ appreciation for the new charges.
“They are also thankful for the determination that the SDNY prosecutors have demonstrated throughout their investigation,” Edwards said in a statement, abbreviating Southern District of New York. “As for Ghislaine’s importance in Jeffrey Epstein’s organization as well as her loose affiliation with the truth, we have worked for years to expose both. Today brings us one step closer to justice.”
With graphic detail, prosecutors outlined the grooming process and the decades-old tales of abuse in an 18-page indictment unsealed today.
“Maxwell’s presence during minor victims’ interactions with Epstein, including interactions where the minor victim was undressed or that involved sex acts with Epstein, helped put the victims at ease because an adult woman was present,” the indictment states. “For example, in some instances, Maxwell would massage Epstein in front of a minor victim. In other instances, Maxwell encouraged minor victims to provide massages to Epstein, including sexualized massages during which a minor victim would be fully or partially nude. Many of those massages resulted in Epstein sexually abusing the minor victims.”
Along with an undated image of Epstein and Maxwell embracing to show their “intimate relationship,” the indictment includes several photographs of Epstein’s extensive real estate. Prosecutors claim that Maxwell facilitated abuse at the accused sex-trafficker’s New York mansion, estate in Palm Beach, Florida and ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Epstein’s resulting abuse of minor victims included, among other things, touching a victim’s breast, touching a victim’s genitals, placing a sex toy such as a vibrator on a victim’s genitals,” the indictment states.
A Londoner who recently holed up in Bradford, New Hampshire, Maxwell is accused of helping to manage those properties between 1994 and 1997.
While the indictment does not name Epstein’s underage victims, it does allege that Maxwell participated in “multiple group sexual encounters” with one of the girls and Epstein in New York and Florida.
Some of these details overlap with allegations by victims who have stepped forward in civil court, including Virginia Giuffre, whose attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Years before Epstein was found hanging in his cell, in what officials called a suicide, Giuffre roped many prominent people into the sex-trafficking scandal. Testifying in a deposition for a 2015 case where she accused Maxwell of turning her into one of Epstein’s “sex slaves,” Giuffre said Maxwell ordered her have sex with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, financier Glenn Dubin, model scout Jean-Luc Brunel, former Senator George Mitchell and others. All of these men have denied the allegations, which were made public by the Second Circuit last year after a protracted fight to unseal records related to that case.
For others, mere affiliation with Epstein has led to embarrassing public spectacle. Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have appeared in Epstein’s orbit. The Democrat hopped a ride on the financier’s jet “Lolita Express,” and the sitting Republican seen dancing with Epstein in a viral video. Both have distanced themselves from the dead financier.
Maxwell’s prosecution promises to provide more clarity between serious charges and rumor. Prosecutors allege that Maxwell lied in a deposition by denying knowledge of any sex-trafficking scheme.
“Maxwell lied because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable,” Strauss told reporters.
Asked whether she knew Epstein had a scheme to recruit underage girls for sexual massages, Maxwell responded: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
That answer forms the basis of a perjury charge, and Maxwell’s denial of personal participation in the alleged abuse in that case forms another count.
“Other than yourself and the blonde and brunette that you have identified as having been involved in three-way sexual activities, with whom did Mr. Epstein have sexual activities?” Maxwell’s questioner asked her in Giuffre’s 2015 lawsuit.
“I wasn’t aware that he was having sexual activities with anyone when I was with him other than myself,” Maxwell replied years ago, forming the basis of her second perjury count.
Maxwell’s saga also has been making waves in the United Kingdom for its ties to Prince Andrew, whom prosecutors in New York have described as uncooperative with their probe. The United States has issued a formal request for the British government to steer the prince to comply with the investigation.
Prosecutors here also issued two extraordinary rebukes contradicting Prince Andrew’s claims that he has been helpful.
“We would like to have the benefit of his statement,” Strauss said.
Maxwell waived her right to appear in person at her preliminary hearing today, where she was represented by New Hampshire-based attorney Lawrence Vogelman. The socialite said little while being informed of her rights and the allegations against her.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Johnstone remanded her to the custody of federal marshals for transportation to New York where she faces charges of the enticement and transportation of minors for sex acts, related conspiracy counts, and two charges of perjury.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe, of the same Southern District’s public corruption unit that brought the case against Epstein, attended the conference and already filed a motion pushing to deny Maxwell bail.
Describing an “extreme risk of flight,” prosecutors have traced more than 15 bank accounts “held by or associated with” the British socialite from 2016 to the present, with amounts stashed in them ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $20 million.
A citizen of the United States, France and U.K., Maxwell holds “one or more” foreign bank accounts holding more than a million dollars and has traveled internationally in the last three years at least 15 times, including to the United Kingdom, Japan and Qatar.