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.