The severed counts arise from allegations that British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell lied to conceal alleged sex trafficking crimes in two 2016 depositions taken in connection with a civil defamation suit brought by Jeffrey Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre.
MANHATTAN (CN) — Ghislaine Maxwell’s upcoming criminal trial will now be split into two separate trials: one for the counts stemming from alleged sex trafficking on behalf of pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein and a second, severed trial for her alleged perjury during a pair of depositions in 2016, a federal judge in New York ruled Friday afternoon.
“Importantly, a joint trial is also likely to require disqualification of at least one of Maxwell’s attorneys from participating as an advocate on her behalf,” U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan wrote in a 34-page opinion made public on Friday. “The perjury counts likely implicate the performance and credibility of her lawyers in the civil action — two of whom represent her in this case. The New York Rules of Professional Conduct generally forbid a lawyer from representing a client in a proceeding in which the lawyer is likely also to be a witness.”
Maxwell, 59, was arrested in July 2020, nearly a year to the day that sex-trafficking charges landed her longtime associate Jeffrey Epstein, with whom she was once romantically linked, in the jail cell where he would be found dead one month later.
In January 2021, Maxwell’s attorneys filed a barrage of motions to have her criminal case tossed, which included a motion for severance and separate trial of the two perjury counts of the superseding indictment, in which the government claims Maxwell lied to conceal the alleged offenses in two 2016 depositions taken in connection with a civil defamation suit brought by Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre.
“By alleging that Ms. Maxwell lied about sexual and other salacious topics, the government is explicitly putting its very big thumb on the credibility scale,” her attorneys wrote.
Maxwell’s counsel moved to dismiss the perjury counts on grounds that the statements at issue are not perjurious because the questions asked were “confusing, ambiguous, and improperly formed.”
On Friday, Judge Nathan found the perjury charges to be legally tenable but concluded that the interests of justice require severing those counts and trying them separately.
“The Court concludes that these issues are best left for the jury,” the judge wrote. “Trying the perjury counts together with the Mann Act counts would require admitting evidence of other acts likely to be unduly prejudicial. It would also risk disqualifying Maxwell’s chosen counsel based on their involvement in the earlier civil case.”
“Although some allegations of sexual abuse are relevant to both sets of charges, many are not,” the ruling states.
“At a minimum, this will expand the scope of the trial far beyond the narrower issues presented,” U.S. District Judge Nathan wrote. “And while the Court agrees with the Government that at least some of Maxwell’s concerns are overstated, there is little question that the jury’s consideration of the nature of the defamation action will require a significant investment of time and resources to provide the requisite context.
Maxwell’s attorneys claim the inclusion of those two perjury counts could taint the case because it would allow the government to introduce testimony of alleged sexual abuse that purportedly occurred outside of the narrow time period alleged in counts one through four (1994-1997), which they say the government specifically chose to try to avoid the impact of Epstein’s 2007 non-prosecution agreement, in which federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue a case against him if he pleaded guilty to state charges.
Judge Nathan, who has repeatedly denied Maxwell’s bids to be released from solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Complex in Brooklyn, rejected the rest of Maxwell’s motions to dismiss her first superseding indictment.
Under the terms of the 2007 federal non-prosecution agreement that Epstein reached in Florida, the financier pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution. That allowed him to avert a possible life sentence, instead serving 13 months in a work-release program. He was required to make payments to victims and register as a sex offender.
Epstein’s lawyers argued that the deal would prohibit him from being charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for alleged sex trafficking of girls from 2002 through 2005.
New York federal prosecutors disputed that defense, but Epstein’s jail cell death a month after his arrest left the issue unresolved.
Maxwell similarly contends that the non-prosecution agreement bars her criminal indictment, because she is charged as a co-conspirator of Epstein and the NPA’s co-conspirator provision lacks any geographical or temporal limitations.
Judge Nathan rejected that assertion in her ruling Friday, finding that non-prosecution agreement does not bind for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and that it does not cover the offenses charged in Maxwell’s first superseding indictment.
“The NPA does not purport to immunize Epstein from liability for crimes committed before the period that was the subject of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation,” she wrote. “Maxwell’s protection is no broader.”
The government added additional counts in a second superseding indictment last month.
Maxwell now faces eight counts, up from the previous six, related to her alleged involvement in sex ring, which included victims as young as 14 years old. She faces a maximum statutory sentence of 40 years on a new sex-trafficking count alone.
In response to the new charges and expanded timeline of alleged sex trafficking, Maxwell moved to postpone the trial and asked to be released from pretrial detention.
Judge Nathan has yet not ruled on Maxwell’s motions arising from the latter superseding indictment.