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Maxwell closing arguments: ‘She was in on the whole thing’

Two and a half years after Jeffrey Epstein's arrest for sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls, summations are underway for his alleged recruiter and partner Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite whose complicity is said to have earned her $30.7 million.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Ghislaine Maxwell “ran the same playbook over and over and over again as she exploited young girls,” federal prosecutors told jurors on Monday morning, delivering their closing argument in the criminal sex trafficking trial of the woman said to have recruited and groomed victims for sexual abuse by late millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Portraying Maxwell as a dangerous predator, as well as Epstein’s partner-in-crime, romantic partner and “the lady of the house” at his multiple opulent estates, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe described the pair as “a wealthy couple who used their privilege to prey on kids from struggling families."

"Make no mistake, selecting these girls was predatory behavior,” Moe said during a summation that stretched two hours and 15 minutes in Manhattan this morning. “They found kids who needed something. They were exploiting that need.

“Epstein could not have done this alone,” Moe added. “When that man is accompanied by a posh, smiling, respectable, age-appropriate woman, that’s when everything starts to seem legitimate."

When Maxwell acted like it was totally normal for Epstein to touch his underage teenage victims, "it lures them into a trap," the government charged in its closing argument.

“Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous,” Moe told jurors who were spaced apart in a courtroom where numerous pandemic precautions were taken. “She manipulated her victims and groomed them. She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls. It is time to hold her accountable."

Initially expected to take six weeks and go into mid-January 2022, the trial entered its fourth week this morning as jurors in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial heard closing arguments.

Maxwell, 59, has been in custody since her July 2020 arrest, incarcerated at a federal detention facility in Brooklyn. She pleaded not guilty in April to eight criminal counts in the Southern District of New York: six stemming from the reported sex ring, and two severed counts accusing her of lying during a 2016 deposition.

Moe argued on Monday that it was no accident that all of the victim witnesses who testified at this trial about their recruitment for sexual abuse by Epstein all came from single-mother households, painting the selection of the teenage girls to give Epstein sexualized massages as "textbook grooming behavior."

“The relationships Maxwell cultivated with the girls was essential to this scheme,” the assistant U.S. attorney told jurors.

Prosecutors pointed jurors to bank records of three payments from Epstein to Maxwell in the early-to-mid 2000s totaling $30.7 million.

“You don’t give someone $30 million unless they’re giving you exactly what you want, and what Epstein wanted was to touch underage girls,” Moe said. “It was payment for committing terrible crimes with Jeffrey Epstein.”

The jury appeared to be paying close attention throughout the closing arguments on Monday. Most of the jurors were focused on Moe, looking directly at her as she was speaking.

“Ghislaine Maxwell made her own choices. She committed crimes hand in hand with Jeffrey Epstein. She was a grown woman who knew exactly what she was doing,” Moe said. “She knew. She was complicit. She is guilty,” she added.

Prior to the closing proceedings on Monday, Maxwell’s attorney Bobbi Sternheim appeared to be offering Maxwell, who seemed visibly stressed out, a supportive chat, with the attorney holding onto Maxwell’s shoulders.

Dressed in a tan sweater and black face mask for Covid-19 protocols, Maxwell scribbled notes during the prosecution’s closing arguments and talked to her attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca, who was seated to her right.

Maxwell was supported in the courtroom on Monday by four siblings who sat next to one another in the first row of spectators.

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This courtroom sketch shows Ghislaine Maxwell, left, conferring with her defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim before the start of her sex abuse trial on Dec. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

Shortly after noon, attorney Laura Menninger delivered the defense’s closing argument. “Memories have been manipulated in aid of the money," Menninger told jurors on Monday afternoon.

Insisting that Maxwell is “an innocent woman wrongfully accused to crimes she didn’t commit,” Menninger proclaimed that the victim witnesses came forward against her only at the bidding of personal injury lawyers. 

"Jeffrey Epstein died and then everybody lawyered up," she said.

During the defense's closing argument, Menninger called the government's case both "an old gimmick" and "straight up sensationalism" while failing to deliver on its promise to prove Maxwell's guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Maxwell’s defense sought to chip away at the credibility of witness testimony from three victims who spoke at trial. “The time that has elapsed has made it very difficult for people to go back and reconstruct their memories, and their memories are very flawed,” Menninger said in the defense’s closing summation. 

“They all changed their stories when the Epstein Victims Compensation Fund was opened. That should make you hesitate,” she later told jurors. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey pushed back against the defense’s claims that the witnesses were significantly misremembering the traumatic abuse. “There is no massive conspiracy here to frame Ghislaine Maxwell,” she declared during the government’s 36-minute rebuttal argument.   

“Some things you never forget because they’re seared into your brain forever,” Comey told jurors. “Like Jane remembering the defendant touching her breasts, like Carolyn remembering the defendant touching her breasts.” 

“If money was all they wanted, they would have walked away as soon as the check cleared,” she said. "These women put themselves through hell" to testify, Comey added. 

"Did that look fun? Why would they put themselves through that, when they've already gotten millions of dollars,” the prosecutor exclaimed. "They did it for justice, for the hope that the defendant would be held accountable for her role in shattering their lives." 

Defense attorneys began their case on Thursday, almost a week after the government rested, due to a trial break as Judge Nathan went before a U.S. Senate panel weighing whether to promote the Obama-appointed District Court judge to the Second Circuit. 

Maxwell’s defense rested its last week without calling her to testify. Standing with her attorneys, Maxwell explained to U.S. District Judge Nathan on Friday, "Your honor, the government has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and so there is no need for me to testify.”

Judge Nathan has denied Maxwell’s bail repeatedly, despite her lawyer’s arguments that the pledge of her $22.5 million estate and a willingness to be watched 24 hours a day by armed guards would guarantee her appearance in court.

Maxwell’s criminal indictment in this trial consists of: count one: conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; count two: enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; count three: conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; count four: transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; count five: conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, which carries a statutory maximum of five years in prison; and count six: sex trafficking of minors, which carries a statutory maximum of 40 years in prison. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York charged Epstein on July 2, 2019, with sex-trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking. Epstein was found dead the following month on August 10, 2019, in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

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