What do we know about Ghislaine Maxwell? What legal proceedings relate to her? And what is the next step in this story?
Ghislaine Maxwell and crew on her father’s yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, in Tenerife. Ghislaine’s father, Robert Maxwell, disappeared from the yacht and his body was later found in the sea. His death was ruled an accident.Credit:Getty Images
https://www.smh.com.au-By Samantha Selinger-Morris
One-time British socialite and now alleged sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell is living in one of New York’s most squalid and dangerous jails, as far from her privileged origins as one can imagine.
Maxwell, 58, arrived at the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn on July 6 and is set to remain there for the next year while she awaits trial on federal sex crime charges that could see her jailed for 35 years.
The charges allege that she helped the late Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse girls. Epstein, a disgraced billionaire hedge-fund manager and convicted sex offender, had pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges and was awaiting trial when he died in prison last year. His death was ruled a suicide.
Maxwell’s lawyers are now jousting with New York prosecutors over what will be admissible in her trial. Her lawyers have also even argued that Maxwell is immune from the current criminal prosecution because of a secret, last-minute plea deal that Epstein brokered with the US attorney’s office in Florida in 2008.
Meanwhile, as a result of the release of documents in July from a now-settled civil suit against Maxwell, we have heard more sordid details about how Maxwell hid her alleged abuse, luring young girls, some runaways or financially destitute, into the hands of Epstein and his wealthy friends to be abused, under the guise of being hired as masseuses, amid a swirl of parties, private planes and powerbrokers.
And, just to thicken the plot, more revelations about Maxwell still could be revealed in documents from another case related to an Epstein accuser. (More on this later.)
Maxwell has always denied any wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges against her.
What do we know about her? What are the legal proceedings relating to her? And what is the next step in this story?
Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Born on December 25, 1961, Maxwell grew up in a 53-bedroom Italianate mansion in Oxford, England, the daughter of media baron Robert Maxwell. She went to Marlborough College School and later Oxford University. But in 1991, when she was 29, her life became embroiled in scandal. Her father disappeared from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, off the coast of Spain’s Canary Islands. His body was later recovered in the Atlantic. His death was ruled an accident.
But investigators later discovered that Robert Maxwell had raided more than £460 million ($836 million) from his companies’ pension funds. His family was reportedly left broke.In 1992, Kevin Maxwell was reported to have declared the then-largest personal bankruptcy in United Kingdom history, with debts of £406.5million ($A739 million).
Ghislaine, left with a reported trust fund that paid $US100,000 a year, moved to New York City in 1991 to start anew.
She sold real estate, and was soon seen in the company of Jeffrey Epstein, who, according to The Telegraph Magazine, she had seen referenced in her father’s private papers as having been “particularly helpful to him in squirreling away misbegotten funds offshore”. Epstein and Maxwell were reportedly boyfriend and girlfriend in the early 1990s.
Epstein described her as his “best friend” in a 2003 Vanity Fair profile: Maxwell was not on Epstein’s payroll but she moved into a $US4.95-million New York townhouse in 2000 bought by an anonymous limited liability company with an address matching the office of J Epstein & Co, and seemed “to organise much of his life”. This reportedly involved her managing his various homes around the world: a Paris apartment, a New York mansion, a ranch in New Mexico and a 72-acre private island, Little St James, in the US Virgin Islands.
She introduced Epstein to powerful friends, including former president Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. Together, the pair socialised with Donald Trump.
She reportedly distanced herself from Epstein after 2008, when he began serving an 18-month jail sentence for soliciting prostitution of a minor, and founded an ocean conservation program, The TerraMar Project, in 2012, which she closed down in 2019, following Epstein’s death. The project’s website, which is still live, describes her not only as the project’s president and founder but also, “a licensed helicopter pilot, certified EMT, and a Deepworker submersible pilot”.
Last month, Maxwell’s lawyers claimed that she had “no contact with Epstein for more than a decade”. But the documents released in July include an email between the pair in early 2015, in which Epstein told Maxwell she had “done nothing wrong”.
She was arrested by the FBI on July 2 in a mansion in New Hampshire.
What are the legal proceedings relating to Maxwell?
The primary proceeding against Maxwell is a criminal case in New York. She has been accused of helping the late Jeffrey Epstein to “recruit, groom and ultimately abuse” multiple girls, including one as young as 14, between 1994 and 1997, according to a federal indictment. Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York charged her with six counts, including enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, two counts of perjury, and transporting of a minor, with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
The women in this criminal case against Maxwell have not been named.
Maxwell’s perjury charges stem from statements she made in connection with a now-settled defamation suit against her, in which she denied knowledge of Epstein’s abuse of girls.
So why do we keep hearing from Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who is not among the alleged victims of Maxwell’s criminal trial?
That’s because in July, a US federal court judge decided to allow the release of documents from a 2015 civil defamation case that Giuffre brought against Maxwell. Giuffre, an alleged victim of Epstein and Maxwell’s, claimed that Maxwell defamed her by calling her a liar for accusing Epstein and Maxwell of sexual impropriety. The case was settled out of court in 2017, in Giuffre’s favour, but Maxwell’s lawyers have been fighting to prevent the release of documents from it.
However, on August 9 last year, some 2000 documents from the Giuffre defamation case were released – the morning before Epstein was found dead in his cell. (The documents were released following a petition by journalists from The Miami Herald – which was conducting an investigation of Epstein – to unseal the entire case.) The documents made headlines for, among other revelations, a list of powerful people who had travelled with Epstein, including US President Donald Trump and renowned US civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz. (Dershowitz has said that he flew on Epstein’s plane a number of times but never in the presence of an underage person.)
Maxwell’s lawyers are still fighting to keep her own deposition in the Giuffre defamation case permanently sealed. It is a 400-plus-page transcript that reportedly examines her sex life and contains sexualised images. Maxwell’s lawyers say their release would prejudice a jury, and threaten her right to a fair trial in July.
A US judge has granted a temporary sealing of Maxwell’s deposition until September 22, which is when Maxwell’s lawyers will give an oral argument as to why her deposition should remain sealed.
What are some of the allegations against Maxwell?
Documents from Giuffre’s 2015 defamation case contain a number of bombshell allegations against the former socialite. They include that Maxwell: trained Giuffre to be a “sex slave”, compelled her to perform oral sex on her, involved her in efforts to procure other underage girls for her and Epstein, and asked her if she would have a child with her and Epstein, which Giuffre would then sign over, legally, to the pair.
“We weren’t anything important to them at all, we weren’t even a human being to them, we were just another toy to be passed around, and that’s what they did,” Giuffre, who now lives in far north Queensland with her husband and three children, said in a July interview with 60 Minutes.
Giuffre has also alleged that Maxwell and Epstein directed her to have sex with Prince Andrew, Duke of York, on three occasions, when she was 17 and 18. Prince Andrew has denied any wrongdoing.
What is this plea deal from 2008? Is Maxwell protected by it?
In 2007, the FBI had prepared a 53-page indictment against Epstein, who was accused of having sex with dozens of underage girls and women. But, at the 11th hour, Alexander Costa, the-then US attorney for the Southern District of Florida – who would later go on to become labour minister in Trump’s government – brokered a deal with Epstein’s lawyers. If Epstein pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of soliciting prostitution from a minor, he would serve 18 months in a county jail.
He ended up serving only 13 months, much of it having been granted day release. Most controversial, though, the plea also stated: “The United States also agrees that it will not institute any criminal charges against any potential co-conspirators of Epstein” and it named a handful of women, Maxwell not among them.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors broke the law by failing to inform Epstein’s alleged victims of the plea deal and give them an opportunity to object to it. That ruling has since been overturned, and the matter is now in the hands of the federal appeals court.
Maxwell’s lawyers argue this non-prosecution agreement protects her now.
But according to Frank Bowman, a former United States federal prosecutor, this is unlikely. He calls the plea deal “particularly suspicious in this case, given Epstein’s connections with people in the high life”.
“Agreements of that kind … they customarily contain language that say that they only bind the districts making the deal,” says Bowman, meaning that the deal would pertain to the District of Florida rather than the district of New York, where Maxwell has been indicted. “It’s always a little dodgy, because in some larger sense, the United States attorney in a particular district represents the United States generally, and the justice department …
“There’s no indication that the bargain was made for her benefit, or even with respect to Epstein, that he had her in contemplation as one of the people he was trying to prevent the government from prosecuting. That’s going to be, I would predict, a nasty little fight, but my guess, if I had to be, I’ll bet she loses.”
Bowman, a professor of law at the University of Missouri, also thinks that the government’s choice to indict Maxwell on crimes from between 1994 and 1997 when Epstein’s abuse is alleged to have extended until 2018, may be a tactic for it to circumnavigate any problems the plea deal may throw up. (US federal laws allow the government to prosecute sex offences committed against minors at any point in the victim’s lifetime.)
“You [prosecutors] could argue that if we’re talking about victims who weren’t known to the government at all when it made its 2008 plea agreement then that’s an even stronger argument that plea agreement doesn’t bind them with respect to other people.”
Do prosecutors have to prove that Maxwell benefited financially from her alleged crimes?
“Ultimately, getting money from Jeffrey Epstein is not in and of itself a crime,” says Ben Trachtenberg, associate professor of law at the University of Missouri’s School of Law. “If this money was itself ill-gotten, it might be useful to the government, if they were trying to get money back from her. But the criminal acts from her don’t really have to do with the money … Ultimately, if she’s charged with trafficking a minor to engage in illegal sex acts, she either did do that, or didn’t do that.
“If you can show she got money from someone who was involved in this, that might bolster the case that she was involved in this unlawful transportation, but it really wouldn’t prove it without more evidence. Even evil and wicked people give money to folks that aren’t involved in their criminality. So even if they can prove that she did get money from him, that doesn’t make her a sex trafficker.”
But tracking the source of Maxwell’s money back to Epstein could still help the prosecutor show motive.
“Could you, if you’re the prosecutors, show the closeness of the connection and continuing connection between Maxwell and Epstein after her alleged personal romance is over, by showing that he’s buying her multimillion-dollar apartments? Sure,” says Bowman. “And that may also, of course, provide some sort of evidence of motive as to why she would engage in these kinds of procuring activities for him. I mean, you can make that argument, and it’s not a bad one, but you got to connect a bunch of dots on that.”
The New Hampshire property where investigators found Maxwell in July was bought for $US1 million in cash by an anonymous Limited Liability Company whose address matches Epstein’s office address.
The US government, according to a Bloomberg report, has said that it has information that between 2007 and 2011, more than $US20 million was transferred from offshore accounts associated with Epstein to several associated with Maxwell. And that millions were later transferred back.
But having “opaque” finances – as the prosecution has labelled Maxwell’s – is common among the ultra-wealthy.
“It’s been a long-standing practice that people with that sort of wealth will seek to make investments and squirrel money away in various bank accounts, in countries where there’s not the same sort of oversight and regulations as you might expect in say, Australia, but also where the tax regime is incredibly favourable to them,” says Don Rothwell, professional of international law at the Australian National University’s College of Law. “So [that] if they do find themselves in legal difficulties, it’s a huge forensic exercise for any investigative team to be able to track down all the relevant money.”
Will Prince Andrew be forced to give evidence?
American civil rights lawyer Lisa Bloom, who is representing five of Epstein’s alleged victims, recently told The Times (of London) that if Prince Andrew won’t testify voluntarily, she is prepared to get a court to issue a subpoena to require him to give evidence.
It’s not that easy.
“He can be subpoenaed to testify but can’t be compelled to answer that subpoena because of a mutual assistance treaty between the US and the UK,” says Rothwell. “There is a let-out [in that treaty], under which the relevant British minister [the home secretary or a person or agency designated by them] can deny assistance … And if anyone in the US was so bold to seek his extradition, that will most certainly not get endorsement from the UK government.”
More revelations about Maxwell could soon come out as a result of the unsealing of documents in another defamation suit. In a case that has been ongoing since last year, Giuffre is suing celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz for defamation, and he is counter-suing her for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Giuffre has previously said she was sexually assaulted by Dershowitz, on direction from Epstein. Dershowitz has denied the claims.
In documents ordered to be released by a federal court judge in August, correspondence between attorneys representing Dershowitz and Leslie Wexner – the founder of lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret – reveal allegations that Giuffre is trying to extort money from Dershowitz, because of his relationship with Epstein, both as a friend and as his sometime lawyer. (Dershowitz was part of the defence team that negotiated Epstein’s 2008 plea deal.)
On August 17, a federal judge will determine, via a teleconference hearing, whether Dershowitz’s lawyer can compel Wexner to testify in the case.
Meanwhile, in Maxwell’s criminal case, her lawyers will argue against the unsealing of her deposition – from the Giuffre defamation case against her – at an appeal hearing on September 22. Its release, they have already argued, could make it “difficult if not impossible” to find an impartial jury for Maxwell’s trial next July. If her deposition is released, we can expect to see more allegations, and headlines.
And, in the longer run, if Maxwell is found guilty after her trial next July, she will have the right to appeal.