Ghislaine Maxwell was a ‘dangerous predator’ who ‘served up’ girls for sexual abuse, a court was told yesterday.
The British socialite was billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘second in command’ and lured vulnerable teenagers for him to assault, a jury in New York heard.
The courtroom was packed as Maxwell’s trial on sex trafficking charges got under way, with observers queuing in the freezing cold from 5am to guarantee a seat. They were silent throughout as lurid claims against Epstein’s alleged madam were aired.
She listened intently, occasionally scribbling in a notebook and turning to look at her sister, as Assistant US Attorney Lara Pomerantz accused her of ‘heinous crimes’.
The prosecutor warned the jury that some of the evidence they will hear over the course of the six-week trial may make them uncomfortable.
But, after hearing it, she added, they would ‘reach the only verdict possible – that Ghislaine Maxwell is guilty’. Miss Pomerantz accused Maxwell of being one half of a powerful couple with Epstein, devising a sick ‘pyramid scheme of abuse’ in which they bribed schoolgirls to recruit their friends.
Ghislaine Maxwell was Jeffrey Epstein's 'partner in crime' who 'targeted young girls for sexual abuse', the prosecution has claimed in a blistering opening statement as the trial of Maxwell got underway on Monday where the 59-year-old is facing sex trafficking charges. Pictured: Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz points at Maxwell during opening statements
Maxwell denies sex trafficking and other charges and has been awaiting trial for over a year in 'hell-hole' Brooklyn prison
Ghislaine Maxwell (pictured here in 2013) listened intently as the prosecution opened its case, occasionally scribbling in a notebook and turning to look at her sister, while Assistant US Attorney Lara Pomerantz accused her of ‘heinous crimes’
The 59-year-old former girlfriend of Wall Street financier Epstein was his ‘partner in crime’, the jury was told – putting young girls at ease so they could be ‘molested by a middle-aged man’.
The jury of seven women and five men, plus several substitutes, heard how the daughter of the late media tycoon Robert Maxwell went after young girls with ‘difficult home lives’, often daughters of single mothers, and would ‘promise them the world’.
‘They lured their victims with a promise of a brighter future then destroyed their lives,’ the prosecutor said in a blistering 25-minute opening statement in the grand Thurgood Marshall Courthouse.
Miss Pomerantz said: ‘They were wealthy, powerful and well connected. They often targeted the daughters of single mothers, struggling to make ends meet.
'They made young girls believe that their dreams could become true. They made them feel seen. They made them feel special.’
But instead the girls were recruited into a ‘nightmare’ of abuse. ‘Between 1994 and 2004 the defendant preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up for sexual abuse.
Maxwell, 59, who is accused of procuring underage girls for paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is on trial for sex trafficking charges
In a courtroom sketch, Judge Alison Nathan instructs the sworn-in jury at the start of Ghislaine Maxwell's sex-trafficking trial
'She was trafficking them for sex. That’s what this trial is about,’ Miss Pomerantz said.
Maxwell has been described as gaunt and degraded by 17 months in a New York detention centre awaiting her trial.
But yesterday, wearing a cashmere turtleneck, black trousers and black low-heeled shoes, she looked relaxed, confident and healthy as she conferred with her high-powered legal team and smiled behind her white mask.
Miss Pomerantz began her presentation with the line: ‘I want to tell you about a young girl named Jane,’ adding that ‘Jane’ – a pseudonym for a victim – was just 14 when she was introduced to a man and a woman at a summer arts camp. They said they sponsored youngsters of talent.
‘What Jane didn’t know then is that man and woman were predators. Who was that woman targeting young girls for sexual abuse? It was the defendant: Ghislaine Maxwell,’ she said, pointing.
‘She was Epstein’s second in command. During ten years, the defendant was the lady of the house. She imposed rules. Employees were to hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing. There was a culture of silence. That was by design – the defendant’s design.
‘Behind closed doors, the defendant and Epstein were committing heinous crimes, sexually abusing teenage girls. They were partners in crime.’
The trial was watched by several women who were victims of Epstein. Maxwell – said to have been Epstein’s lover and then, when they broke up, his ‘best friend’ – is accused of acting as the financier’s chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse.
She denies all six charges, but faces up to 80 years behind bars if found guilty. He killed himself in 2019 in a Manhattan jail cell before he could be tried.
Going into disturbing details, Miss Pomerantz said Epstein ‘directed girls to massage him while he masturbated’ and would receive ‘oral sex and sometimes penetrate the girls’.
The prosecutor said of Maxwell: ‘She knew exactly what Epstein was going to do to these children when she sent them to this massage room.
'She was in on it from the start. The defendant was getting in private planes and living in extraordinary luxury.
‘These girls were just a means to support the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed.’
Miss Pomerantz told the jury they would hear from ‘Jane’, and other victims too. They included a 16-year-old taken to Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico where Maxwell ‘got the girl on a massage table and started touching the girl’s breasts’.
Another was a 17-year-old whom Maxwell allegedly spotted while driving in her car, ordering her driver to pull over ‘to recruit her’.
The abuse ‘evolved’ over the decade, said the prosecutor.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre will not be testifying during Maxwell's trial but will be giving off-the-record briefings to reporters
Journalists set up their shots outside the Manhattan Federal Courthouse where Ghislaine Maxwell's trial is set to start today
At first, Epstein and Maxwell found the victims themselves, but then in the 2000s they found a ‘more convenient way’, said Miss Pomerantz.
‘They devised a pyramid scheme of abuse,’ she said. ‘They encouraged girls to bring other girls.’
The youngsters were handed wads of cash, but Miss Pomerantz said: ‘These girls were not professional masseuses, they were kids being sexually abused.’
The young women, she said, had been scarred for life: ‘They were exploiting kids. They were trafficking kids for sex. They were dangerous predators who exploited and sexually abused young girls for a decade.’
One of those accused of being a recruiter was Virginia Roberts – the woman who has accused Prince Andrew of raping her, which he denies. Maxwell’s defence lawyer Bobbi Sternheim told jurors one of the alleged victims in the case was introduced to Epstein ‘not by Ghislaine Maxwell’ but by Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, who was being paid by Epstein ‘to recruit women for massages’. Mrs Giuffre is not taking part in this trial.
Sarah Ransome, one of the women who accused Epstein and Ghislaine of sexual abuse, was seen arriving to the courthouse
Miss Pomerantz said the abuse occurred at Epstein’s homes, including his estate in Palm Beach, Florida; his Manhattan townhouse; a ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico; a Paris apartment; and a luxury estate in the Virgin Islands.
Authorities charged Maxwell in July 2020, a year after Epstein’s suicide, after tracking her to a New Hampshire estate.
She has been jailed in Brooklyn since, calling the claims against her ‘absolute rubbish’. Her family say she was Epstein’s pawn, and was paying ‘a blood price’ to satisfy public desire to see someone held accountable.
As Maxwell left court, her lawyer Jeff Pagliuca gave her a hug and said: ‘Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite’.
Outside the courthouse, Lisa Bloom, a lawyer who represents eight alleged victims of Epstein and one in the Maxwell case, said Epstein could not have abused the women without Maxwell’s help.
‘My clients are hoping she is convicted of all charges, and that she spends the rest of her life in prison.’
The Defence: 'She's being blamed for what a man did – just like Eve in the Garden of Eden, says lawyer
By Daniel Bates in New York and Emine Sinmaz in London for the Daily Mail
The defence lawyer for Ghislaine Maxwell said she was being blamed for a man’s bad behaviour just like Eve was in the Garden of Eden.
The 59-year-old socialite’s ‘superstar’ lawyer Bobbi Sternheim also branded her accusers money-grabbers looking for a ‘jackpot of money’.
Miss Sternheim told the court: ‘Ever since Eve was accused of tempting Adam with the apple, women have been blamed for the bad behaviour of men, and women are often vilified and punished more than men are.
‘The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things Jeffrey Epstein did. But she is not Jeffrey Epstein.
‘She is not like Jeffrey Epstein and she is not like any of the other men, powerful men, moguls, who abused women.’
Lawyer Bobbi Sternheim took the floor to deliver the defence's presentation, saying she is 'proud' to represent Maxwell
Media and members of the public line up outside the Manhattan Federal Courthouse ahead of the Ghislaine Maxwell trial
She described Maxwell as a ‘scapegoat’ for Epstein, whose death had ‘left a gaping hole in the pursuit for justice’.
‘He’s the proverbial elephant in the room. He is not visible, but he is consuming this entire courtroom and overflow courtrooms where other members of the public are viewing,’ she added.
Miss Sternheim said the only common denominator between the four witnesses in the case is that they each got ‘big bucks’ in compensation from the estate of Epstein.
'Epstein's death left a gaping hole for justice for these women,' Maxwell's attorney Bobbi Sternheim said, '[Maxwell] is a brand name. She is a lightning rod'
The defence attorney told the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse, in Manhattan, that she was ‘proud’ to represent her client.
She has previously represented numerous Death Row cases and has defended the likes of Adel Abdel-Bary, Osama Bin Laden’s London spokesman, when he admitted planning bombings for Al Qaeda.
Epstein killed himself in a New York jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial for sex trafficking minors. Miss Sternheim claimed that his accusers were motivated by a compensation fund set up following his demise.
The lawyer said: ‘His accusers have shaken the money tree, and millions of dollars have fallen their way.’
Miss Sternheim said that the case was about ‘memory, manipulation and money’, claiming that the accusers’ recollections had been ‘corrupted’ by lawyers in search of payouts and ‘contaminated’ by the passage of time.
In an attempt to cast doubt on the women’s accounts, Miss Sternheim said: ‘As we all know, memories fade over time, and in this case we will learn not only have memories faded, but they have been contaminated by outside information, media reports.’
She also took aim at each of the four witnesses in the case, branding one ‘a consummate actress’ before undermining the others.
But in contrast, Miss Sternheim painted Maxwell as ‘a brand name [and] a lightning rod’ for claims in the wake of Epstein’s death.
Financier Epstein was painted as a mysterious man, unattached with no children – ‘like a 21st-century James Bond’.
Isabel Maxwell, the sister of Ghislaine Maxwell, arrives at the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse on Monday
It's still unknown whether Maxwell's husband Scott Borgerson will trek to New York to attend the trial in support of his wife
Ghislaine Maxwell's sex trafficking trial got underway on Monday at the Federal Court House in Manhattan, New York, where the 59-year-old socialite faces 80 years in prison if convicted. Pictured: Maxwell is pictured embracing her defence lawyers
Miss Sternheim said his wealth and mystique stirred the public’s interest. She described him as a ‘patron of the arts’ and a man who had ‘many desirable traits, attractiveness, charisma, intelligence, status, charm’.
She referred to Maxwell as an Oxford graduate and a helicopter pilot, saying that she ‘socialised with extraordinary people’.
But she asked the jurors to not let Maxwell’s wealth cloud their judgment.
‘Privileged background, comfortable lifestyle, status – they may be things that easily check the wrong box, but they are not crimes,’ she said.
The opening statement was interrupted several times by objections from the prosecutor.
Miss Sternheim claims Maxwell is being prosecuted only because US authorities were unable to bring Epstein himself to justice.
But she said the prosecution could not prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, before adding: ‘When all is said and done the evidence will show that the government cannot because Ghislaine did not.’
First witness: ‘Lolita Express’ pilot who flew Epstein for over 25 years
The first witness to give evidence in the trial was a former captain of Jeffrey Epstein’s infamous ‘Lolita Express’ plane.
Larry Visoski was the multimillionaire’s chief pilot and flew the financier for more than 25 years.
Asked what he had made of Epstein’s relationship to Ghislaine Maxwell, he said it was ‘more personal than business’.
But he added: ‘I wouldn’t characterise it as romantic.’
Epstein's pilot Lawrence 'Larry' Visoski Jr. took the stand as the first witness. Pictured: Visoski in Epstein's Gulfstream G550
Mr Visoski said he had been hired in 1991 and had flown Epstein around roughly ‘every four days’. The pilot was so close to his boss that his daughter was reportedly married at Epstein’s New Mexico ranch.
He described the interior of Epstein’s New York mansion in detail, as photos of the properties around the world where abuse is alleged to have taken place were displayed for the jury.
Epstein used his private jet – nicknamed the Lolita Express because of some of the alleged underage passengers – to fly himself, high-powered friends, including Bill Clinton, and a parade of young women.
Last year, it emerged flight logs for all of Epstein’s private aircraft had been subpoenaed, sparking fears among celebrities who had partied with the paedophile.
The attorney general in the Virgin Islands where he owned a private island has reportedly demanded to see the logs.