NEW YORK: Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime paramour of financier Jeffrey Epstein, was convicted on sex-trafficking charges after a trial that centered on what types of enabling conduct - including befriending young girls and teaching and scheduling them to massage an older man - should be considered criminal.
Maxwell, 60, was accused of recruiting teenage girls to massage Epstein at his homes in Palm Beach, Fla., New York, New Mexico and elsewhere between 1994 and 2004.
Epstein allegedly paid the girls hundreds of dollars in cash for the massages, which involved sexual touching and which he expected three times a day. He died by suicide 28 months ago, while awaiting his own trial.
Guilty on five counts
The jury found Maxwell guilty on five of six counts, including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and sex trafficking of an individual under 18. She was found not guilty of enticement of one individual under 17 with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activity.
"A unanimous jury has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of one of the worst crimes imaginable, facilitating and participating in the sexual abuse of children," said Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "The road to justice has been far too long, but today justice has been done."
There was no visible reaction from Maxwell as the verdict was announced. She also did not make eye contact with her three siblings, who were seated at the front of the courtroom, as she was taken back to the holding cells.
Maxwell faces up to 65 years in prison. No sentencing date has been set.
"Today's verdict is a towering victory, not just for the brave women who testified in this trial, but for the women around the world whose young and tender lives were diminished and damaged by the abhorrent actions of Ghislaine Maxwell," said Sigrid McCawley, who along with David Boies represented one of the accusers who testified, Annie Farmer. "For too long their voices were ignored and discounted and their characters impugned and disgraced, but no more. I am in awe of their sacrifice, their courage and the strength they have shown in pursuit of justice."
Victim relieved, thankful
Farmer, in a statement, said she is "relieved and grateful that the jury recognized the pattern of predatory behavior that Maxwell engaged in for years," adding the convicted abuser harmed "many more women than the few of us who had the chance to testify in the courtroom."
Bobbi Sternheim, one of Maxwell's lawyers, said, "We firmly believe in Ghislaine's innocence. Obviously, we are very disappointed with the verdict. We have started the appeal tonight and believe Ghislaine will ultimately be vindicated."
Epstein and Maxwell were a jet-setting power couple who hobnobbed years ago with, among others, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Great Britain's Prince Andrew.
Allegations about orgies and sex parties with young girls, including on Epstein's private Caribbean island, caused many prominent politicians, business leaders and celebrities to distance themselves, especially after a 2008 plea deal that resulted in a relatively light one-year jail sentence for Epstein.
A renewed investigation led to more serious federal sex-trafficking charges in 2019. And his suicide, weeks after his arrest on those charges, left accusers demanding that individuals who enabled their alleged abuse be held accountable.
Maxwell, Epstein and minor girls
Maxwell's trial was viewed by both Epstein's victims and outside experts as an opportunity for prosecutors to do so.
Jurors began deliberating late on Dec. 20, with a four-day halt over Christmas weekend, and reconvened Monday.
At trial, prosecutors argued that the teenagers, who were as young as 14 during their encounters with Epstein, expected Maxwell to be a buffer and chaperone between them and the much older multimillionaire.
Instead, Maxwell facilitated massage appointments and gave instructions on what Epstein liked, the now-grown women said. She also sometimes arranged their flights and other travel details when they visited his homes.
Three of the four accusers who took the witness stand during the three-week trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said they also were subjected to unwanted sexual touching by Maxwell herself.
The women described how Maxwell warmed them up to the idea of massaging Epstein by giving them lessons and instructions.
More on Ghislaine Maxwell
"Maxwell was a sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said during closing arguments on Dec. 20. "She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls."
Defense attorneys for Maxwell presented her as someone whose primary role in Epstein's life was to manage his properties and assist him in business matters. They argued that the accusers' memories have been influenced by years of media coverage focused on Epstein, and on Maxwell's proximity to him.
During cross-examination, the lawyers pressed Maxwell's accusers to admit that they did not tell authorities about Maxwell's alleged role in the abuse until after Epstein's suicide, as the victims were beginning to pursue claims against Epstein's estate that ended up totaling millions of dollars.
The attorneys suggested that cooperating with law enforcement put the women in line to win a bigger financial settlement - a notion that prosecutors vehemently disputed.
Defense attorneys also presented testimony about how memories can be impacted over time by information people learn or hear after the fact.
"The evidence presented at trial has established exactly what we told you it would during openings, that the stories relied on by the government are the product of erroneous memories, manipulation, and money," Maxwell's attorney Laura Menninger said in her summation.
Jurors were given a detailed 80-page jury charge to work from as they considered each of the six counts in the indictment. The document was meant to serve as an instruction manual of sorts. It laid out legal definitions of terms like "knowingly" and "interstate commerce," as well as the specific statutes and the exact elements needed to prove the charges.
The document also included instructions to the jury and explanations of their role and the rules by which they must consider the evidence.
Victims as young as 14
One victim, now a professional singer and actor, testified using the pseudonym Jane and said she was 14 when she was befriended by Maxwell and Epstein at a prestigious performing arts summer camp. The pair invited the girl and her mother to tea at Epstein's Palm Beach mansion, she testified, and Epstein paid for her schooling and trips to New York. She said she was abused more than once by Epstein at age 14, and that Maxwell instructed her on how Epstein liked to be massaged and was sometimes in the room when the abuse happened.
She also said she was flown to New Mexico and New York for visits with Epstein that included sexual abuse.
Another victim, Carolyn, who testified using only her first name, said Maxwell regularly called her to book times for her to massage Epstein, and had groped her torso after meeting her and pronounced her body "great" for Epstein.
The jury found Maxwell guilty of conspiracy to entice individuals under the age of 17 to travel in interstate commerce with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity; conspiracy to transport individuals under 17 to travel in interstate commerce with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity; transportation of an individual under 17 (Jane only) with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity; conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of individuals under the age of 18; and sex trafficking of an individual under 18 (Carolyn only).
Maxwell was found not guilty of enticement of an individual under 17 (Jane only) to travel with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity.