Jeffrey Epstein's ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested on Thursday morning and charged with helping the former financier sexually exploit and abuse multiple girls in the 1990s.
"Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, and then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein set for them," Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said on Thursday in a news conference.
"All the while she was setting them up to be sexually abused by Epstein, and in some cases by Maxwell herself," said Strauss.
The SDNY led the investigation against multimillionaire Epstein last year, charging him with leading a sex trafficking ring involving the abuse of dozens of young girls, some as young as 14, from 2002 to 2005. Epstein died by suicide in jail in August 2019, a month after the charges went public and before a trial could begin.
"This case against Ghislaine Maxwell is the prequel to the earlier case that we brought against Jeffrey Epstein," said Strauss.
The FBI arrested Maxwell at 8:30 a.m. in Bradford, New Hampshire. William F. Sweeney Jr., from the New York FBI office, called Maxwell "one of the villains in this investigation."
Sweeney said the FBI had been "discreetly keeping tabs" on Maxwell, noting that she had recently "slithered away" to a luxury residence in New England, "continuing to live a life of privilege."
Maxwell, a well-connected British socialite, last appeared publicly when she was snapped at an In-N-Out burger joint in Los Angeles shortly after Epstein's charges came to light.
Epstein — whose former associates included President Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, and former president Bill Clinton — was in an intimate relationship with Maxwell between 1994 and 1997, which is the same time period as the charges laid out in the latest indictment.
The indictment accuses Maxwell of "helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims known…. to be under the age of 18."
Dozens of women have come forward accusing Epstein of sexually abusing them in the last year. Many of them were young teenagers often struggling for money or family support when the abuse occurred.
"Maxwell and Epstein had a method," Strauss said.
Maxwell “first attempted to befriend” some victims, according to the indictment, by asking them about their lives and taking them shopping or to the movies.
The indictment accused her of ways she "normalized sexual abuse,” such as undressing in front of a victim or seeing a victim undress, being present for sex acts between the victim and Epstein, and discussing sex with the underage girls. The indictment also said she encouraged the girls to give or receive nude massages from Epstein, where he would sexually abuse them.
"Maxwell was present and involved in some of this abuse," Strauss said.
The indictment said she had also encouraged victims to accept Epstein's money — for travel or expenses such as education — which made the girls feel indebted to him.
Officials accuse Maxwell of helping subject victims to sexual abuse by Epstein in multiple residences, including his Upper East Side townhouse in New York, a ranch in Santa Fe, a luxury home in Palm Beach, Florida, and Maxwell's own home in London.
There are three anonymous victims in the indictment, including one who was just 14 when she first met Maxwell and Epstein.
Some of the charges include sex trafficking, noting that the first victim was abused in New York and Florida and that Epstein would pay for their travel. The second underage victim was massaged by Maxwell when she was topless, after Maxwell took her shopping and to the movies, according to the indictment.
In one instance that allegedly occurred in her London home, law enforcement officials accuse Maxwell of encouraging a third victim, who was under 18 when they first met, to massage Epstein who then sexually abused her.
Maxwell is also being charged with perjury, for lying under oath about what happened and her knowledge of it.
"Maxwell compounded her crimes by repeatedly lying," Strauss said. "Maxwell lied because the truth as alleged was almost unspeakable."
The indictment outlines that in a 2016 interview with SDNY investigators under oath, Maxwell denied knowing Epstein had sex with anyone during the 1990s and 2000s apart from herself and two other women they'd had threesomes with, and that she'd never given anyone a massage.
Maxwell will face a magistrate judge in the district of New Hampshire later Thursday.
“Today, my fellow Epstein survivors and I are able to take a breath of relief, as Maxwell’s arrest means some justice for survivors can exist," Epstein survivor Jennifer Araoz said in a statement.
"For years, I feared Epstein and his ring," Araoz said. "Maxwell was the center of that sex trafficking ring. Now that the ring has been taken down, I know that I can’t be hurt anymore."
One of Epstein's most high-profile friends, Prince Andrew, stepped back from public duties following Epstein's charges and death, calling it a "major disruption" to his family's royal duties.
"We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us," Strauss said on Thursday.