Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of sex trafficking charges Wednesday, bringing an end to the federal case in which she stood accused of assisting Jeffrey Epstein in his decadelong scheme of grooming and sexually abusing girls as young as 14.
The Associated Press reported that Maxwell was found guilty of five of the six federal charges against her. She now faces years in prison.
In the government’s closing argument on Dec. 20, Assistant US Attorney Alison Moe described Maxwell as a “dangerous” woman who “preyed on vulnerable kids.”
“Maxwell was a sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing. She ran the same playbook again and again,” Moe said. “She manipulated her victims, and she groomed them for sexual abuse. She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls. It is time to hold her accountable.”
The 60-year-old daughter of a British media magnate, Maxwell is the former girlfriend and longtime associate of Epstein, the former financier and convicted sex offender, whose death in prison while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges on Aug. 10, 2019, was ruled a suicide. With his death coming before he faced a jury, Maxwell’s case marked a major milestone in a saga that has stretched decades, only drawing renewed attention after a series of articles in the Miami Herald highlighting how the justice system had failed the women who said they were abused.
She was arrested on July 20, 2020, after disappearing from the public eye for more than a year. (The FBI tracked Maxwell to Bradford, New Hampshire, using data and coordinates from her cellphone.) She was deemed a flight risk and has been held without bail since her arrest. She was found guilty of conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, sex trafficking conspiracy, and sex trafficking of a minor. The jury found her not guilty of enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, the AP reported.
"I want to commend the bravery of the girls — now grown women — who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom," US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement after the verdict was announced. "Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case, and today’s result, possible."
Maxwell had pleaded not guilty to all the charges and declined to testify, claiming “there is no need” for her to do so because “the government has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
During the three-week trial, four women testified that Epstein had sexually abused them while they were between the ages of 14 and 17, and that Maxwell assisted in grooming them and occasionally participated in the abuse herself. According to prosecutors and the victims’ testimonies, Maxwell and Epstein sought out vulnerable young girls — particularly those in need of money, with single mothers and difficult home lives — and made them feel special and cared for, taking them shopping and to the movies, offering to pay for school, and asking them about their lives.
Maxwell and Epstein were extravagantly wealthy and had many powerful, famous friends. One of the victims said they introduced her to both Donald Trump and Prince Andrew when she was 14, but did not accuse either of any misconduct. Epstein’s former pilot testified that Trump and Prince Andrew had been passengers on the private jet, as were Bill Clinton, actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker, senators John Glenn and George Mitchell, and violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Maxwell would serve as a normalizing presence during the meticulous grooming process, bringing up sexual topics, being naked or topless around them, and encouraging them to give Epstein massages. These massages were how Epstein typically initiated sexual contact with his victims — often with Maxwell in the room and instructing them how to touch him, to give the teenagers the impression what they were having done to them was normal, the women said. The sexual abuse would ramp up after that, often several times a week for years, with the girls at times being flown on Epstein’s private jet to visit him at his various homes.
Maxwell was frequently present during these encounters, the women said, goading them into sex acts with Epstein. At times, Maxwell was also an active participant in the sexual abuse — three of the witnesses testified she had touched their breasts. One said Maxwell had her wear a schoolgirl outfit to serve Epstein tea, and another said she was made to participate in group sexual encounters with the couple and other people.
“It made me feel confused because that did not feel normal to me,” said one of the victims, who testified under the pseudonym Jane. “When you’re 14, you have no idea what’s going on.”
This was precisely what made Maxwell “key to the whole operation,” Moe, the prosecutor, said in her closing argument.
“Epstein could not have done this alone,” Moe said. “A single middle-aged man who invites a teenage girl to visit his ranch, to come to his house, to fly to New York, is creepy. That sets off alarm bells.”
“But when that man is accompanied by a posh, smiling, respectable, age-appropriate woman, that’s when everything starts to seem legitimate,” she continued. “And when that woman encourages those girls to massage that man, when she acts like it’s totally normal for the man to touch those girls, it lures them into a trap. It allows the man to silence the alarm bells and get away with molesting girls.”
Throughout the trial and in their closing argument, defense attorneys worked to discredit the witnesses’ testimonies, questioning whether their memories of the abuse were faulty or even outright invented. They also repeatedly accused the women of just being out for money, pointing to the fact that all four had previously received large settlements from a compensation fund for Epstein’s victims.
They also claimed Maxwell was innocent of anything Epstein might have done, suggesting she was being treated as a scapegoat because he is no longer alive to face the consequences.
In the defense’s closing argument, attorney Laura Menninger hammered these points home, claiming the women had “erroneous memories” and that their “stories have changed dramatically over time.” She honed in on minor discrepancies and details the accusers had not been certain of, even saying one was “like an actress who forgot her lines.”
“As we have said from the beginning, Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein,” Menninger said. “She’s being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein. Maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life, but it was not a crime.”
In their rebuttal, the government urged the jury not to get “distracted by [the defense’s] nonsense.”
“Never mind that [the accusers’ stories] corroborate each other, never mind the mountain of evidence that backs those four up, the defense is desperate for you not to believe these women,” Assistant US Attorney Maurene Comey said. “So they’re throwing up anything they can think of at the wall to see if anything will stick, but if you think about those arguments for just a little bit, you’ll see they don’t hold any water.”
Comey hit back hard against the defense’s attempts to discredit the accusers’ memories, saying it would mean believing “all four of these women had a massive false memory event that just happened to include details of the defendant grooming them in the same way, using the same playbook.”
“Some things you never forget because they’re seared into your brain forever,” she said.
The defense also described the idea that Maxwell — a fixture in Epstein’s life — was simply unaware of the abuse as “borderline laughable.”
“Of course she knew that her boyfriend, when he was spending time with teenage girls … he was doing it because he was attracted to them, because he wanted to have sex with them,” Comey said. “The suggestion that she didn’t know borders on the absurd.”
Comey closed out her rebuttal by calling on the jury to “use your common sense” and believe the testimony of the four women who took the stand.
“The defendant never thought that those teenage girls would have the strength to report what happened to them. In her eyes, they were just trash, beneath her,” Comey said. “Those girls would never stand up to a power couple like Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell — and if they ever did, who would believe them?”
“But the defendant didn’t count on those teenage girls growing up into the women who testified at this trial — women who would be willing to take that stand and tell the truth about what happened,” she said.