Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial could set new legal standard for willful ignorance
Expert calls trial a ‘holy hell’ moment for sex trafficking world’s enablers.
The federal sex-trafficking case against Ghislaine Maxwell could set a legal precedent for defendants accused of willfully turning a blind eye to sexual crimes against children.
The prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein’s accused accomplice in a New York federal courtroom opened with media proclamations of the “trial of the century” and unfolded with prosecutors presenting salacious accusations and defense attorneys offering contradictory testimonies.
But the biggest legal bombshell may have come during the judge’s instructions to the jury.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan gave the green light for the jury to find Maxwell guilty if jurors believed she “consciously avoided” knowledge of Epstein’s sexual encounters with teen-age girls. The judge based her decision on the defense team’s opening argument that Maxwell was unaware of Epstein’s sexual crimes.
In other words, Maxwell’s defense could be the tipping point for her conviction if the jury relies upon the judge’s instructions.
“This is a Holy Hell moment to hold those accountable who turn a blind eye,” said Homayra Sellier, Founder and President of Innocence in Danger, who has investigated trafficking on the streets and over the internet for more than 20 years
“While there are no guarantees for the success of human trafficking prosecutions, especially against women, there are successful precedents proving women can commit the most unspeakable crimes against children just like male predators, proving neither man or woman is above evil,” Sellier said.
“The question now is, can a sophisticated, well-educated, privileged woman romantically involved with a sex offender be held criminally liable claiming she knew nothing and hence, was not liable?”
Maxwell is accused of being the late Epstein’s accomplice or “partner in crime” as the prosecutors called her. When Epstein died in jail in August 2019, he was a Tier 3 registered sex offender for over a decade. Epstein was in the highest rated sex offender category because law enforcement and the courts concluded he was an offender likely to repeat crimes against minors.
Now, Maxwell faces accusations of not only grooming and recruiting minors for Epstein, but also participating in their sex abuse. Some of the victims who testified for the prosecution have been compensated by Epstein’s victims’ fund ranging from $1.25 million to $5 million.
The prosecution rested its case against Maxwell after 24 witnesses testified over 10 days. They painted a portrait of Epstein and Maxwell’s lavish lifestyle, and their intimate relationship traveling the world on Epstein’s private jets with luminaries. Witnesses who dealt with Maxwell as the “Lady of the House” said she ordered flights in Epstein’s world, and managed his multiple houses.
Epstein owned six residences that Maxwell managed for years. She was so attentive to Epstein’s needs that he transferred over $30 million to her bank accounts through his money managers. Epstein’s lawyers also sent up some of Maxwell’s corporations that received these sums, according to trial testimony.
Patrick McHugh, a JPMorgan executive and prosecution witness, testified that in October 1999, Epstein sold $18.3 million worth of shares in a money market fund and transferred the cash to Maxwell. In September 2002, Epstein wired $5 million to Maxwell. McHugh testified that in June 2007, Epstein wired $7.4 million to one of Maxwell’s accounts.
Maxwell’s defense countered that Maxwell’s criminal trial was not about sex trafficking, but about “memory, manipulation, and money.” Her lawyers claimed Maxwell was not like Jeffrey Epstein and was innocent because Epstein “compartmentalized” his life.
The defense argued that victims’ memories were false, clouded by the manipulation of their own lawyers, and influenced by money.
Maxwell’s defense team prepared to call 24 witnesses, but in the end it only summoned eight witnesses over two days. A false memory expert testified, but had not interviewed the four victims and hence, could not offer any specific testimony to their memories.
Maxwell declined to testify in her defense, arguing the prosecution failed to present its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The jury deliberated for two days before taking a break last Wednesday, leaving Maxwell to celebrate her 60th birthday in prison on Christmas Day. Deliberations are slated to resume Monday
During the trial, Maxwell was accused of recruiting, grooming, trafficking and sexually exploiting four women who were as young as 14 between 1994 and 2004, and in some cases participating in their sexual exploitation. She has pleaded innocent.
Maxwell still faces a second criminal trial on two counts of perjury resulting from her deposition in a 2015 civil defamation case that was settled in 2017. Virginia Roberts Guiffre, an outspoken Epstein victim, sued Maxwell for calling her a “liar.” That deposition is the basis of those perjury counts.
The deposition was sealed for years until after Epstein’s death in August 2019. In that deposition, Maxwell denied ever knowing of, or recruiting and participating in, any sexual abuse of minors for, or with Epstein.
The four victims in this current trial testified to their encounters with Maxwell and Epstein and others. Annie Farmer used her full name, while three others -- “Carolyn, Kate and Jane” --used pseudonyms.
Here are some of the key testimonies:
Accuser One: “Jane”
Maxwell and Epstein introduced themselves to Jane while she and her friends were eating ice cream on the grounds of Interlochen, a prestigious Michigan boarding school while Jane was attending their summer camp for artists in the 1990s. Jane was 14 years old and in eighth grade.
Epstein introduced himself as a donor. He built a scholarship cabin on the grounds and often visited the campus. Epstein was a gifted pianist, and an alum, who attended Inerlochen in 1967.
At the time, Jane had lost her father to cancer. Her family struggled financially and lived on someone’s property. Epstein and Maxwell invited her mother to Epstein’s home and told her mother that they liked “mentoring” young students. Jane testified that Epstein paid for her voice lessons, tuition at a New York school, and gave financial help to Jane’s mother.
When she first went to Epstein’s Palm Beach house, she testified, she saw “at least four women and Ghislaine all topless, and some of them were naked” by the pool. The first time Epstein sexually abused her was in his pool house, she said. He pulled Jane to him and masturbated. Jane said she was “frozen.”
Jane testified that Maxwell “seemed very casual” about sex “like it was very normal” and “not a big deal.” Jane alleged that Epstein and Maxell trained her sexually and introduced her to group sex with adult women named Sophie, Eva, Michelle, and a British woman named Emmy. Sometimes Maxwell was present.
Another time, both Epstein and Maxwell stripped naked and jumped into bed in front of Jane, according to the testimony. Epstein was masturbating. Maxwell was kissing Epstein.
Other times, Maxwell arranged flights to New York and New Mexico for Jane at Epstein’s request. She traveled on Epstein’s planes with Prince Andrew, Epstein’s mother, his brother, Mark, and Epstein’s chef, according to the testimony.
Jane testified that when she was 15 she sang “Happy Birthday” to “60 Minutes” reporter Mike Wallace for his 80th birthday party. Epstein introduced Jane to Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
Jane is a well-known actress but asked to use a pseudonym because of all the victim shaming when a survivor steps forward and to protect her family.
The abuse continued from 1994 - 1999 when she moved to Los Angeles, she alleged.
At the end of her testimony, the prosecution asked her about the compensation she received from Epstein’s fund.
“I mean, it — oh, I wish I would have never received that money in the first place because of what happened," Jane said. “You know, when you're seeking some sort of closure, and I guess in, you know, laws in this country, compensation is the only thing you can get to try to move on with your life and for the, you know, pain and abuse and suffering that I received, and all the out-of-pocket money I paid to try to make this go away and to try to fix myself.”
Accuser Two: “Kate”
Kate, now 44, testified she met Maxwell in Paris in 1994 with her then-boyfriend, who was an Oxford classmate of Maxwell’s. Kate was 17. Both Maxwell and Kate’s boyfriend would have been in their early 30s. After the trip, Maxwell invited Kate to her London home. Kate testified, “I felt that I had found a new connection that could be really meaningful to me.”
Maxwell introduced Kate to Epstein and encouraged her to give him massages that turned sexual, according to testimony. Kate testified Maxwell told her Epstein “needed massages all the time and it was difficult to keep up.”
Maxwell arranged her commercial flights to Epstein’s residences in New York, Palm Beach and the Virgin Islands. Kate stated that she had sex with Epstein in the locations as well as in London at Maxwell’s home. Maxwell was present during these encounters, Kate testified.
When Kate was 18, she was invited to Epstein’s Palm Beach residence. Maxwell instructed Kate to wear a school girl’s uniform and serve tea to Epstein and then he molested her, according to testimony. Maxwell asked Kate if she “had fun” and told Kate that she was one of Epstein’s favorites.
Maxwell allegedly encouraged Kate to find more girls. "You know what he likes, cute young pretty like you,” Kate testified Maxwell told her.
The court told jurors that because of Kate’s age she was not a sexual victim per se in the indictment, but nevertheless her testimony could be taken into consideration.
Accuser Three: Carolyn
Carolyn testified she was molested by Epstein from the time she was 13, sometimes three times a week. She was addicted to cocaine and pain killers. She received hundreds of dollars for each visit. She dropped out of school in the seventh grade and never returned, according to the testimony.
Carolyn said she was recruited by Virginia Roberts Guiffre, who was not called by either the prosecution or the defense. Carolyn’s former boyfriend testified that he drove Carolyn to Epstein’s Palm Beach residence multiple times, and that she would leave with $100 bills they spent on drugs and alcohol.
The first time Carolyn went to Epstein’s home Maxwell was present and told Guiffre to take Carolyn upstairs to the massage room, according to the testimony. Guiffre took off her clothes. Carolyn followed, but remained in her bra and panties. Epstein walked in and the two girls began massaging his legs. Epstein flipped over and had sexual intercourse with Giuffre while Carolyn sat on the sofa watching, according to the testimony.
Carolyn testified she continued to go to Epstein’s residence more than 100 times, and each massage ended in sexual encounters.
Carolyn testified that Maxwell scheduled her for Epstein’s massages at his Palm Beach residence. Sometimes Maxwell would call Carolyn’s cell phone, or her boyfriend’s and mother’s. Sometimes, Epstein would call her directly, according to the testimony.
Carolyn testified she shared her personal history with both Epstein and Maxwell. She was raped and molested by her grandfather starting at four years of age. Her mother had a history of drug and alcohol addiction.
One day while Carolyn was fixing up Epstein’s massage table and Maxwell entered the room and groped her, according to the testimony.
“She came in and felt my boobs and my hips and my buttocks and said….that I had a great body for Mr. Epstein and his friends,” Carolyn testified.
Epstein asked Carolyn to recruit “any friends my age or younger,” Carolyn testified. She brought three girls over to the Epstein’s home and was paid $600.
At the age of 16, Carolyn and her boyfriend ran off to Georgia. She got pregnant, and after the birth of her child, she returned to Epstein, desperate for money.
When Carolyn turned 18, she realized she was “too old” for Epstein, she testified. Today, Carolyn said she suffers from mental illness and is on medication for her drug addiction.
Accuser Four: Annie Farmer
Annie Farmer, now 42, testified she met Epstein through her sister, Maria, when she was 16 years old. Maria was an artist working for Epstein in New York. Epstein paid for Annie’s flight to New York as a Christmas present for Maria.
When Epstein took the sisters to the movies, he reached over and touched Annie, but stopped short of getting caught by Maria, according to the testimony.
Later, Epstein invited Farmer to his New Mexico ranch and spoke with her mother and represented that it was a retreat for 20-25 prospective college students Epstein wanted to help. Epstein represented to Mrs. Farmer that “his wife” Maxwell would chaperone although Maxwell and Epstein were not married, according to the testimony.
When Annie arrived, she was the only student, she testified. Maxwell and Epstein took her shopping and to a movie theatre. There, Epstein “right away began to hold my hand and caress it” and “rub on my foot and on my arm,” - all in front of Maxwell, she testified.
Afterwards, at the ranch, Maxwell introduced Farmer to massaging Epstein’s feet. She remembers Epstein “groaning.”
The next day Maxwell asked Farmer if she had ever had a professional massage. They retreated to Farmer’s guest room whereupon Maxwell set up the massage table and told Farmer to get naked, according to testimony.
Farmer laid face down and then Maxwell instructed her to flip over, and pulled down the sheet, and massaged Annie’s breasts.
Because the door was open, Farmer said, she suspected that Epstein was watching her.
During that weekend, Epstein came into Farmer’s guest room and crawled into bed with her. Epstein told her he wanted to cuddle as he pressed his body against her. Farmer got out of the bed and retreated to the bathroom.
Epstein’s Butler Juan Alessi
Juan Alessi, who worked for Epstein at his Palm Beach residence as house manager, offered explosive testimony. He said he reported to Maxwell as the “Lady of the House.”
Maxwell and the staff were handed a 58-page employee instruction book that they were to follow.
“Remember that you see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, except to answer a question directed at you,” stated the instructions.
When asked his interpretation, Alessi testified “it means a kind of warning that I was supposed to be blind, deaf, and dumb, to say nothing of their lies.”
More emphatically, the book instructed the staff, “Unless otherwise instructed, NEVER disclose Mr. Epstein’s or Ms. Maxwell activities or whereabouts to anyone” and “advise Ms. Maxwell of any strange telephone calls or inquiries.”
Alessi described his work as “slavery,” saying he typically worked from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. when they were in residence. He said he was instructed by Maxwell to never look Epstein “in the eyes.”
It was “very degrading to me,” Alessi testified.
There were “endless lists” of responsibilities instructed by Maxwell well beyond the staff on hand.
When Alessi initially worked for Epstein, Epstein had one massage a day but by the end of his employment with Epstein there were “three” a day and he saw “many, many, many females” coming to Epstein’s Palm Beach residence, according to the testimony. He admitted he knew two of the young females were underage at the time.
He not only was instructed to put $100 bills in Epstein’s car, but was to make certain that on Maxwell’s nightstand was her eye shades and a gun in Epstein’s nightstand drawer.
Alessi testified that when he straightened up the massage rooms, he cleaned used sex toys and placed them in a Maxwell’s bathroom closet next to latex costumes.
“Black vinyl or leather black,” Alessi described.
Pilot Larry Visoski
Who were the men Visoski flew and witnessed in Epstein and Maxwell’s orbits? Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, violinist Itzhak Perlman, actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker, former Sen. George Mitchell, and former astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn, he testified.
Visoski flew for Epstein for years and claimed he never witnessed any sex on the flights but did witness Epstein traveling with some of the alleged victims.
Christine Dolan is Chief Investigative Correspondent for CDM.press. She has investigated human trafficking for almost 22 years in 140 countries