Opening statements are underway in the hotly anticipated trial of Ghislaine Maxwell — the longtime alleged madam of powerful pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 while charged with sexually abusing underage girls.
Prosecutors in Manhattan federal court on Monday began laying out their case against the 59-year-old British socialite, painting her as Epstein’s “partner in crime” and charging that she was “essential” in his scheme to prey on children.
“The defendant and Epstein lured their victims with the promise of a brighter future — only to sexually exploit them and forever change their lives,” Assistant US Attorney Lara Pomerantz told jurors.
Maxwell — who has been locked up since her July 2020 arrest — stands accused of helping Epstein to “recruit, groom and ultimately abuse” girls as young as 14, according to the indictment against her.
Pomerantz told jurors Maxwell served as Epstein’s “partner in crime.”
“She was in on it from the start,” Pomerantz said.
The six counts she faces — including sex-trafficking of minors — stem from the allegations of four women who say they were abused by Epstein and Maxwell between 1994 and 2004 when they were teenagers.
Prosecutors allege that Maxwell, the youngest child of late publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell, groomed the teens knowing they would be preyed on by her ex-boyfriend and best buddy — and even took part in the abuse.
Pomerantz detailed how Maxwell and Epstein allegedly devised a ruse to lure teen girls to “massage rooms” in several of his homes.
“What was happening inside those massage rooms was not a massage, it was sexual abuse,” the prosecutor said.
US Marshals escorted Maxwell, who wore a cream sweater and black pants, into the courtroom at around 8:30 a.m.
The start of her trial drew a mass of media, who arrived at dawn in an effort to snag a seat inside the courtroom or in one of the overflow rooms equipped with live video and audio feeds of the proceedings.
Joining them were members of the public, including alleged victims of the depraved duo like Sarah Ransome, who sued them both in 2017 for forcing her into sex acts in 2006 and 2007, when she was in her 20s. Her federal lawsuit was settled a year later.
“I never thought this day would come,” Ransome told reporters outside the courthouse Monday morning.
One of Maxwell’s three sisters, Isabel, and Lisa Bloom, the attorney representing some of Epstein’s alleged victims, were also spotted arriving at the Lower Manhattan courthouse.
“We encourage everyone to allow the evidence to unfold in court and to exercise restraint and respect for the administration of criminal justice,” Maxwell’s siblings tweeted from their joint account @RealGhislaine on Monday morning.
Inside the courtroom, the first order of business was to finalize jury selection: picking the 12 jurors and six alternates who will hear Maxwell’s case from a pool of 40 to 60 people who made it through initial questioning.
Sitting at the defense table, Maxwell appeared relaxed and exchanged many glances with her sister, who was sitting in the front row and at one point seemed to smile behind her mask.
Maxwell took frequent notes, sometimes handing them to her attorneys.
About two dozen spectators were in the courtroom, including, for a time, US Attorney Damian Williams, who at one point sat up straight to get a good look at Maxwell.
The Oxford-educated blue blood has been held in a Brooklyn jail since she was arrested at a $1 million New Hampshire estate, to which she escaped following Epstein’s suicide in August 2019. She has denied the charges, and her attorneys have repeatedly claimed she’s being scapegoated for the government’s failure to bring Epstein to trial.
Until his July 2019 arrest, the sick financier had skirted federal sex-trafficking charges because of a secret 2008 deal with the Justice Department that allowed him to plead guilty to state charges in Florida instead and serve just 13 months in prison.
Maxwell, who holds American, French and British citizenship, has repeatedly been denied bail while awaiting trial. Her lawyers have argued that she has been subjected to horrific conditions in the Metropolitan Detention Center, including sexual abuse by guards during daily pat-down searches.