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Ghislaine Maxwell convicted of federal sex trafficking charges for role in Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses

The jury weighed evidence and testimony from about 30 witnesses over three weeks that alleged Maxwell played a pivotal part in recruiting and grooming teenage girls.
/ Source: NBC News

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted of federal sex trafficking charges that she played a pivotal part in recruiting and grooming teenage girls to be sexually abused by her close confidant, the wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Maxwell was found guilty of five of the six federal counts she was charged with and faces up to 65 years in prison. The judge has not yet set a sentencing date.

A jury of six men and six women reached the verdict in the federal sex trafficking trial in New York City on Wednesday after six days of deliberations that bookended the holiday weekend. As deliberations dragged on, Judge Alison Nathan, who oversaw the case, worried that the omicron variant and rising coronavirus cases in the city could lead to a mistrial and had told the jury if no verdict was reached, they’d have to deliberate through the holiday weekend.

Late Wednesday, however, the jury came to its conclusion.

Maxwell’s guilty charges include conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking of minors.

She was not found guilty of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, which carried a five year sentence.

As the verdict was read, Maxwell appeared to sit still and did not look back at the crowd behind her. Once the jury foreman finished reading, Maxwell poured herself a cup of water, drank it and conferred with one of her attorneys, Jeffrey Pagliuca, who sat to her right.

After another one of Maxwell’s attorneys confirmed she could receive a booster shot while in custody, the former socialite briefly looked back at her siblings who sat in the front row before being led away.

Ghislaine Maxwell at a New York City event on Oct. 18, 2016.Sylvain Gaboury / Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that the jury had found Maxwell guilty “of one of the worst crimes imaginable,” which she had “committed with her long-time partner and co-conspirator, Jeffrey Epstein.”

“The road to justice has been far too long. But, today, justice has been done,” he said. “I want to commend the bravery of the girls — now grown women — who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom. Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case, and today’s result, possible.”

Sigrid McCawley, the attorney for Annie Farmer, a victim in the Maxwell trial, said that the verdict made clear that abusing and trafficking minors was a serious crime.

“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,” she said.

The jury weighed evidence and testimony from about 30 witnesses over three weeks.

Maxwell, who turned 60 on Christmas Day, has been jailed since her arrest in July 2020. The trial in lower Manhattan grabbed headlines, putting publishing magnate Robert Maxwell’s daughter — once a fixture in New York’s high society — in the spotlight over her relationship with Epstein.

The jury began deliberating the Monday before Christmas, asking to review the testimony of the four women who testified against Maxwell, as well as Epstein’s former housekeeper Juan Patricio Alessi, who testified that he regularly saw two of the women at Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion.

The judge asked the jury if they would like to continue deliberating Thursday, but they declined ahead of the holiday weekend. On Monday, they returned and requested further testimony transcripts, highlighters, a white paper board, Post-It notes and the definition of the word “enticement.”

Maxwell’s defense team argued that it was the financier who pulled the strings and that federal prosecutors only sought to take her down because Epstein, a convicted sex abuser, hanged himself in a Manhattan jail cell two years ago as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges.

“She’s being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein. Maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life, but that was not a crime,” defense lawyer Laura Menninger said during closing arguments.

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at an event on March 15, 2005 in New York City. Joe Schildhorn / Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

But prosecutors contended that Maxwell was not an unwilling participant as her lawyers portrayed her, and was known at Epstein’s Florida estate as the “lady of the house.” While numerous women before Epstein’s death came forward with allegations that he sexually abused them, with some claiming Maxwell helped to traffic them to other powerful men, prosecutors focused their case on the testimony of the four accusers.

Those women provided graphic accounts of how they say Maxwell “groomed” them as young girls to have sex with Epstein or pressured them into massages, in which she sometimes groped them herself. Maxwell denied helping recruit and engage in the trafficking of young girls, mostly in the 1990s.

Maxwell was charged with six counts for alleged acts committed between 1994 and 1997, and then allegedly lying to investigators in 2016. She was also charged with perjury, although those counts will be tried separately.

One of the accusers, who went by the pseudonym Jane, testified that she was just 14 when Maxwell and Epstein spotted her at a Michigan arts camp. Her accusations of sexual abuse helped prosecutors establish several of the counts in the federal case.

But the memory of the accusers was called into question during the trial, as Maxwell’s defense team picked apart inconsistencies in their testimony and called on an expert witness specializing in psychology to explain how their memories may have been “contaminated” over time. They also suggested the accusers were simply chasing millions of dollars in payouts from a special fund to compensate Epstein’s victims after his death. Roughly $121 million has been given to about 150 victims as of this summer.

Federal prosecutors struck back at those accusations at trial, telling jurors that Maxwell covered for Epstein and “never thought teenage girls would stand up to them.”

“If money was all they wanted, they could have walked away when the check cleared,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey for the Southern District of New York, daughter of former FBI Director James Comey.

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