Ghislaine Maxwell charged with sex trafficking minors in Epstein abuse case
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Ghislaine Maxwell charged with sex trafficking minors in Epstein abuse case

British socialite, accused in NY court of grooming girls as young as 14 for late financier, faces effective life sentence if found guilty

Ghislaine Maxwell at the WIE Symposium in New York City, on September 20, 2013. (Laura Cavanaugh/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
Ghislaine Maxwell at the WIE Symposium in New York City, on September 20, 2013. (Laura Cavanaugh/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)

English socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested Thursday and charged with sex trafficking minors for the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, the latest twist in a dramatic scandal that has embroiled Britain’s royal family.

Maxwell, whose whereabouts had been unknown following the suicide of her former boyfriend Epstein in August 2019 while he awaited trial, faces six counts relating to his sex crimes.

FBI agents and New York police detained the daughter of late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell “without incident” in Bradford, New Hampshire at 8:30 a.m. local time.

She later appeared before a local magistrate via video link that was broadcast to journalists and the public over the telephone.

The judge ordered her held in temporary detention pending transfer to the Southern District of New York, where she faces charges that include conspiracy to entice minors to travel in order to engage in illegal sex acts.

She is also charged with transportation of minors for criminal sexual activity, and perjury for allegedly lying under oath during a 2016 civil suit filed against her by one of Epstein’s alleged victims.

“Maxwell lied because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable,” Audrey Strauss, the acting US attorney in Manhattan, said.

Messages were sent Thursday to several of Maxwell’s attorneys seeking comment. She has previously repeatedly denied wrongdoing and called some claims against her “absolute rubbish.”

Maxwell lived for years with Epstein and was his frequent companion on trips around the world.

A protest group called Hot Mess holds up posters of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse on July 8, 2019, in New York City. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)

Maxwell, 58, spoke little during the procedural hearing, other than to answer “I do” when asked questions such as whether she understood her rights and consented to the hearing taking place via video.

Prosecutors allege that Maxwell helped Epstein groom girls as young as 14 between 1994 and 1997. She has for years been accused by many women of acting as a madam for the financier.

She allegedly befriended the girls, then coaxed them into giving Epstein nude massages during which they were sexually abused.

“In some instances, Maxwell was present for and participated in the sexual abuse of minor victims,” the indictment says.

She faces an effective life sentence if found guilty.

Epstein, 66, was arrested in July 2019. He hanged himself in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center on August 10 while awaiting trial on charges of trafficking minors for sex. He had pleaded not guilty.

Several of his accusers have said Maxwell maintained a network of girls to perform sexual favors for Epstein, a registered sex offender and wealthy hedge fund manager who hobnobbed with the rich and famous.

William Sweeney, from the FBI’s New York office, said the agency had recently learned that Maxwell had “slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire, continuing to live a life of privilege.”

Ghislaine Maxwell attends the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche 57th Street Boutique Opening Party on September 4, 2003, in New York City. (Evan Agostini/Getty Images/AFP)

Maxwell purchased the wooded estate in Bradford for $1 million last December. The FBI had been keeping tabs on her after she disappeared from public view following Epstein’s arrest a year ago.

Jennifer Araoz, who says Epstein raped her when she was 15, said she feared the financier’s ring of conspirators for years.

“Now that the ring has been taken down, I know that I can’t be hurt anymore,” Araoz, now 33, said in a statement. “Day after day, I have waited for the news that Maxwell would be arrested and held accountable for her actions. Her arrest is a step in that direction, and it truly means that the justice system didn’t forget about us.”

Maxwell is a long-time friend of Prince Andrew and is known to have introduced the British royal to Epstein.

US prosecutors want to speak to the prince about this relationship but say he is uncooperative. Andrew denies this.

“We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us, we would like to have the benefit of his statement,” Strauss said.

Andrew, 60, vehemently denies claims he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured by Epstein.

Illustrative: Britain’s Prince Andrew in London, June 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

Virginia Giuffre alleges she was trafficked for sex with Epstein’s friends, and says she had sex with the prince at Maxwell’s London home in 2001.

Queen Elizabeth II’s second son was forced to step back from frontline royal duties following outrage over a BBC interview in which he defended his friendship with Epstein.

The prince was not mentioned in the indictment, and the charges covered Maxwell’s dealings with Epstein only from 1994 through 1997, a period well before his alleged encounters with Giuffre in 2001.

The indictment focused on Epstein’s alleged abuse of three specific girls at his Manhattan mansion and other residences in Palm Beach, Florida; Santa Fe, New Mexico, and at Maxwell’s London home. Their names were not revealed in court filings.

Prosecutors’ allegations mirrored many claims from civil lawsuits against Maxwell, saying she would “entice and groom” minor girls by asking them about their lives, their schools and their families.

Maxwell is the daughter of a British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991 after falling off his yacht near the Canary Islands. At the time, he was facing allegations that he had illegally looted pension funds from his businesses.

Maxwell was in an intimate relationship with Epstein for years and also was paid by him to manage his various properties, according to the indictment, which included a photograph of Epstein with his arm around Maxwell and his head nuzzling hers. Strauss, at the news conference, stood silent, pointing at the picture as news crews captured the moment.

Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a news conference to announce charges against Ghislaine Maxwell for her alleged role in the sexual exploitation and abuse of multiple minor girls by Jeffrey Epstein, July 2, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Strauss promised the investigation was continuing and urged other victims to come forward.

In a memo seeking Maxwell’s detention, prosecutors wrote that she “poses an extreme risk of flight.” Maxwell has three passports, is wealthy with lots of international connections, and has “absolutely no reason to stay in the United States and face the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence,” they wrote.

Epstein befriended countless celebrities over the years, including US President Donald Trump.

Epstein was charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and another of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, and faced up to 45 years prison if convicted.

Dozens of women who say they were abused by Epstein have sued his estate.

In March, Maxwell also sued the estate seeking compensation for legal fees and security costs incurred by her association with Epstein.

In the suit she said she “had no involvement in or knowledge of Epstein’s alleged misconduct.”

Epstein was convicted in Florida in 2008 of paying young girls for massages, but served just 13 months in jail under a secret plea deal struck with the then state prosecutor.

While his death was ruled a suicide, it has fueled conspiracy theories, most speculating he was murdered to stop him from revealing compromising information about wealthy acquaintances.

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