The first time i saw Ghislaine MaxwellI followed her from the front door of her luxurious brownstone through the streets of Manhattan asking her about the horrible accusations against her.
Almost a decade later I saw her for the last time, in court, and she could no longer run from the truth about her life with Jeffrey Epstein.
LOOK: Ghislaine Maxwell found guilty of recruiting minors to be abused by Jeffrey Epstein
This Wednesday he received one of the most prominent convictions of a woman for enabling a sex trafficking network.
Most importantly, it is a huge victory for the 100-plus whistleblowers who fought for more than a decade to bring Epstein and his co-conspirators to face criminal charges.
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Maxwell, the 60-year-old daughter of a British media mogul, was found guilty of trafficking girls as young as 14 for the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
There were several powerful moments during the trial in a packed courtroom in New York City. Mainly from the prosecution, who kept their case simple to avoid overwhelming the jury.
His goal was to prove that Maxwell was the accomplice of Epstein, a sexual predator whose modus operandi was clearly illustrated by the experiences of four victims.
The prosecution’s opening statement to the jury began with 11 words that sounded like the beginning of a children’s book.
“I want to tell you about a young woman named Jane.”
But for these women this was not a fairy tale. It was a nightmare and it was very real. How real became apparent the next day when Jane took the stand.
He testified that Maxwell and Epstein approached him when he was 14 at an arts summer camp in 1994.
For the next two years, she said she was abused every two weeks and that Maxwell was involved at times. This was one of his key exchanges with prosecutors:
Question: How was Maxwell’s behavior during these incidents?
Answer: I’d say it looked very casual, like it was, like it was very normal, like it wasn’t a big deal.
Q. And when she behaved like this, how did she make you feel?
A. Well, it made me feel confused because it didn’t seem normal to me; I had never seen anything like this or felt anything like this, and it was very embarrassing. You know, it’s all these mixed emotions. When you are 14 years old, you have no idea what is going on.
The other witnesses would later recount similar experiences.
Massages to a rich friend
One of the most heartbreaking testimonies came from Carolyn, who testified under her first name.
The woman was visibly devastated by years of trauma and addiction to painkillers and cocaine. Her grandfather had raped her at the age of four, dropped out of school in the seventh grade, and was neglected by a mother who abused substances.
Carolyn told the court that it was one of Epstein’s main whistleblowers, Virginia Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, who first told her at age 14 that she could earn money by massaging a wealthy friend of hers.
Carolyn first met Ghislaine Maxwell when she showed up at Epstein’s mansion in 2001. Maxwell, she claimed, told Virginia to take her upstairs to the massage room and “show her what to do.”
Prosecutors told jurors that by that time period, Maxwell had already devised a pyramid scheme of abuse that no longer required her to personally find young girls for Epstein.
Instead, they would reward vulnerable girls with extra money for bringing someone new.
Carolyn received hundreds of dollars for “massaging” Epstein in each of the more than 100 encounters until he “got too old.”
She brought three other friends to Epstein. Carolyn said that Maxwell, before touching her breasts, once told her that “she had a great body for Epstein and his friends.”
Teenagers often came from troubled homes. Their families faced situations such as bankruptcy, substance abuse, or a previous sexual assault.
And even when they didn’t, Maxwell and Epstein lured them with friendships, gifts, and promises to help them in their careers or pay for their studies. That “seduction” process, prosecutors said, was a key part of Maxwell’s ways.
He then used the massage ruse as an excuse for the girls to touch Epstein and normalize sexual contact. Prosecutors said Maxwell escorted the girls into a room to be harassed and abused, and was sometimes present “to make things feel normal and casual.”
The other two complainants were of the age of consent at the locations where the abuse occurred, and therefore the judge ruled that the sexual acts were not illegal.
Still, Kate, under a pseudonym, and Annie Farmer, who identified herself publicly, were equally convincing on the stand in demonstrating Maxwell’s tactics.
A confident defendant
Ghislaine Maxwell’s family had complained about the treatment she received in prison, saying it amounted to torture.
Yet in court, Maxwell was an extremely committed and spirited defendant. He carefully studied the submissions, looked witnesses in the eye, and often passed notes to his attorneys to convey his ideas.
He appeared to be in a good mood, hugging his defense team and blowing kisses and greeting his family in court.
His steely defiance was best captured when Judge Alison Nathan asked him if he would testify in his own defense. Instead of answering the judge with a simple yes or no, he stood up and informed the court that “it was not necessary” for him to do so because the prosecution had not proven his case.
His defense, on the other hand, was less certain. The attorneys called only nine witnesses over two days. His strategy relied heavily on cracking the case brought by prosecutors, who bear the burden of proving the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
The entire foundation of the prosecution’s case rested on the credibility of the four prosecution witnesses. Because her testimony was so compelling to the jurors, Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted.
Legal experts said attacking the women’s memories and motives did not help the defendant.
“Ghislaine Maxwell had the disadvantage of having to explain this parade of young girls coming in and out of the house every day under her supervision,” says Mark Epner, a former prosecutor.
“She claimed that she knew nothing about it. And when the jurors concluded that she was a liar, they concluded that she was a predator.”
The massage table and sex toys
One of the only physical evidence on display in the courtroom was a green folding massage table taken from a police raid on Epstein’s Palm Beach, Florida property in 2005.
It was an attempt by the prosecution to almost recreate the crime scene right there in the middle of the courtroom. A retired police officer testified that they also recovered a box of sex toys.
A hard drive recovered during a separate FBI raid of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion contained emails sent by Maxwell to a staff member complaining that the house manager, Juan Alessi, did not order the creams. Epstein massage.
That led police to Alessi, who provided some of the most compelling and X-rated testimony at the trial. Reporters covering the case had to hastily write notes to keep up with the shocking revelations about the house.
Alessi told the court that Epstein received three massages a day. When Alessi cleaned up afterward, she put the sex toys back in their place, in a basket in Maxwell’s closet next to the master bedroom he shared with Epstein.
Alessi said Epstein or Maxwell would sometimes direct her to contact and pick up young women for massages. He recalled seeing two underage girls who appeared to be 14 or 15 years old, Jane and Virginia Roberts.
The house rules, included in a 59-page manual, Alessi said, told staff to be deaf, dumb and blind and prohibited them from making eye contact with Epstein.
“There was a culture of silence. That was by order of the defendant, because behind closed doors, the defendant and Epstein were committing heinous crimes,” said Assistant United States Attorney Lara Pomerantz.
Police raids on Epstein’s homes also produced intimate photos showing the lavish lifestyle and close connection that the Epstein-Maxwell duo had.
In one image the couple is seen relaxing at the Balmoral residence, when Prince Andrew reportedly invited the couple to the Scottish estate. In another, Ghislaine Maxwell is on a private plane with Epstein, massaging his foot and rubbing it against her cleavage.
The staggering wealth on display of opulent properties in Palm Beach, New York and New Mexico only highlighted the power dynamics at play. The couple used wealth to attract and make young women feel indebted to them.
Several witnesses, including the four women, recalled how the duo used to name their friends in high positions, such as Bill Clinton, Donald Trump or Prince Andrew, and showed photos of them together with Pope John Paul II or Fidel Castro in their properties.
Neither said that Epstein and Maxwell’s famous friends committed any crime.
These connections proved not to be an impediment to justice, and the conviction is a significant moment for people who are often at the other end of the social ladder.
“This guilty verdict is immensely significant for victims of sexual abuse everywhere,” said Lisa Bloom, an attorney for eight of Epstein’s victims.
“No matter who he is, no matter what kind of circles he moves in, no matter how much money he has, no matter how many years have passed since the sexual abuse, justice is still possible.”
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