Ghislaine Maxwell, the former companion of the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, was convicted on Wednesday of conspiring with him for at least a decade to recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls.
A federal jury in Manhattan found Ms. Maxwell, 60, daughter of a British media mogul, guilty of sex trafficking and four of the five other charges against her. She was acquitted of one charge of having lured a minor to travel across state borders to engage in an illegal sexual act.
Maxwell’s trial was largely perceived as the courtroom that Mr Epstein never had. Epstein, who was arrested in July 2019 at the age of 66, killed himself in a prison cell in Manhattan the following month, the forensic pathologist ruled while awaiting his own trial on sex trafficking charges. Ms. Maxwell was arrested a year later.
The verdict was handed down late in the afternoon on the jury’s fifth full day of deliberations. After the jury sent a note that it had made a decision, Ms. Maxwell, wearing dark clothes and a dark mask, led into the courtroom and sat down at the corner of the defense table. She poured water from a plastic bottle into a paper cup and took a sip.
The juries entered the courtroom at 17.04, and Judge Alison J. Nathan read out the verdict: guilty of five of the six charges. Ms. Maxwell sat quietly while reading the verdict. She then touched her face and again poured water into a cup and drank. She leaned over to talk to one of her lawyers, who patted her on the back.
After the jurors had left the courtroom, Mrs. Maxwell stood up and glanced at her siblings – two sisters and a brother sitting in first row of the spectator gallery – and was quickly escorted out of the courtroom without speaking to her lawyers.
Ms. Maxwell’s conviction ended another chapter in the saga of Mr Epstein, whose gruesome exploits, dealing with the criminal justice system and casting famous friends made him – and by extension Mrs Maxwell – the subject of intense public scrutiny for years.
In her trial, the government called four prosecutors – two used pseudonyms and one only a partial name – who testified that they had been served on Mr Epstein for being sexually abused. Ms. Maxwell, according to the testimony, was present during some of the abuse and played a role in luring and caring for some of the victims.
Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement Wednesday night: “The road to justice has been far too long. But today, justice has been done. I would like to commend the bravery of girls – now grown women. who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom. “
One of Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers, Bobbi C. Sternheim, said outside the courthouse: “We firmly believe in Ghislaine’s innocence. We are obviously very disappointed with the verdict. We have already started working on the appeal and we are convinced that she will right.
Ms. Maxwell’s siblings left the courthouse in Lower Manhattan without speaking to the crowds and cameras outside.
Judge Nathan did not set a date for Mrs. Maxwell to be convicted. On the most serious of the charges she was convicted of – sex trafficking with minors – she could risk up to 40 years in prison. Another indictment carries a potential 10-year prison sentence, and the other three, all conspiracies, face up to five years in prison each.
Ms. Maxwell is also facing a separate lawsuit, in the same court, for two charges of perjury, stemming from the 2016 attachment she filed in a lawsuit related to Mr. Epstein.
Ms. Maxwell’s trial, which was once expected to last up to six weeks, went fast as the government parried its list of witnesses and presented a case over 10 days centered on the four prosecutors.
Two of the women testified that Mr. Epstein began engaging in sexual acts with them when they were only 14 years old. One said that Mrs Maxwell was sometimes present at the meetings and the other said that Mrs Maxwell had insulted her directly by touching her breasts.
Two prosecutors portrayed Ms. Maxwell, a former socialite who, as a kind of mentor and big sister – a picture of elegance and sophistication, remembered the one – who took them shopping and to the cinema in what the prosecutors said was a trick to build trust. She then played a key role in the normalization of sexualized massage with Mr Epstein, which in some cases led to several years of sexual abuse.
“Maxwell was a sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing,” a prosecutor, Alison Moe, told the jury as concluding arguments last week. “She manipulated her victims and she cared for them for sexual abuse.”
The verdict was largely a rejection of Mrs Maxwell’s defense, which centered on an argument that the government’s case was based on flimsy evidence, the accusers’ reluctance towards Mr Epstein and the inconsistent accounts of women motivated by money to point the finger on Ms. Maxwell.
Throughout the trial, Mrs Maxwell’s lawyers tried to question the testimony of her prosecutors, emphasize the distance between her and Mr Epstein and criticize the way the investigation was conducted.
“The government wants you to speculate again and again,” a Max Maxwell lawyer, Laura Menninger, told the jury during closing arguments. She said Mrs Maxwell was in court because of her relationship with Mr Epstein. “Perhaps it was the biggest mistake of her life, but it was not a crime,” she said.
Mr. Epstein’s name appeared repeatedly under Ms. Maxwell’s trial and her lawyers spent much of their time trying to distance themselves from the man who was once also her boyfriend and is now seen as one of the most notorious sex offenders in modern American history.
Ms. Maxwell’s prosecutors included the two women who testified under pseudonyms – “Jane”, a soap opera actress, and “Kate”, a British model, actress and singer from a wealthy family. A third prosecutor, Carolyn, used only her first name. She described herself as a dropout in middle school who had become addicted to drugs and was sexually abused by her grandfather at the age of 4. The fourth prosecutor, Annie Farmer, who holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology and working as an educational therapist, testified under his real name.
If the accusers seemed to have a contrasting background, the stories they gave about how they were lured into Mr. Epstein’s world shared a common thread: Ms. Maxwell.
Jane testified about how Mrs. Maxwell, a “tall, thin woman” with a “cute little Yorkie,” strolled over to her, followed by Mr. Epstein, while sitting with friends at age 14 and eating ice cream on a summer art camp in Michigan. The random meeting led to an invitation to Mr. Epstein’s house in Palm Beach, Florida, and what prosecutors said was years of sexual abuse.
Carolyn testified that when she was also 14, a friend of her boyfriend asked her if she would make money by giving massage to a man who turned out to be Mr. Epstein. Ms. Maxwell met her and her friend at the door of Mr. Epstein’s Palm Beach house; Carolyn told the jury that in the years that followed, she visited the house two or three times a week to perform sexualized massage in appointments, often arranged by Mrs. Maxwell, who she said she always saw when she entered the house through the kitchen door. .
Carolyn’s experience formed the basis of the heaviest accusation that Ms. Maxwell was convicted of – sex trafficking with a minor. The jury found that Mrs Maxwell recruited Carolyn to take part in sex acts with Mr Epstein and encouraged her to recruit other girls, and that the girls received money or gifts in exchange, as Carolyn testified.
Two other witnesses from the prosecution, Larry Visoski and David Rodgers, former pilots who had flown Mr Epstein’s plane, both testified that Mrs Maxwell had unique authority among her staff. She was his “No. 2,” every man told the jury.
“This case is about Ghislaine Maxwell, the crimes she committed,” another prosecutor, Maurene Comey, said in a government statement. “It’s about the children she was targeting, the steps she took to serve the children who were to be abused. It’s about her own participation in that abuse.”
Ms. Farmer, one of the prosecutors who testified against Ms. Maxwell, said in a statement that she was “relieved and grateful that the jury recognized the pattern of predation that Maxwell had participated in for years and found her guilty of these crimes.”
“She has caused many more women harm than the few of us who had the chance to testify in the courtroom,” Ms. Farmer.
Ms. Maxwell chose not to testify, but her lawyers tried to undermine the government’s portrayal of their client, sharply cross-examining the accusers of raising questions about the reliability of their testimony and offering witnesses working for Mr Epstein and saying they had not seen the kind of sexual assault described at trial. The defense also presented an expert who testified about the fallibility of memory.
But Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers, who once said they would need two weeks to present her case, rested their case after just two days, after unsuccessfully arguing for more time to call additional witnesses.
During their five-day hearing, jurors sent notes requesting transcripts of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, clarification of the law, and office supplies. As the week went on, with no verdict in sight, and Omicron cases spread throughout the city, Judge Nathan raised concerns that an infection could cause a mistake.
She told jurors on Tuesday that they might have to consider by Friday. On Wednesday afternoon, the juries asked for a transcript of Mr. Visoski’s testimony. Two and a half hours later, they had a verdict.