By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK – The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite accused of recruiting and grooming girls for deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein to abuse, got underway on Monday in New York federal court.
Here is an explanation of the charges Maxwell faces and her expected defense:
THE MANN ACT CHARGES
Prosecutors say Maxwell between 1994 and 1997 persuaded an underaged girl to travel from Florida to New York with the intention of having her engage in sexual activity with Epstein. In 1996, prosecutors say Maxwell gave an unsolicited massage to another minor girl who flew to Epstein’s New Mexico ranch from out-of-state while the girl was topless.
Maxwell is charged with two counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars transporting individuals across state lines for illegal sexual activity.
Maxwell also two faces charges of conspiring to violate those two sections of the Mann Act.
THE SEX TRAFFICKING CHARGES
Prosecutors also say that Maxwell, beginning in 2001, recruited one of the four alleged victims to engage in sex acts with Epstein and provided her with hundreds of dollars in cash after massaging Epstein, knowing she was a minor. Maxwell sent gifts including lingerie from a New York address to the girl’s home in Florida, according to a 2021 indictment.
Those allegations form the basis of charges of one charge of sex trafficking of a minor and one charge of sex trafficking conspiracy. Federal law bars recruiting or transporting anyone under 18 to participate in a “commercial sex act.” The trafficking charge does not require the child to be transported across state lines.
Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. Her lawyers have argued that prosecutors are treating her as a scapegoat for Epstein, who died by suicide in 2019 in a Manhattan jail while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
Her attorneys say that the alleged sex trafficking victim did not mention Maxwell while cooperating with a 2007 investigation by Florida federal prosecutors into Epstein. They have argued that all four women named in the indictment have financial incentives to lie or exaggerate about Maxwell’s involvement in the alleged abuse.
THE PERJURY CHARGES
Maxwell faces two charges of perjury that will be tried at a later date.
Prosecutors have accused Maxwell of lying under oath in 2016 during a deposition for a civil lawsuit brought against her by Virginia Giuffre, who says she was abused by Epstein while a minor. Giuffre alleged Maxwell had defamed her by saying Giuffre lied about the abuse.
In the 2016 deposition, Maxwell said she did not recall the presence of sex toys in Epstein’s Palm Beach house and replied “I don’t know what you’re talking about” when asked if Epstein had a scheme to recruit underage girls for sexual massages.
Prosecutors characterized these statements as “false material declarations” in violation of a federal statute making it a crime to lie under oath. Her lawyers said in a February 2021 court filing that the questions posed were ambiguous and that Maxwell gave truthful responses.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell)