By Laura Smith-Spark and Tara John, CNN
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has gained global notoriety as the former girlfriend and social companion of the convicted pedophile and disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Now, after more than a year in federal custody, she faces trial on sex trafficking charges in New York. The 59-year-old has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Maxwell is charged by New York federal prosecutors with conspiracy and enticing minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, and the transportation of minors to engage in criminal sexual activity for allegedly grooming and recruiting underage girls from 1994 through 1997.
She is also charged with sex trafficking of a minor from 2001 to 2004, as well as one count of sex trafficking conspiracy.
Epstein died by suicide in August 2019 while awaiting trial. Maxwell’s counsel maintains she was charged only because he died.
In the wake of the financier’s death, public pressure mounted to hold those who might have assisted him — perhaps including Maxwell and a coterie of young women who allegedly worked under her — accountable not only for his actions, but also for their own roles.
In that investigation, Maxwell has been a significant target. She has denied wrongdoing, and in a deposition has called at least one of her accusers “a liar.”
Maxwell’s supporters argue she has been held in unusually harsh conditions since her arrest on July 2, 2020; her requests to be released on bail have repeatedly been denied. At her most recent bail hearing, Maxwell’s attorney said she was subject to physical and emotional abuse by correction officers, forced to endure poor and unsanitary living conditions, sleep deprivation and insufficient nutrition, and had difficulty reviewing millions of legal documents.
A pretrial hearing at the start of November heard she had not requested a plea deal. Her attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, maintained Maxwell was not guilty of a crime to warrant a plea deal.
Maxwell spoke at the hearing only to say, “I have not committed any crimes.”
Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Born in 1961, the British socialite grew up in the idyllic Oxfordshire countryside and is the daughter of Robert Maxwell — a Czech-born newspaper tycoon and former British lawmaker who died under mysterious circumstances. The media magnate fell off his luxury yacht — called “Lady Ghislaine” — near the Canary Islands in 1991. He was posthumously discovered to have committed massive pension fraud against his employees.
According to Roy Greenslade, who worked for the media mogul as editor of The Daily Mirror in the early 1990s, Maxwell “doted” on Ghislaine “in a way that he didn’t on his sons.”
“He was a monstrous father,” Greenslade recalls. “He treated his whole family very badly.” But when it came to the youngest of his nine children, Maxwell “treated her more leniently than any of them.”
In his biography of the tycoon, “Maxwell: The Rise and Fall of Robert Maxwell and his Empire,” Greenslade recalls one evening in particular when he was sitting in an office with Maxwell and the daredevil teenager wandered in. He says Maxwell gave his daughter a scolding for “always taking risks, doing stupid, dangerous things” after she had a near-fatal accident after diving off a boat.
“She was quite clever at dealing with him,” Greenslade explains, adding that she always spoke sweetly to her father in ways that he found difficult to challenge.
After Ghislaine left, Greenslade says Maxwell turned to him with a sense of pride in his voice: “She’s like me.”
That, Greenslade says, indicates why he perhaps favored her the most.
A 1991 inquest ruled that Robert Maxwell’s death was due to a heart attack combined with accidental drowning. However, some believe that Maxwell’s death was suicide with his business empire teetering on the brink of ruin.
There were plaudits at the time for the way Ghislaine handled the family tragedy. “People who were there at the time (when Maxwell died), said she dealt with it brilliantly,” Greenslade said. “Dry-eyed, dealing well with the press.”
Following her father’s death, Maxwell reportedly moved to the United States.
“She was probably left with no money,” Greenslade says, despite many speculating she secured income from a secret trust.
In the US, Maxwell lived a public life and socialized in exclusive circles that included people connected to politics.
According to eyewitness accounts, Maxwell was invited to former first daughter Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and was even brought backstage at the Clinton Global Initiative summit in 2009. However Bari Lurie — a spokesperson for Chelsea Clinton, says the only reason Clinton was acquainted with Maxwell was because the socialite was dating a friend of hers.
Maxwell was also photographed in 2000 with Donald Trump and his future wife, Melania Trump, alongside Epstein.
Maxwell was also in the background of the infamous photograph of Prince Andrew, which shows him with his arms around the waist of a young woman named Virginia Roberts. Roberts alleges that she was trafficked by Epstein with the help of Maxwell and forced to have sex with his friends, including Prince Andrew, when she was a minor. The prince has emphatically denied having sex with Roberts, and says he has “no recollection of the photograph ever being taken.”
In 2012, Maxwell founded a charity, the TerraMar Project, which sought to encourage ocean conservation. However, the non-profit ceased operations in December 2019, according to records at the UK’s Companies House.
The same year federal prosecutors in New York unsealed a criminal indictment charging Epstein with having operated a sex trafficking ring between 2002 and 2005 where he paid girls as young as 14 to have sex with him.
How is she connected to Jeffrey Epstein?
Maxwell was the ex-girlfriend turned social companion of Epstein, who died while awaiting trial on federal charges of sexually abusing underage girls and running a sex trafficking ring. He had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The pair are reported to have split in the 1990s, although the socialite remained close to the pedophile. Her name was frequently mentioned in a cache of documents that were unsealed last year that allege she was a procurer for Epstein and other high-profile people.
Maxwell “had a personal and professional relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and was among his closest associates,” says a US federal indictment also unsealed last year.
“In particular, between in or about 1994 and in or about 1997, Maxwell was in an intimate relationship with Epstein and also was paid by Epstein to manage his various properties.”
Epstein described Maxwell as his best friend in a 2003 profile with Vanity Fair.
According to multiple people in affluent Manhattan circles, including two of her friends, Maxwell introduced Epstein to many of the social figures in his life.
Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 in the northeastern US state of New Hampshire, having disappeared from view following Epstein’s arrest the previous summer.
What accusations does Maxwell face?
“In particular, from at least in or about 1994, up to an including at least in or about 1997, Maxwell assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18,” the indictment says.
Those victims, according to the indictment, included girls as young as 14 years old.
Virginia Roberts — who now goes by the name Virginia Giuffre — accused Maxwell of being the person who introduced her to Epstein and allegedly forced her to have sexual relations with Prince Andrew at a time when she was underage (17) in the US. Andrew has consistently denied the allegations.
She says she was brought to London in 2001 where she was introduced to the prince and went dancing at a nightclub with him, Epstein, and Maxwell.
In a 2015 defamation case brought against Maxwell — which was settled in 2017, after the judge had ruled against a motion for summary judgment filed by Maxwell — Giuffre says she was “forced to have sexual relations” with the Duke of York when she was a minor in “three separate geographical locations,” including London, New York and the US Virgin Islands.
Giuffre says when she left the London nightclub Tramp, where she danced with Prince Andrew, Maxwell gave her instructions. “In the car Ghislaine tells me that I have to do for Andrew what I do for Jeffrey and that just made me sick,” Giuffre said, adding that she had sex with the prince at Maxwell’s house in London’s Belgravia area.
Andrew, 61, denying the claims, told the BBC in 2019: “It didn’t happen. I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened. I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.”
The prince’s legal team is fighting to have a sexual assault case brought against him by Giuffre in New York thrown out.
In court filings, Maxwell and her attorney also portrayed Giuffre as an unreliable narrator, claiming there are errors in certain dates and figures she provided.
In October 2021, London’s Metropolitan Police force announced it would take “no further action” against Prince Andrew, following an investigation sparked by Giuffre’s case.
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Bianca Britton contributed to this report.