By Laura Smith-Spark and Tara John, CNN
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who gained global notoriety as the former girlfriend and social companion of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, was found guilty by a New York jury Wednesday on five counts relating to her role in his sexual abuse of minor girls.
Maxwell was found guilty of five federal charges: sex trafficking of a minor, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and three related counts of conspiracy. She was acquitted on the charge of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.
The 60-year-old had pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Epstein died by suicide in August 2019 while awaiting trial. In the wake of the financier’s death, public pressure mounted to hold those who might have assisted him — 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.
During Maxwell’s trial, prosecutors argued Maxwell and Epstein conspired to set up a scheme to lure young girls into sexual relationships with Epstein in New York, Florida, New Mexico and the US Virgin Islands. Four women testified that Epstein abused them and that Maxwell facilitated the abuse and sometimes participated in it.
The defense argued she was a “scapegoat” for Epstein’s actions and attacked the memories and motivations of the women who said they were sexually abused. Maxwell’s lawyers are working on an appeal, attorney Bobbi C. Sternheim said.
Maxwell now faces up to 65 years in prison.
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 nonprofit 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 happened at her trial?
The charges Maxwell faced all related to the four women who had personal stories of her alleged role facilitating Epstein’s abuse.
During the trial — which took place in a New York federal court — prosecutors sought to closely link Maxwell and Epstein and said her actions normalizing sexual massages were crucial to his international abuse scheme at his properties.
Jane, who testified under a pseudonym, said Maxwell organized sexual massages with Epstein and sometimes joined in the abuse. The charges of enticing — on which Maxwell was acquitted — and transporting relate to testimony solely from her.
Carolyn, who testified using only her first name, said that when she was 14, Maxwell touched her breasts, hips and buttocks and told her she “had a great body for Epstein and his friends.” The child sex trafficking count — the most serious of all the charges — relates to her testimony. Also connected to her testimony was the sex trafficking conspiracy charge, which Maxwell was found guilty of.
“Kate” testified Maxwell invited her over and directed her how to give Epstein a sexual massage and said Maxwell spoke often of sexual topics with her and asked Kate to invite other young girls for Epstein’s sexual desires.
The judge instructed that the jury could not convict Maxwell on any of the counts based solely on testimony from Kate, as she was over the age of consent at the time of the events. However, two of the conspiracy charges Maxwell was found guilty of — conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity and conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity — related to allegations by all four accusers.
Annie Farmer, the only accuser to testify by her full name, said that she was 16 when Maxwell massaged her naked chest at Epstein’s New Mexico ranch in 1996.
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Bianca Britton contributed to this report.