Jeffrey Epstein’s untimely death deprived his victims and the wider world of a full accounting of his misdeeds.
The enigmatic financier who rubbed shoulders with two American presidents and a collection of the world’s wealthiest men hanged himself in a Manhattan prison cell in August 2019, a month after he was arrested on charges of trafficking underage girls for sexual abuse.
For those brutalised — or mesmerised — by Epstein, a New York court may now provide some answers, as opening arguments begin on Monday in the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell. The British socialite was Epstein’s girlfriend and then the manager of his far-flung properties — a Caribbean island, a New Mexico ranch and Manhattan’s largest townhouse, among others.
According to the authorities, she also oversaw a network that recruited dozens of vulnerable girls for Epstein to abuse.
Maxwell, 59, who was arrested last year at a secluded New Hampshire home, has repeatedly denied the charges. “I have not committed any crime,” she told a judge earlier this month during a court appearance that marked a rare outing from her prison cell.
In pre-trial motions, her lawyers have suggested that they will attempt to attack the credibility of the women Maxwell allegedly recruited while also claiming that prosecutors are determined to punish her to make up for their own embarrassment in the Epstein case.
In 2007, with local police and the FBI preparing charges against Epstein after complaints from victims, a federal prosecutor agreed to a secretive plea deal that was unusually lenient. It allowed Epstein to serve just 13 months in a cushy Florida jail near his Palm Beach mansion.
“This is not quite a put-up job, but nonetheless has been cobbled together so that Ghislaine is made to face the charges that Epstein never faced,” her brother, Ian Maxwell, told the Associated Press this week.
Even after his death, Epstein continues to wreak havoc in the upper echelons of finance, academia, politics and technology. Just this month Jes Staley was forced to step down as chief executive of Barclays after British regulators concluded he had not been forthcoming about the extent of his relationship with Epstein while running the private banking group at JPMorgan.
Entanglements with Epstein precipitated Leon Black’s exit earlier this year from his own firm, Apollo Global Management, while tarnishing Bill Gates’s reputation. They have also derailed the royal career of Britain’s Prince Andrew, who was sued in New York earlier this year by one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, for alleged sexual abuse while she was still a minor. The Duke of York has denied the claim.
The suspense hanging over the Maxwell trial is whether it will further illuminate Epstein’s relationships with these and other powerful men and clarify some of the mysteries that clung to him in life and now in death.
It remains unclear, for example, just how Epstein, a university dropout, amassed his fortune. There is also rampant speculation that Epstein was a spy — or at least worked with intelligence agencies — and an international money-launderer. Meanwhile, victims have claimed that Epstein’s homes were studded with secret cameras to surveil his guests.
Maxwell’s own background has encouraged such theories. She is the daughter of the late British press baron and embezzler, Robert Maxwell, who was found dead in 1991, floating in the Atlantic Ocean off the Canary Islands near his yacht, Lady Ghislaine. Among his other endeavours, Maxwell, a Holocaust survivor, was also widely suspected of being a spy.
Still, those expecting bombshell revelations at his daughter’s trial may be disappointed. That is because the government’s case is narrowly focused on her role in procuring four particular underage victims for Epstein in the 1990s, one as young as 14. They are expected to testify.
According to the indictment, those women were among the dozens that Maxwell helped Epstein to “recruit, groom and ultimately abuse” over the years, taking them shopping and to the movies, among other inducements.
The network expanded, according to prosecutors, as Maxwell then encouraged the girls to recruit their friends with a simple proposition: give a “massage” to a wealthy Palm Beach man for a few hundred dollars. Sometimes, according to prosecutors, Maxwell not only groomed the girls but participated in their sexual abuse.
The Maxwell who appears in court will be very different from the figure whose upper-class manners and social grace helped to ease Epstein into high society in the 1990s. She has been confined in a spare six-foot by nine-foot Manhattan jail cell since her arrest — conditions her brother said were “inhumane”.
It remains unclear whether she will take the stand to testify, something defendants rarely do. If Maxwell does, say close observers of the case, then Epstein may have the capacity to shock and surprise once again.