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Long before dawn on Monday morning, Ghislaine Maxwell will be taken out of her 6ft by 9ft cell at Brooklyn’s bleak Metropolitan Detention Centre for a day the British socialite has long fought desperately to avoid.
In her blue prison uniform, shackled by her hands and feet, she will be ushered into a white Department of Corrections prison van for the six-mile journey through Brooklyn, across the East River and on to a downtown Manhattan court.
The route offers a fine view of the Statue of Liberty and should she catch a glimpse of it through the window grilles, its welcome to the world’s ‘huddled masses’ may now ring hollow for this particular immigrant.
Ghislaine Maxwell, the Jeffrey Epstein associate accused of sex trafficking, is led into court in shackles for a pre-trial hearing ahead of jury selection, expected to begin later in the week
Thirty years after she moved to the US following the death of her father Robert Maxwell – the newspaper publisher who plundered millions from his companies’ pension funds – and tirelessly worked to reinvent herself, she faces charges that could see the American Dream end for her in a maximum 80-year sentence.
When she arrives at the courthouse in Foley Square on Monday, facing charges over allegedly helping her super-rich friend Jeffrey Epstein groom and sexually abuse underage girls, she will be transferred to a holding cell before being led to a courtroom reserved for high-profile trials.
So what can we expect in the coming weeks? And, above all, will Prince Andrew – who she introduced to Epstein – be dragged into the case? Here is our step-by-step guide to what many predict will be one of the trials of the century.
What are the charges?
Maxwell faces six charges, including enticement of minors, sex trafficking of children, and perjury. From 1994 to 2004, she allegedly ‘assisted, facilitated and contributed’ to Epstein’s abuse of children as young as 14. She denies all of the charges.
At least four women will testify against Maxwell, one of whom is understood to be British. All but one of them is having her anonymity protected by the judge but they will give evidence in full view of the court and press gallery.
The witness who has given up her right to anonymity is American psychologist Annie Farmer. She has already alleged Maxwell and Epstein sexually abused her when she was 16 while she was at his New Mexico mansion in 1996.
Ghislaine Maxwell (right), the British socialite and heiress, was been arrested by the FBI accused of being sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘pimp’
Annie says that, having become her ‘big sister’ figure, Maxwell repeatedly asked if she wanted a massage. After finally giving in, she ended up lying on her back topless as Maxwell massaged her chest in an ‘inappropriate’ way. She sensed Epstein was nearby, watching, and says he later came into her bedroom and asked for a ‘cuddle’, before crawling into bed and sexually assaulting her.
Ms Farmer, who has described Maxwell as a ‘sexual predator’ who has ‘never shown any remorse for her heinous crimes’, has made clear she would never have got into such a position if Maxwell hadn’t earned her trust.
The unidentified British accuser had previously alleged that Maxwell recruited her in London in 1994 to massage Epstein knowing that he’d force her to have sex. However, she was 17 at the time – above the UK’s age of consent – prompting Maxwell’s lawyers to challenge whether she can be considered a ‘victim’. This matter remains unresolved.
Prosecutors have said they expect several other women to testify, providing supporting evidence.
Will they include Virginia Roberts, now Giuffre, who claims she was recruited by Maxwell and then sexually trafficked to Prince Andrew, an allegation he strenuously denies? While Maxwell has insisted she’s a scapegoat, a ‘substitute’ for Epstein who committed suicide in his cell while awaiting trial in August 2019, her accusers beg to differ, in some cases saying that they regard her, a fellow woman who they had often regarded as a trusted friend, as even more despicable than Epstein. Although with Epstein dead, her trial will ultimately come down to her word against theirs, key questions remain – notably, how much mud will Maxwell try to sling at her accusers?
Who’s who in court
Alison Nathan, a former associate White House counsel for President Barack Obama, sits as a district judge for the Southern District of New York. She is only the second openly gay federal judge in the US and is married to Meg Satterthwaite, a fellow professor at New York University’s School of Law. They have twin sons.
Maxwell is up against the formidable US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, with a team of prosecutors who have pulled off many groundbreaking and historic cases.
Maxwell’s legal team:
She has revealed in court papers that she has set aside a hefty $7million (£5.2million) to pay for legal costs. Her team includes two battle-hardened attorneys from international law firm Cohen & Gresser. Christian Everdell is a former federal prosecutor who helped bring down Sinaloa drug kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, a feat for which he was given a True American Hero Award.
Cohen & Gresser’s co-founder, Mark S Cohen, is another ex-federal prosecutor whose scalps include mob killer Thomas ‘Tommy Karate’ Pitera. They will be working alongside a pair of Denver-based lawyers: Jeffrey Pagliuca and Laura Menninger,
Pagliuca is an award-winning trial attorney, with more than 35 years of experience, while Menninger worked for Goldman Sachs as a financial analyst, before leaving to work as a public defender.
The team includes ‘super lawyer’ Bobbi Sternheim, who has defended terrorists including Minh Quang Pham, who was jailed for plotting to blow up Heathrow in 2016. Maxwell has also called on the rottweiler-like David Markus, a Miami lawyer who once got a doctor off 141 federal charges and won costs of over $600,000.
Maxwell revealed in court papers that she has set aside a hefty $7million (£5.2million) to pay for legal costs
The process starts on Monday with the first face-to-face questioning by lawyers of some 60 potential jurors, who have been whittled down from an initial pool of 600. Maxwell has long complained she is now so notorious she can never have a fair trial and her legal team is leaving little to chance.
They have revealed they even want to ask potential jurors if they have strong views about people who have ‘luxurious lifestyles’.
What’s her strategy?
For prosecutors, a failure to convict Maxwell after Epstein denied his accusers their day in court would be breathtakingly embarrassing. At the moment, things are going their way. The accused has already lost a series of key rulings, with the judge allowing her accusers to be referred to as ‘victims’ and to be given pseudonyms to protect them from harassment.
Given that the MeToo Movement has fuelled sympathy for women who say they have been abused, Maxwell’s lawyers seem reluctant to simply dismiss them as liars. And so Maxwell plans to challenge the memory of her accusers, saying they were simply mistaken. Her lawyers will also question the witnesses’ credibility based on alleged substance abuse or failure to disclose their accusations promptly.
Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist, will testify for the defence about ‘false memories’ of sexual abuse that people can describe with ‘confidence, detail and emotion’ without deliberately lying.
The prosecution will counter by putting up Lisa Rocchio, a psychologist and sexual abuse specialist, who will testify that adolescents are particularly likely to disclose sexual abuse later in life and that false allegations represent a ‘very small minority’ of accusations.
But the defence has another expert up its sleeve, forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz. He will argue that Maxwell’s attempt to win Epstein’s victims’ trust didn’t automatically mean she intended them to be abused.
Some of her accusers have long suspected that Maxwell would try to portray herself as one of Epstein’s victims – a possibility, they said, that filled them with particular disgust.
There had been little evidence she might do this, until it emerged this week that prosecutors had objected to Dietz’s proposed testimony about Epstein’s so-called ‘halo effect’, a quality that enabled him to ‘use his brilliance to manipulate people to do his bidding’.
The prosecution is seeking to exclude this testimony on the grounds it is designed to ‘engender sympathy’ for Maxwell.
What about Andrew?
One way for Maxwell to elicit sympathy from the jury would be to take the witness stand. But this is a high-risk strategy as it would expose her to questioning under oath on an area that she has previously studiously avoided: what she knows about Epstein’s friends, particularly Prince Andrew, and any sexual misconduct.
In a 2016 deposition she was particularly evasive about the prince and dismissed Virginia Giuffre’s claims as a ’tissue of lies’. Meanwhile, there’s nothing to stop the prosecution and its witnesses mentioning Andrew independently. Mark Geragos, one of America’s best known celebrity defence lawyers, told the Mail he thought the prince’s name may well be brought up in the trial – one of the reasons he believes Maxwell won’t testify.
Ghislaine Maxwell, the Jeffrey Epstein associate accused of sex trafficking, sits before U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan during a pretrial hearing
‘That’s the peril of putting her on the stand,’ he said. ‘Once she’s there, she cannot say ‘No, I’m not going to answer’.’
How is her morale?
While the Maxwell camp insist she’s mentally strong, undaunted and convinced of her innocence, they say her incarceration in the Metropolitan Detention Centre – which a family friend this week compared to a ‘medieval prison’ – has taken a physical toll.
Her hair is falling out and she is losing weight, as well as having trouble with her eyesight and ability to concentrate, they say.
She has long claimed that the detention centre staff mentally and physically abuse her, waking her every 15 minutes by shining a light in her face, searching her excessively and feeding her meals so overcooked the microwave has melted the plastic on to the food.
Her cell, she claims, is filled with the stench of overflowing lavatories a floor above and raw sewage has sometimes leaked into it. According to Maxwell, this all adds up to a conscious attempt by the authorities to ensure she’s unprepared for her trial.
While prison officials say the close monitoring is intended to protect her from others and stop her harming herself, the Maxwell camp insists that she’s not a suicide risk and never has been one.
The way they see it, her jailers are using the fact that Epstein committed suicide in his cell as an excuse to keep her under conditions that amount to ‘torture’. The government denies this.
Why has she been behind bars so long?
Maxwell has been on remand since shortly after her arrest in July 2020. Her brother Ian claims that she is being held in a tiny cell with a concrete bed, a lavatory and a sink that runs undrinkable brown water, which has no natural light. There she is under 24-hour surveillance by four guards and ten cameras including one that tracks her movements.
The grimness of her living conditions has cut little ice with Judge Nathan, however. She has turned down four applications for bail to date on the grounds that Maxwell – who had proposed a $28.5million (£21million) bail deal – has not been honest about how much money she has and is a flight risk.
It’s hard to argue with the second point given Maxwell’s success in going to ground before her arrest. After Epstein’s arrest in 2019, she disappeared, communicating with courts only through her lawyers as she became embroiled in various cases and the FBI made it known they were investigating her.
Its agents were only able to finally track her down and arrest her in deepest New Hampshire in July 2020 by using a hi-tech mobile phone tracking device called a ‘stingray’.
She was sent straight to jail, with a judge noting her significant financial resources, possession of a French passport (France has no extradition treaty with the US), and ‘extraordinary capacity to avoid detection’.
While her siblings have been publicly supportive – her sister Isabel, who lives in the US, has regularly attended court hearings – little has been heard or seen of her husband of five years, millionaire tech entrepreneur Scott Borgerson.
His absence may be Maxwell’s doing – Ian Maxwell has described Mr Borgerson, 44, as ‘off limits’ and said Ghislaine is determined to protect him and his two children from a previous relationship.
During a bail application, Maxwell revealed that she and Mr Borgerson are worth $22.5million although the judge has described her finances as ‘opaque’ and it remains a mystery if she has money from Epstein.
Given her history, she can have had very little expectation of bail. Opening statements for the trial are scheduled for November 29 and it is expected to last for six weeks – which means Maxwell can expect to spend her 60th birthday, Christmas Day, in prison.