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Epstein ally called sex trafficker, his victim as trial gets underway

by The Associated Press | November 30, 2021 at 4:19 a.m.
Sarah Ransome, an alleged victim of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, arrives to the courthouse for the start of Maxwell's trial in New York, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Two years after Jeffrey Epstein's suicide behind bars, a jury is set to be picked Monday in New York City to determine a central question in the long-running sex trafficking case: Was his longtime companion, Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's puppet or accomplice? (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK -- Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein were "partners in crime" in the sexual abuse of teenage girls, a prosecutor said Monday in opening statements, with the defense countering that like so many women before her, Maxwell was being made a scapegoat for a man's bad behavior.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz said at the start of Maxwell's sex trafficking trial that the British socialite and Epstein enticed girls as young as 14 to engage in "so-called massages" in which sex abuse came to be seen as "casual and normal" after they were showered with money and gifts.

The prosecutor sought to make clear to a jury of 12 that there was no confusion about whether Maxwell, Epstein's longtime companion, was his puppet or accomplice.


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She described Maxwell, 59, as central to Epstein's sex abuse scheme, which prosecutors say lasted more than a decade.

"She was in on it from the start. The defendant and Epstein lured their victims with a promise of a bright future, only to sexually exploit them," Pomerantz said.

Maxwell "was involved in every detail of Epstein's life," the prosecutor said. "The defendant was the lady of the house."

Even after Maxwell and Epstein stopped being romantically involved, the pair "remained the best of friends," Pomerantz said. She said Maxwell "helped normalize abusive sexual conduct" by making the teenagers feel safe and by taking them on shopping trips and asking them about their lives, schools and families.

The prosecutor spoke from an enclosed plastic transparent box that allowed her to take off her mask as Maxwell at times wrote and passed notes to her lawyers.

When she finished, attorney Bobbi Sternheim said her client was a "scapegoat for a man who behaved badly." Maxwell, she said, was being blamed for a man's bad behavior just as so many women have before, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

"She's not Jeffrey Epstein" or any of the powerful men, moguls and media giants who abuse women, Sternheim said.

"He's the proverbial elephant in the room. He is not visible, but he is consuming this entire courtroom and overflow courtrooms where other members of the public are viewing," she said.

Sternheim said the four women who would testify that Maxwell recruited them to be sexually abused were suffering from 25-year-old memories and the influence of lawyers who guided them to get money from a fund set up by Epstein's estate after his August 2019 suicide in a Manhattan federal jail as he awaited his own sex trafficking trial.

The lawyer said "accusers have shaken the money tree and millions of dollars have fallen their way."

The wealthy, Oxford-educated Maxwell is the daughter of British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991 after falling off his yacht -- named the Lady Ghislaine -- near the Canary Islands. Robert Maxwell, whose holdings at the time included the New York Daily News, was facing allegations that he had illegally looted his businesses' pension funds.

Ghislaine Maxwell holds U.S., British and French citizenship and was repeatedly denied bail in the run-up to her trial.

Print Headline: Epstein ally called sex trafficker, his victim as trial gets underway

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