Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein 'normalised teen sexual abuse' court hears

ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports on the opening day of the trial

Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein were "partners in crime" who lured teenage girls into a decade-long sex abuse scheme, jurors heard on Monday at the opening of the British socialite's highly-anticipated sex trafficking trial.

Assistant US Attorney Lara Pomerantz told a New York federal court that Epstein and Maxwell enticed girls, as young 14-years-old, to take part in “so-called massages” by showering them with money and gifts before they were sexually abused.

The prosecutor sought to make clear to a jury of 12 that there should be no confusion about whether Maxwell, the one-time girlfriend of convicted paedophile Epstein, was his puppet or accomplice.

She accused Maxwell, 59, of being central to the disgraced financier's sex abuse scheme and that she was "in on it from the start".

Maxwell, who has been in a US jail since her arrest in July last year after being repeatedly denied bail, has pleaded not guilty to six charges relating to her alleged involvement in Epstein's abuse. She faces 80 years behind bars if found guilty.

Sarah Ransome, an alleged victim of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, arrives at the court house Credit: AP

The defence rebutted the claims and claimed that like so many women before her, Maxwell was being made a "scapegoat" for a man’s bad behaviour.

Lines of people waiting to get a seat in the New York court house snaked around the building hours before the trial - expected to last six weeks - got underway on Monday morning.

The start of the trial comes two years after Epstein's suicide in a Brooklyn jail cell while he was awaiting trial for the sex trafficking of minors.

What has the court heard so far?

The charges against Maxwell - the daughter of late media mogul Robert Maxwell - stem from the allegations of four women who say she and Epstein victimised them as teenagers between 1994 and 2004.

She is accused of being Epstein's chief enabler, grooming and recruiting teenage girls, some as young as 14, for him to abuse.

  • In the prosecution's opening statement, Ms Pomerantz told jurors Maxwell "helped normalise abusive sexual conduct" by making the teenagers feel safe and by taking them on shopping trips and asking them about their lives, their schools and their families. "She was in on it from the start," said Ms Pomerantz. "The defendant and Epstein lured their victims with a promise of a bright future, only to sexually exploit them."

Prosecutor Lara Pomerantz (right) accused Maxwell (left) of being central to Epstein's abuse Credit: AP
  • Ms Pomerantz said the abuse took place at Epstein’s homes, including his estate in Palm Beach, Florida; his Manhattan townhouse; his Santa Fe, New Mexico, ranch; an apartment in Paris, and a luxury estate in the Virgin Islands.

  • Prosecutors say there is evidence Maxwell knew the alleged victims were below the age of consent and that she arranged travel for some of them between Epstein’s homes. “The defendant was the lady of the house,” she added.

  • The prosecution said Maxwell “was involved in every detail of Epstein’s life” and even after the pair stopped being romantically involved, they “remained the best of friends".

Jeffrey Epstein Credit: New York State Sex Offender Registry/AP

Ms Pomerantz spoke from an enclosed plastic see-through box due to Covid restrictions as Maxwell, in a cream-coloured sweater and black trousers, at times wrote and passed notes to her lawyers.

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

“She’s not Jeffrey Epstein. She’s not like Jeffrey Epstein” or any of the powerful men, moguls and media giants who abuse women, Ms Sternheim said.

“He’s the proverbial elephant in the room," she added.

"He is not visible, but he is consuming this entire courtroom and overflow courtrooms where other members of the public are viewing."

Maxwell has denied all allegations Credit: AP

Ms Sternheim claimed the four alleged victims 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 death.

The lawyer said: “Accusers have shaken the money tree, and millions of dollars have fallen their way.”

During the morning, local time, Maxwell gazed frequently at her sister, who was seated in the front row of a spectator section diminished in space by Covid restrictions.

What charges does Maxwell face?

Police charged Maxwell in July 2020, after tracking her to a $1 million New Hampshire estate where she had been holed up during the coronavirus pandemic.

The full indictment against her lists six charges, including conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts and conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

Maxwell is also accused of transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, sex trafficking conspiracy, and sex trafficking of a minor.

The defendant is further alleged to have lied under oath by hiding her participation in Epstein’s offences during a separate civil case.

Ghislaine Maxwell Credit: PA

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty and vehemently denies wrongdoing.

She has been jailed in Brooklyn since her arrest, calling the claims against her “absolute rubbish.” 

She holds British, US and French citizenships and was repeatedly denied bail in the run-up to her trial.