Attorney Bobbi Sternheim said Ghislaine Maxwell was a “scapegoat for a man who behaved badly” during the opening statement for the defense in Maxwell’s trial Monday.
Sternheim said Maxwell, 59, is being faulted for a man’s bad behavior, not unlike many other women in the past, with the first example being Adam and Eve, according to the Associated Press.
“She’s not Jeffrey Epstein. She’s not like 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.
The four women testifying that Maxwell recruited them to be sexually abused are feeling the effects of 25-year-old memories, as well as the influence of lawyers who lead them to receive money from a fund from Jeffrey Epstein’s estate after his suicide in August 2019 while waiting for a sex trafficking trial in a Manhattan federal jail, Sternheim said.
“[A]ccusers have shaken the money tree, and millions of dollars have fallen their way,” said Sternheim.
Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz opened the trial by saying Epstein persuaded girls as young as 14 to have “so-called massages,” making the sexual abuse seem “casual and normal” after they were gifted money and other items during the prosecution’s opening statement.
Pomerantz said Maxwell was important to Epstein’s decade-long sex trafficking.
“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.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:
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, their schools and their families.
The prosecutor spoke from an enclosed plastic see-through box that allowed her to take off her mask as Maxwell, in a cream-colored sweater and black pants, at times wrote and passed notes to her lawyers.
The openings came in the afternoon, after hours in the morning were lost to questions about whether two prospective jurors could work throughout the six weeks the trial is projected to last.
During the morning, Maxwell gazed frequently at her sister, who was seated in the front row of a spectator section diminished in space by coronavirus restrictions.
One prospective juror was dismissed after he acknowledged he’d had to listen to someone he knew who was “passionate” about the case. Another juror’s employment was in jeopardy until the judge contacted the employer to speed the process of approval for the juror’s service.
Maxwell—who once dated the financier—is accused of acting as Epstein’s chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse. The charges against her stem from the allegations of four women who said she and Epstein victimized them as teens from 1994 to 2004.
Pomerantz said the abuse occurred at Epstein’s homes, including his estate in Palm Beach, Florida; his posh Manhattan townhouse; a Santa Fe, New Mexico, ranch; a Paris apartment; and a luxury estate in the Virgin Islands.
The government’s first witness was Lawrence Paul Visoski Jr., who worked for Epstein starting in the 1990s as a pilot on the private jets that shuttled Epstein, Maxwell and others between his various homes.
A prosecutor, Visoski started by describing the layout of the New York residence that he regularly visited to pick up luggage and do other chores. He was to return to the stand Tuesday.
Authorities charged Maxwell in July 2020, arresting her after tracking her to a $1 million New Hampshire estate where she had been holed up during the coronavirus pandemic.
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.” Maxwell’s lawyers and family said she was Epstein’s pawn, now paying “a blood price” to satisfy public desire to see someone held accountable for his crimes.
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 citizenships and was repeatedly denied bail in the run-up to her trial.