The death of Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender who authorities said hanged himself in a federal detention center cell in New York on Saturday, leaves those who seek to hold someone responsible for the alleged abuse of dozens of girls with one prime target: Ghislaine Maxwell.
Maxwell was, according to her accusers, Jeffrey Epstein’s protector and procurer, his girlfriend and his madam. She was, by all accounts, a soul mate and a mirror image. He grew up in Brooklyn with no money to speak of and never finished college. She is Paris-born, Oxford-educated, a jet-setter who partied with princes and billionaires.
Together, Epstein and Maxwell allegedly built what prosecutors, police and a growing number of women described as a sex-trafficking operation that crisscrossed the nation to provide Epstein with three young girls a day.
The U.S. attorney in New York, Geoff Berman, assured the “brave young women who have already come forward and ... the many others who have yet to do so” that “our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing.”
According to many of the women who have spoken about what Epstein allegedly did to them, Maxwell was the financier’s chief co-conspirator.
Maxwell, 57, has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. According to people familiar with the investigation, authorities have had trouble locating Maxwell, who is believed to be living abroad. Her five-story Manhattan townhouse was sold in 2016 for $15 million by a company that used the address of Epstein’s New York office.
Her lawyers told a judge in 2017 that she was in London, but had no fixed address. Lawyers representing Epstein’s alleged victims said they wouldn’t expect Maxwell to return to the United States anytime soon for fear of being arrested.
Martina Vandenberg, founder and president of the nonprofit Human Trafficking Legal Center, said she was “thrilled” to hear the prosecutors’ announcement that the investigation would continue, saying it would encourage more alleged victims to come forward.
For someone who stood by Epstein through the most sordid allegations, Maxwell was also a factor in his downfall: It was through a 2015 defamation lawsuit filed against Maxwell by one of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, that thousands of pages of documents containing detailed accounts of Epstein’s alleged abuses became public last week.
But Maxwell herself had long since slipped away. Although associates of Epstein said Maxwell never completely broke off relations with Epstein, she became far less of a presence at his various properties in recent years.
Maxwell was a focus of the Epstein investigation from the start, according to the Palm Beach police officials who began the probe. The girls they interviewed repeatedly described Maxwell as the coordinator of Epstein’s sex-trafficking operation. But detectives were never able to interview Maxwell.
Attorneys for Maxwell did not return calls seeking comment. Throughout the years since Epstein was first accused of sexual abuse, Maxwell has insisted that she did nothing wrong and knew of no illegal acts. In a deposition she gave in Giuffre’s defamation suit in 2016, Maxwell said that “Virginia is an absolute liar and everything she has said is a lie. Therefore, based on those lies I cannot speculate on what anybody else did or didn’t do ... everything she said is false.” The suit was settled out of court in 2017.
But a growing number of women have said that Maxwell was the prime organizer of Epstein’s three-times daily “massages,” and that she acted as recruiter and paymaster for the girls who came to Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion.
Giuffre said Maxwell recruited her in 2000, when she was 16 or 17 and working at Donald Trump’s Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago.
As Giuffre recalled it in her lawsuit, Maxwell told her, “I know somebody. We can train you. We can get you educated. You know, we can help you along the way if you pass the interview. If the guy likes you, then, you know, it will work out for you. You’ll travel. You’ll make good money.”
But at her first meeting with Epstein, Giuffre said in a deposition, Maxwell “instructed me to take off my clothes and to give oral sex to Jeffrey Epstein.”
In an interview with the Miami Herald last year, Giuffre said, “The training started immediately. It was everything down to ... how to be quiet, be subservient, give Jeffrey what he wants. A lot of this training came from Ghislaine herself, and being a woman, it kind of surprises you that a woman could actually let stuff like that happen. But not only let it happen but to groom you into doing it.”
Giuffre also said that Maxwell ordered her to have sex with Prince Andrew, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson (D) and former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine).
“My whole life revolved around just pleasing these men and keeping Ghislaine and Jeffrey happy,” Giuffre said in the deposition. “Their whole entire lives revolved around sex.”
Spokesmen for Richardson and Mitchell vigorously denied Giuffre’s allegations and said they never had any contact with her. A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said, “Any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue.”
Asked in a deposition about Maxwell’s role in procuring girls for him, Epstein said only, “Fifth,” referring to his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
Johanna Sjoberg, a student at Palm Beach Atlantic University when she said Maxwell hired her as an assistant, said in a 2015 deposition that was released Friday that it was Maxwell’s job to ensure that three girls a day were made available to Epstein for his sexual pleasure.
“He needed to have three orgasms a day,” Sjoberg said. “It was biological, like eating.”
In another document released Friday, Rinaldo Rizzo, the houseman for one of Epstein’s closest friends testified that a 15-year-old Swedish girl tearfully told him that Maxwell and Epstein had threatened her with physical harm and confiscated her passport to assure that she stayed on Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean.
Yet another woman has claimed that Maxwell not only recruited girls for Epstein, but took part in the sexual abuse of girls. Maria Farmer said in an affidavit earlier this year that she met Maxwell and Epstein at an art show when she was a graduate student in Manhattan in 1995. The next summer, Farmer said, both Maxwell and Epstein sexually assaulted her at the Ohio estate of Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of The Limited stores and Epstein’s only publicly known financial client. Farmer also said that Maxwell took part in the sexual abuse of her 15-year-old sister on a massage table at Epstein’s Zorro Ranch in New Mexico.
Through her years with Epstein, Maxwell maintained a very public life at the pinnacle of society. She was a friend of John F. Kennedy Jr. in New York in the 1990s and a guest at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding in 2010. She had a long relationship with an Italian count. She attended fashion shows and top-dollar benefit balls in New York and London and went to the Vanity Fair party at the Oscars, where she was photographed in 2014 with Elon Musk, the tech entrepreneur.
In 2000, she obtained her townhouse on Manhattan’s East 65th Street; it was purchased for her for $5 million by an anonymous corporation located at the same address as Epstein’s finance office.
Maxwell served on boards of charities and founded a nonprofit organization that sought to conserve the world’s oceans. The organization announced last month that it was ceasing operations.
Describing herself as “unemployed,” Maxwell donated the maximum permissible, $2,300, to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007.
In a profile of Epstein in Vanity Fair in 2003, he said that Maxwell was not a paid employee but rather his “best friend.”
But after Epstein’s conviction on sexual abuse charges in 2008, Maxwell appeared to distance herself from her friend.
Maxwell grew up in a 53-room mansion on 14 acres near Oxford. Her father was Robert Maxwell, a British member of Parliament and book and newspaper publisher who was regularly on the front pages until he died mysteriously in 1991 aboard the Lady Ghislaine, a yacht he had named for his youngest daughter. The official ruling was that his death was an accident, but some British press coverage speculated that Maxwell, under pressure because of his enormous debts, killed himself. Ghislaine never believed that and subscribed to the notion that her father was murdered.
In life, the father — born Jan Hoch, a Czech Jewish refugee before he transformed himself into a London publisher — carried himself like a man of extreme wealth. When he died, he was found to owe money to more than 40 banks, to the tune of more than $4 billion.
Soon after her father’s death, Ghislaine Maxwell moved to New York. She had a trust fund from her father, which provided her with about $100,000 a year, according to British news reports. But there was no fortune to rely on; she worked in Manhattan selling real estate.
Then, less than a year after her father died, she met Epstein. Maxwell was Epstein’s guide to a heady world of celebrity, wealth, power and royalty. She introduced him to Bill Clinton and to Prince Andrew, who became a frequent visitor to Epstein’s properties. Maxwell and Epstein flew around the world on his private jet and invited top scientists and business leaders to dinners.
Friends said that although their romantic relationship lasted only a few years, she continued to work with or for him long afterward. In court documents, former employees at the Epstein mansion in Palm Beach described Maxwell as the house manager, the person who oversaw the staff, handled finances and served as social coordinator, often doing the glad-handing while the more reserved Epstein stayed in the background at parties and dinners.
In 1993, an ad in Yoga Journal offered a “full time position” for an “Iyengar Yoga Instructor” to “teach a private individual.” “The job includes fantastic perks such as extensive travel,” the ad said, and it advised interested parties to call “Miss Maxwell” at a phone number that was Epstein’s office number.
In a deposition in 2016, Maxwell agreed that her work at the Epstein houses “included hiring many people, ... all sorts of people.” She said that “a very small part of my job was from time to time to find adult professional massage therapists for Jeffrey. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who came to his house was an adult professional person.”