Ghislaine Maxwell, the defrocked socialite convicted over Epstein sex ring

·4-min read

A friend to British royalty who romanced billionaires and dazzled elites, Ghislaine Maxwell was once the toast of the jet-set party circuit, a knows-everybody socialite with an aura of mystique.

She now stands to spend the rest of her life in prison.

After more than 40 hours of deliberations a New York jury on Wednesday found the daughter of the late British newspaper baron Robert Maxwell guilty of conspiring to run a sex crimes ring with Jeffrey Epstein, whose shock death while awaiting trial on similar charges was ruled a suicide.

It's a tawdry fall for the 60-year-old fixture of society's upper echelons, who was arrested in July 2020 in a tiny New Hampshire town after seemingly vanishing following the death of Epstein, 66, her lover-turned-close friend.

During the high-profile and often grim trial, accusers described the French-born, Oxford-educated Maxwell as Epstein's shadowy right-hand confidante and accomplice, who beginning in the 1990s acted both as paramour and madam at the behest of his proclivities.

Over 10 days prosecutors detailed how she and Epstein crafted a scheme to procure young girls for the registered sex offender, whose death in prison left many reeling that he would never face his own jury.

"The road to justice has been far too long," said US Attorney Damian Williams following the conviction.

"But, today, justice has been done. I want to commend the bravery of the girls -- now grown women -- who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom."

Two of the accusers who testified said they were as young as 14 when Maxwell began grooming them, taking them under her wing before later cajoling them into offering Epstein nude massages and sex acts.

Witnesses said Maxwell facilitated and sometimes participated in the abuse, taking advantage of the victims after making them feel "special."

- Gilded it-girl -

Maxwell's name was thrust into the spotlight in 1991 when her father -- a British media tycoon who also spent six years as a member of parliament -- went overboard off his yacht, which he had christened "Lady Ghislaine" after his beloved youngest daughter.

Rumors churned following the apparent accidental drowning of the Czechoslovakian-born businessman, along with details of his financial misdeeds at Mirror Group Newspapers that tarnished the family name.

But it didn't stop Maxwell's life of opulence: she revamped her image in Manhattan and became a regular on the glitterati's party circuit.

Her circle included Britain's Prince Andrew, former US president and real estate baron Donald Trump and the Clinton family.

Maxwell was an avid scuba diver and pilot, founding a now-dissolved environmental charity, the TerraMar Project.

It's unclear how exactly she met Epstein, whom she reportedly dated for a time in the 1990s before forming a close friendship.

But court testimony made clear that for years the multimillionaire Epstein funded her luxurious lifestyle, even once transferring her the cash to purchase a helicopter.

- 'Sophisticated predator' -

The holder of multiple passports, authorities had deemed Maxwell a flight risk, repeatedly denying her bail.

She lodged persistent complaints about the conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where she's been held for over a year in isolation, including with United Nations human rights officials.

The convicted socialite will remain there while awaiting sentencing, which is not yet scheduled.

Donning a collection of turtlenecks paired with black slacks, Maxwell cut a relatively relaxed figure over the course of the trial, doodling, hugging her lawyers or chatting with siblings who sat in support throughout the proceedings.

But the federal trial against Maxwell followed years of accusations against her, with prosecutor Alison Moe branding her "the key" to Epstein's criminal scheming during closing arguments, "a sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing."

Maxwell declined to take the stand -- as is routine in such cases -- but not before telling the judge "the government has not proven its case beyond reasonable doubt so there is no need for me to testify."

Her defense team insisted on a "lack of evidence," and focused on discrediting the women who delivered lurid testimony to the court.

But it was not enough to escape her charges. Maxwell sipped water but remained otherwise impassive as the jury delivered her fate.

She was convicted on five of six counts, including the most serious charge of sex trafficking of a minor.

US Attorney Williams praised the "bravery" of those who came forward against her.

"Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case, and today's result, possible."

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