People wait in line to enter a federal courthouse in New York City on Monday to attend the first day of Ghislaine Maxwell's sex trafficking trial. Photo by Justin Lane/EPA-EFE
Nov. 29 (UPI) -- The trial of British socialite and Jeffrey Epstein confidant Ghislaine Maxwell began Monday with prosecutors accusing Maxwell of creating a "pyramid scheme of abuse" while the defense said Epstein's crimes have been pinned on her.
Maxwell, who has been in custody since July 2020, is being tried on several charges, including two counts of perjury tied to a deposition in a 2016 civil case. The indictment alleges she lied under oath when asked about her involvement in the alleged child sex abuse and trafficking with Epstein.
Epstein had been accused of trafficking underage girls with whom he had sex and recruited to allegedly have sex with other powerful men. Britain's Prince Andrew and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson have been named by accusers, but they have denied the allegations.
Prosecutor Lara Pomerantz told jurors that Maxwell would lure girls to be abused by Epstein under the "ruse" of a massage beginning in the 1990s and then began to promise them financial help, offering $100 to girls from impoverished families.
"By the early 2000s, the defendant and Epstein found an easier way to maintain a continuous flow of girls to abuse," Pomerantz said. "Instead, they devised a pyramid scheme of abuse, a scheme that no longer required the defendant to personally find young girls for Epstein."
The defense argued that the case against Maxwell, the daughter of the late media mogul Robert Maxwell, is actually a trial of Epstein by proxy since authorities were denied a chance to prosecute him following his suicide while in federal custody in 2019.
Maxwell, Epstein's former girlfriend and longtime confidant, is not guilty on all charges, they asserted.
"Eve was accused of tempting Adam with the apple. Women have been blamed for the bad behavior of men and women are often villianized and punished more than the men ever are," Maxwell's attorney, Bobbie Sternheim, said. "The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did. But she is not Jeffrey Epstein."
Pomerantz described Maxwell as a partner in running Epstein's homes for more than a decade, someone who shared in his wealthy lifestyle while helping to facilitate the sexual abuse of minor girls and discouraging other employees from speaking about the abuse.
"Employees were to see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. There was a culture of silence. that was by design -- the defendant's design -- because behind closed doors, the defendant and Epstein were committing heinous crimes," she said. "They were sexually abusing teenage girls."
The prosecution also claimed Maxwell had a hands-on role in the abuse that took place in Epstein's homes.
"She manipulated the girls, groomed them for abuse, helped the girls feel comfortable as friendliness escalated to abuse," Pomerantz said. "Sometimes she was even in the room for the massages herself and sometimes she touched the girls' bodies and even when she was not in the room, make no mistake, she knew exactly what Epstein was going to do to those children when she sent them to him inside the massage rooms; massage rooms inside the houses the defendant ran for over a decade."
Four accusers are expected to testify that Maxwell "groomed" them while they were underaged to have sex with Epstein and his friends.
Sternheim countered that Maxwell is "a scapegoat for a man who behaved badly," asserting the women who are set to testify against her have received an "enhanced" compensation package through the Epstein Victim Compensation Fund for cooperating with the government.
"She is a target, a bull's eye of anger for women who were or otherwise believe they were victimized by Epstein," said Sternheim. "Epstein's death left a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice for many of these women."
While acknowledging Epstein's abuse, Sternheim said he largely acted alone and hid the details of his abuse even from Maxwell.
"Yes, Jeffrey Epstein manipulated the world around him and the people around him," she said. "He compartmentalized his life, showing only what he wanted to show to the people around him, including Ghislaine."
On Monday, Lawrence "Larry" Visoski, who worked as Epstein's pilot beginning in 1991, testified that Maxwell often traveled on Epstein's private jet and would facilitate travel plans for him between 1994 and 2004.
Visoski described the relationship between Maxwell and Epstein as more personal than business-like, adding it was more "couple-ish" than romantic, noting he did not recall seeing them kiss or hold hands.
Sternheim, has repeatedly raised concerns about Maxwell's treatment in federal custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Maxwell's trial was to have started this summer, but was delayed after new charges were filed by the federal prosecutors and the COVID-19 pandemic impacted court proceedings. All the charges date to incidents that allegedly occurred between 1994 and 1997.