Ghislaine Maxwell is set to make her first court appearance Tuesday, on a video link from her Brooklyn cell, over sex-trafficking charges tied to her former boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein.
The British socialite will plead not guilty and fight the charges, her lawyers said. She is asking the judge to release her on a US$5 million bond, a request vigorously opposed by prosecutors who want to keep her locked up until her trial.
What are the charges?
Maxwell allegedly enticed girls as young as 14 into Epstein’s orbit between 1994 and 1997 so he could sexually abuse them. Prosecutors say she groomed them, befriended them and then normalized the sexual encounters with Epstein. She’s also accused of taking part in some of the abuse. Prosecutors say she could get 35 years if convicted. Her lawyers say a more likely sentence is about 10 years.
Epstein, who died in jail last year in an apparent suicide, was charged with trafficking children for sex between 2002 and 2005.
Will Maxwell flee the U.S. before trial?
It depends whom you ask. Prosecutors say Maxwell is an “extreme” flight risk who has access to bank accounts holding more than US$20 million. And because she’s a French citizen, she can’t be extradited if she flees to France. Maxwell has also been in hiding since Epstein was arrested, prosecutors claim. She was living so secretively, they say, that a team of former British military guarded her around-the-clock, and she was never without protection at the New Hampshire compound she bought last year.
Maxwell’s lawyers say she won’t flee, noting that she stayed in the U.S. for more than a year after Epstein’s arrest. She has lived in the U.S. since 1991 and became a U.S. citizen in 2002. The day after Epstein’s July 6, 2019, arrest, she says she had her lawyers contact prosecutors. Maxwell said she hasn’t communicated with Epstein for more than a decade before he died, and six people -- including two sisters who live in the U.S. and are citizens -- are willing to guarantee her bond. She has offered to live in New York under guard and with electronic monitoring.
How does COVID-19 play into this?
Citing the pandemic, the judge has ordered the hearing to be held on a video-conference call, with Maxwell and the lawyers making their appearance virtually. Maxwell will appear from a conference room at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where she’s being held. Defense lawyers cite the outbreak as a reason to free her, saying she’s at risk of getting sick. As of Monday, five inmates and one staffer have the virus, according to prison officials. Maxwell’s lawyers say a lock-down prohibiting legal visits will hamper Maxwell’s ability to review evidence and fight the charges.
What has the judge done in other cases?
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, will decide whether to let Maxwell out on bail or keep her locked up until trial. She’ll make the decision after hearing from Maxwell’s lawyers and prosecutors. At least one of Maxwell’s alleged victims will also get to speak and will urge the judge not to set bail.
Nathan has granted compassionate release to inmates during the pandemic on at least a couple of occasions. Maxwell’s lawyers quoted from an order in which the judge wrote the pandemic is an “unprecedented and extraordinarily dangerous” threat to prisoners and detainees.
Will keeping Maxwell in jail change anything?
Defendants who are denied bond ahead of trial are often more willing to reach a plea bargain with the government. By pleading guilty ahead of trial, she would likely get a lighter sentence, and perhaps even more of a break if she cooperates with prosecutors and identifies others in Epstein’s sex-trafficking organization. But Maxwell’s lawyers have declared she’s not guilty, and she may well force the government to take the case to trial