Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and close friend of the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested at a luxury hideaway in a small town in New Hampshire early on Thursday, the FBI announced, before charging her in relation to sex crimes, conspiracy and perjury.
Prosecutors accused her of “slithering away” into hiding and of previously lying repeatedly about her direct and indirect involvement in the abuse of underage girls, because, they alleged, the truth was “almost unspeakable”.
“Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse,” the federal prosecutor Audrey Strauss told a press conference in Manhattan. “In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse.”
“She set the trap. She pretended to be a woman they [alleged victims] could trust.”
Maxwell has long been accused by many women of recruiting them to give Epstein massages, during which they were pressured into sex. Those accusations, until now, never resulted in criminal charges against her.
Maxwell was detained and was expected to be given a court hearing on Thursday afternoon, possibly with a remote video link from custody in New Hampshire to a court room in New York. She has always denied wrongdoing in of her dealings with Epstein or females associated with him.
Maxwell had kept a low profile, and her location was unknown since Epstein’s arrest last July on charges that he abused and trafficked in women and girls in Manhattan and Florida between 2002 and 2005. The search for Maxwell has been the subject of intense speculation, with reported sightings and rumors of her whereabouts popping up across the US and even abroad.
She was arrested in Bradford, New Hampshire, at 8.30am. At a press conference in New York, William Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the New York FBI Office, said: “We have been discreetly keeping tabs on Maxwell’s whereabouts.”
He added that authorities had recently learned that Maxwell, “slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire”, continuing to live a “life of privilege”.
Sweeney continued: “We moved when we were ready.”
Epstein, who pleaded not guilty, killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell in August last year.
The 17-page, six-count indictment filed by the Manhattan US attorney charges Maxwell with a host of crimes, including conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and perjury.
The indictment described Maxwell’s relationship to Epstein as “personal and professional” – and that she was “in an intimate relationship” with him from about 1994 to 1997.
Epstein paid Maxwell “to manage their various properties”, the document says.
The court paperwork provides chilling detail into how Maxwell allegedly lured minors into Epstein’s orbit.
According to charging documents, Maxwell “befriended” some of these victims, “including by asking the victims about their lives, their schools, and their families”. She and Epstein spent time forging relationships with these girls, by taking them shopping and to the movies. The alleged grooming happened, according to the documents, at Epstein’s mansion on the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, his ranch in Sante Fe, New Mexico, as well as Maxwell’s residence in London.
After developing a rapport, the documents allege, “Maxwell would try to normalize sexual abuse for a minor victim by, among other things, discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein”.
Sometimes, Maxwell would give Epstein massages in front of victims whereas other times, she urged them to give him massages, “including sexualized massage during which a minor victim would be fully or partially nude.” These would often involve Epstein sexually abusing these minors.
On some occasions, Maxwell was “present for and participated in the abuse”.
To hide her involvement with Epstein’s abuse, Maxwell gave false information “under oath” in civil litigation, the indictment claims.
Several of Maxwell’s attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.
Maxwell’s father was the British media baron Robert Maxwell. She was a one-time girlfriend of Epstein’s and key presence at his side in his glittering social life, which often included rich, influential and powerful people from around the world in politics, the arts and science.
Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s alleged victims, has said in a civil lawsuit that Maxwell recruited her into Epstein’s circle, where she claims Epstein forced her to have sex with him and friends including British royal Prince Andrew – who has strongly denied the allegations.
Maxwell has said Giuffre’s allegations are untrue. Giuffre in response filed a defamation suit against Maxwell in 2015.
Asked at the press conference whether investigators wanted to talk with Prince Andrew, Strauss said: “I’m not going to comment on anyone’s status in this investigation,” but that “our doors remain open, as we’ve previously said, and we would welcome him coming in and giving us an opportunity to hear his statement.”
When Epstein killed himself, many victims complained that his death had robbed them of a day in court to tell their stories and get justice with a verdict. For some, Maxwell’s arrest appears to offer a second chance of that happening, if it comes to trial.
Epstein accuser Jennifer Araoz issued a statement in which she said that she and other Epstein survivors were “able to take a breath of relief” after hearing the news of Maxwell’s arrest.
“Day after day, I have waited for the news that Maxwell would be arrested and held accountable for her actions. Her arrest is a step in that direction, and it truly means that the justice system didn’t forget about us.”