Thanksgiving, on the fourth Thursday in November, marks the start of America’s holiday season: a time to celebrate the harvest and show gratitude for the good things in life.
On a sunny day in Manhattan this week, the streets were buzzing, the shops festooned with Christmas decorations, and restaurants and bars were doing a brisk trade as New York rebounded from lockdown restrictions.
But a few miles away at Brooklyn’s grim Metropolitan Detention Centre, there were no lavish turkey dinners — and little to feel grateful about — for the fallen British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, 59, as she waited for her ‘Trial of the Decade’ to start on Monday.
She has spent the past 17 months in custody there in conditions described by her own brother as ‘degrading’ and ‘amounting to torture’, following her arrest in July 2020 over sex-trafficking allegations.
Soon she could be spending the rest of her life behind bars — unless she convinces a jury of her proclaimed innocence.
At Brooklyn’s grim Metropolitan Detention Centre, the fallen British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell (pictured), 59, waits for her ‘Trial of the Decade’ to start on Monday
For her, the next six weeks, in a trial that will span her 60th birthday on Christmas Day, represents only terrifying uncertainty. It is the fight of her life.
As Maxwell contemplates her fate in the 6 ft x 9 ft cell that has been her home for more than 500 days, media organisations have been rolling out special reports to coincide with the start of the trial.
The New York Times has run a major investigation into the final days of Maxwell’s paedophile ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire who apparently killed himself in jail in 2019 while awaiting prosecution.
Up to 80 journalists are expected to arrive for the start of Maxwell’s trial in courtroom 318 of the classically inspired Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
With only a handful of press seats available in the court itself, reporters, authors and documentary and film makers have been advised to queue well before 6am to ensure they get into the ‘overflow’ courts carrying a live feed of proceedings.
Maxwell faces six counts in this trial, including enticement of minors and sex trafficking of children. She denies all of the charges, which cover a period between 1994 and 2004 and carry jail sentences of up to 80 years.
In court papers, she revealed she has set aside an astonishing £5.2 million to pay her legal bills.
Her star-studded defence team includes a former federal prosecutor who helped bring down Sinaloa Cartel drug kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, a feat for which he was given a True American Hero Award, and another ex-federal prosecutor whose scalps include mob killer Thomas ‘Tommy Karate’ Pitera.
In the trial, prosecutors will focus on four women who say they were recruited by Maxwell as teenagers to be abused by Jeffrey Epstein (pictured in 2004)
They will be up against the formidable U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, with a team of prosecutors who have an impressive track record themselves for pulling off high-profile cases.
It promises to be a bitterly fought trial.
Prosecutors will focus on four women who say they were recruited by Maxwell as teenagers to be abused by Epstein, and who will come face to face with Maxwell in court.
According to a newly released court document, one of her accusers will detail a ‘repugnant’ sexual act that Epstein did to her.
The British woman, identified as Minor Victim 3, describes the moment as ‘morally reprehensible’. Maxwell’s lawyers claim there is a danger the jury may convict their client based on a ‘moral judgment of sexual activity which was entirely legal’.
Minor Victim 3 met Epstein and Maxwell in 1994 when she was about 17 years old. According to the indictment, Maxwell ‘groomed and befriended’ the girl in London and arranged for ‘multiple’ sexualised massages with Epstein.
Maxwell’s lawyers, in their filing, argue that the woman’s evidence should be excluded because it could unfairly sway the jury, given she was over 16 — the age of consent in the UK, where the act is said to have taken place.
According to another recently released court document, Maxwell’s legal team have objected to a sex toy called the ‘Twin Torpedo’ being used in evidence against her. It was seized during a 2005 raid on Epstein’s house.
Prosecutors also plan to produce emails allegedly sent by Maxwell to at least two ‘influential men’, setting them up on dates with women.
Court filings claim the messages show Maxwell was ‘using her ability to provide access to women as a form of social currency’. They allege she was ‘eager to please’ the men and wanted to ‘ingratiate’ herself with them by making connections with women.
In their response, Maxwell’s lawyers said that if she was trying to ‘ingratiate herself with a friend, so what?’ The filing added that prosecutors have ‘no evidence that she was not already well-established friends of many years with both of the men’.
Prosecutors have also said they intend to introduce up to six pages of Epstein’s infamous ‘Black Book’ of contacts as ‘compelling’ evidence of Maxwell’s guilt. They will claim the book was actually Maxwell’s and will produce a witness who will testify to that effect.
The key part of the book will be a section called ‘massage’, as it features the names of the parents of some girls, prosecutors have said, and this indicates how young they were.
Prosecutors said they intend to introduce up to six pages of Epstein’s ‘Black Book’ of contacts as ‘compelling’ evidence of Maxwell’s guilt. They will claim the book was actually Maxwell’s
So far, only one alleged victim in the prosecution case has given up her right to anonymity. She is American psychologist Annie Farmer who has already alleged Maxwell and Epstein sexually abused her when she was 16 while she was at his New Mexico mansion in 1996.
Ms Farmer, who has described Maxwell as a ‘sexual predator’ who has ‘never shown any remorse for her heinous crimes’, has made clear she would never have been abused if Maxwell hadn’t gained her trust.
In Maxwell’s defence, psychologist Elizabeth Loftus will testify about ‘false memories’ of sexual abuse that people can describe with ‘confidence, detail and emotion’ — without deliberately lying.
It may not fill Maxwell with complete confidence that last year Loftus gave evidence in defence of the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein during his rape trial. He was convicted and jailed for 23 years.
Judge Alison Nathan, who previously served as a special assistant to President Obama and associate White House counsel, will have the final say on which pieces of contentious evidence will be heard by the jury.
What she considers admissible could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the trial.
This is the fourth time I have travelled to America to work on the Epstein story.
The first time, in 2011, I secured an exclusive first interview with Epstein’s former long-serving butler and handyman, Juan Alessi, who told me about the sordid goings on at the disgraced tycoon’s Palm Beach mansion in Florida — and of the paedophile’s friendship with Prince Andrew and the then relatively unknown Ghislaine Maxwell.
Alessi told me how the Duke of York had attended pool parties where women frolicked nude (the royal kept his trunks on, the ex-butler clarified), received daily massages by young but not underage females, and pictures of nude girls (again, not juveniles) adorned the walls. This was not, I remember thinking, a suitable place to visit for the Queen’s second son.
Alessi also revealed Maxwell kept a stash of sex toys at the property which he cleaned for her, and that he had quit his job as butler after an unexplained ‘conflict’ with her.
But due to a legally binding confidentiality agreement with Epstein, a clearly frightened Alessi said he could talk only in ‘general terms’ in response to some of my questions.
These included issues concerning Maxwell, whom Alessi claims recruited young ‘massage therapists’ to serve Epstein.
‘She was looking for the best kind,’ he said at one deposition hearing. ‘I went one time with her, or twice maybe, to different spas and different clubs… She was looking for the best massage therapists available.’
One young woman whom Maxwell did ‘find’ as a massage therapist for Epstein was Virginia Roberts. In 2011, Roberts (now married and living in Australia as Virginia Giuffre) sensationally alleged in the Mail On Sunday that she had met Andrew on three occasions in a matter of weeks in 2001, in London and New York, when she was 17.
A now-notorious photograph, taken in Maxwell’s former London mews house, shows Ghislaine looking on as a beaming Andrew grips the 17-year-old by her bare waist. The picture is believed to have been taken by Epstein.
One alleged victim in the prosecution case has given up her right to anonymity. She is Annie Farmer, who alleged Maxwell and Epstein sexually abused her when she was 16 in 1996
Andrew will no doubt be an anxious spectator to Maxwell’s trial. And he is far from the only VIP who once enjoyed Epstein’s largesse — the Duke stayed at the paedophile’s home on a number of occasions.
Earlier this week there was a rare day of good news for Andrew, when it was confirmed that, contrary to earlier claims, Ms Giuffre, 38, will not take the witness stand during the Maxwell trial. No official reason was given.
‘Team Andrew’ welcomed the news, with a source close to the Duke’s legal team telling the Mail: ‘As the most high-profile and vocal accuser… one might have expected Ms Giuffre to be the star witness.
‘However, the fact she is not to be called can only lead one to conclude that her increasingly inconsistent accounts make her a less than credible witness.’
The big question is whether Maxwell herself will testify. In a BBC Radio interview earlier this week, her brother Ian said he was not yet sure.
Raising concerns about her chance of receiving a fair trial, her brother cited ‘the enormous amount of negative media coverage of Ghislaine for at least the last 18 months’.
His comments appear at odds with what happened during the first day of jury selection last Tuesday, when hardly any of the potential jurors had even heard of Epstein or Maxwell.
Those who were aware of Epstein had mostly heard that he had committed suicide, not that he was involved in a sex-trafficking operation.
While Ian Maxwell and his siblings have been publicly supportive of Ghislaine — her U.S.-based sister Isabel has regularly attended pre-trial court hearings — Maxwell’s husband of five years, millionaire technology entrepreneur Scott Borgerson, has been keeping a very low profile.
Earlier this week he surfaced hundreds of miles away from New York in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, but declined to comment.
It’s still not clear whether Borgerson will attend his wife’s trial, and questions remain over the true state of their relationship.
Maxwell insists she’s being treated as a scapegoat by prosecutors after Epstein’s prison suicide.
Her family are entirely right when they say she deserves the presumption of innocence. She is not being tried for having had a questionable moral compass, but for allegedly committing very serious criminal offences.
But as she prepares to enter court on Monday, there is a strong sense that the U.S. justice system is going on trial, too.