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British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted Wednesday of five federal sex trafficking charges after a jury concluded that she played a pivotal part in recruiting and grooming teenage girls to be sexually abused by her close confidant, the wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell was found guilty of five of the six federal counts she was charged with and faces up to 65 years in prison. The judge has not set a sentencing date.
The jury of six men and six women reached the verdict in the federal sex trafficking trial in New York City after six days of deliberations that bookended the holiday weekend. As deliberations dragged on, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who oversaw the case, worried that the omicron variant of the coronavirus and rising case numbers in the city could lead to a mistrial, and she had told the jury that if no verdict were reached, it would have to deliberate through the holiday weekend.
Late Wednesday, however, the jury came to its conclusion.
Maxwell was convicted of conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking of minors.
She was not found guilty of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, which carried a five-year sentence.
As the verdict was read, Maxwell appeared to sit still and did not look back at the crowd behind her. Once the jury’s foreman finished reading, Maxwell poured herself a cup of water, drank it and conferred with one of her attorneys, Jeffrey Pagliuca, who sat to her right.
After another one of Maxwell’s attorneys confirmed that she could get a Covid-19 booster shot in custody, she briefly looked back at her siblings, who sat in the front row, before she was led away.
Virginia Giuffre, one of the first victims of Maxwell and Epstein to step forward but not one of the victims named in this case, said she would “remember this day always.”
“Having lived with the horrors of Maxwell’s abuse, my heart goes out to the many other girls and young women who suffered at her hands and whose lives she destroyed,” Giuffre said.
“I hope that today is not the end but rather another step in justice being served,” she added. “Maxwell did not act alone. Others must be held accountable. I have faith that they will be.”
Giuffre has alleged in a civil lawsuit that Maxwell trafficked her to Prince Andrew, a son of Queen Elizabeth II, when she was 17. He has denied the allegations.
Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the jury had found Maxwell guilty “of one of the worst crimes imaginable,” which she “committed with her longtime partner and co-conspirator, Jeffrey Epstein.”
“The road to justice has been far too long. But, today, justice has been done,” he said in a statement. “I want to commend the bravery of the girls — now grown women — who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom. Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case, and today’s result, possible.”
Sigrid McCawley, the attorney for Annie Farmer, a victim in the trial, said the verdict made it clear that abusing and trafficking minors were serious crimes.
“Today’s verdict is a towering victory not just for the brave women who testified in this trial, but for the women around the world whose young and tender lives were diminished and damaged by the abhorrent actions of Ghislaine Maxwell,” she said in a statement.
The jury weighed evidence and testimony from about 30 witnesses over three weeks.
Maxwell, the daughter of the late publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, turned 60 on Christmas Day. She has been jailed since she was arrested in July 2020. The trial in lower Manhattan grabbed headlines, putting Maxwell — once a fixture in New York’s high society — in the spotlight over her relationship with Epstein.
The jury began deliberating the Monday before Christmas, asking to review the testimony of the four women, as well as Epstein’s former housekeeper Juan Patricio Alessi, who testified that he regularly saw two of the women at Epstein’s mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.
The judge asked the jurors whether they would like to continue deliberating Thursday, but they declined ahead of the holiday weekend. They returned Monday and requested further testimony transcripts, highlighters, a white paper board, Post-It notes and the definition of the word “enticement.”
Maxwell’s defense team argued that it was Epstein who pulled the strings and that federal prosecutors sought to take her down only because Epstein, a convicted sex abuser, hanged himself in a Manhattan jail cell two years ago as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges.
“She’s being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein. Maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life, but that was not a crime,” defense lawyer Laura Menninger said in closing arguments.
Prosecutors contended that Maxwell was not an unwilling participant, as her lawyers portrayed her, and that she was known at Epstein’s Florida estate as the “lady of the house.” While numerous women came forward before Epstein died with allegations that he sexually abused them — some of them claiming that Maxwell helped to traffic them to other powerful men — prosecutors focused their case on the testimony of the four accusers.
They provided graphic accounts of how they say Maxwell “groomed” them as young girls to have sex with Epstein or pressured them into massages, in which she sometimes groped them herself. Maxwell denied helping recruit and engage in the trafficking of young girls, mostly in the 1990s.
Maxwell was charged with six counts for acts alleged to have been committed from 1994 to 1997 and accused of lying to investigators in 2016. She was also charged with perjury; those counts will be tried separately.
One of the accusers, who went by the pseudonym Jane, testified that she was just 14 when Maxwell and Epstein spotted her at an arts camp in Michigan. Her accusations of sexual abuse helped prosecutors establish several of the counts in the federal case.
The accusers’ memories were called into question, as Maxwell’s defense team picked apart inconsistencies in their testimony and called on an expert witness specializing in psychology to explain how their memories might have been “contaminated” over time. They also suggested that the accusers were simply chasing millions of dollars in payouts from a special fund to compensate Epstein’s victims. About $121 million had been given to about 150 victims as of this summer.
Federal prosecutors struck back at the accusations, telling jurors that Maxwell covered for Epstein and “never thought teenage girls would stand up to them.”
“If money was all they wanted, they could have walked away when the check cleared,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey, the daughter of former FBI Director James Comey.
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Erik Ortiz is a staff writer for NBC News focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.
Sarah Fitzpatrick is an investigative producer for NBC News. She previously worked for CBS News and “60 Minutes.”
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