Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein were "partners in crime" who made the sexual abuse of teenage girls since at least 1994 seem normal and casual, a prosecutor told jurors on Monday at the opening of Maxwell's sex trafficking trial.
Assistant US Attorney Lara Pomerantz said that Epstein and Maxwell, a British socialite, enticed girls as young as age 14 to engage in "so-called massages" by showering them with money and gifts.
"She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them, and served them up to be sexually abused," Pomerantz said in an opening statement.
The prosecutor sought to make clear to a jury of 12 that there was no confusion about whether Maxwell, Epstein's longtime companion, was his puppet or accomplice.
She described the 59-year-old woman as central to Epstein's sex abuse scheme, which prosecutors say lasted over a decade.
"She was in on it from the start. The defendant and Epstein lured their victims with a promise of a bright future, only to sexually exploit them," Pomerantz said.
Maxwell "was involved in every detail of Epstein's life," the prosecutor said. "The defendant was the lady of the house."
Even after Maxwell and Epstein stopped being romantically involved, the pair "remained the best of friends", Pomerantz said.
She said Maxwell "helped normalise abusive sexual conduct" by making the teenagers feel safe and by taking them on shopping trips and asking them about their lives, their schools and their families.
The prosecutor spoke from an enclosed plastic see-through box that allowed her to take off her mask. Maxwell, wearing a cream-coloured sweater and black pants, was at times writing and passing notes to her lawyers.
A defence lawyer was to follow the prosecutor's opening.
The openings came in the afternoon, after hours in the morning were lost to questions about whether two prospective jurors could work throughout the six weeks the trial is projected to last.
During the morning, Maxwell gazed frequently at her sister, who was seated in the front row of a spectator section diminished in space by coronavirus restrictions.
One prospective juror was dismissed after he acknowledged he'd had to listen to someone he knew who was "passionate" about the case. Another juror's employment was in jeopardy until the judge contacted the employer to speed the process of approval for the juror's service.
Maxwell is accused of acting as Epstein's chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse. The charges against her stem from the allegations of four women who say she and Epstein victimised them as teens from 1994 to 2004.
Pomerantz said the abuse occurred at Epstein's homes, including his estate in Palm Beach, Florida; his posh Manhattan townhouse; a Santa Fe, New Mexico, ranch; a Paris apartment; and a luxury estate in the Virgin Islands.
Epstein killed himself at a Manhattan federal lockup in August 2019, a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges. Authorities charged Maxwell in July 2020, arresting her after tracking her to a $1 million New Hampshire estate where she had been holed up during the coronavirus pandemic.
Maxwell has pleaded not guilty and vehemently denies wrongdoing. She has been jailed in Brooklyn since her arrest, calling the claims against her "absolute rubbish". Maxwell's lawyers and family say she was Epstein's pawn, now paying "a blood price" to satisfy public desire to see someone held accountable for his crimes.
The wealthy, Oxford-educated Maxwell is the daughter of British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991 after falling off his yacht — named the Lady Ghislaine — near the Canary Islands. Robert Maxwell, whose holdings at the time included the New York Daily News, was facing allegations that he had illegally looted his businesses' pension funds.
Ghislaine Maxwell holds US, British and French citizenships and was repeatedly denied bail in the run-up to her trial.