One word in today's announcement that Jeffrey Epstein's alleged co-conspirator, Ghislaine Maxwell, had been arrested must have resonated with the pair's victims.

"Today, after many years, Ghislaine Maxwell finally stands charged for her role in these crimes," said Audrey Strauss, acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Finally.

One of the more enduring and infuriating mysteries of the Epstein scandal is how he and Maxwell managed to avoid arrest for so long.

Advertisement

Look at the charges against Maxwell. The crimes in question, with the exception of the perjury charges, happened between 1994 and 1997, more than two decades ago. Never, in all the years since then, has she faced anything resembling justice.

In 2008, when Epstein was arrested and then convicted of procuring an underage girl for prostitution – a scandalously lenient charge compared to the scale of his crimes – nothing happened to Maxwell.

When he was arrested again last year, this time on more fitting charges, once again nothing happened to Maxwell.

When Epstein killed himself in prison before he could face the full consequences of his actions, the public's focus immediately shifted to Maxwell, who had long been accused of both facilitating and participating in his abuse. Surely she was prosecutors' next target.

"Any co-conspirators should not rest easy," warned US Attorney-General William Barr.

"The victims deserve justice and they will get it."

Still, for 11 months, nothing happened to Maxwell.

Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell has been arrested by the FBI on charges of sex trafficking. Video / AP

Today, 24 years after the first of many young women reported her to police, she finally lost her freedom.

Advertisement

"Ghislaine Maxwell facilitated, aided and participated in acts of sexual abuse of minors," Strauss said.

"Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, and then delivered them into the trap that she and Jeffrey Epstein had set.

"She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while, she was setting them up to be abused sexually by Epstein and, in some cases, Maxwell herself."

It was a cathartic moment but, in the eyes of Epstein's victims, one that was long overdue. How did Maxwell stall it for so long?

How Maxwell 'slithered' away

Shortly after Epstein's death, US media reported that authorities were having trouble locating Maxwell. We now know the extraordinary lengths she went to in an attempt to disappear.

That effort appears to have started years ago, long before Epstein was even arrested.

Advertisement

Maxwell once owned a conspicuous, 650sq m townhouse in New York, featuring six bathrooms, eight fireplaces, marble floors, an elevator and a balcony overlooking Manhattan. It was hard to miss.

In 2016, she suddenly sold it for US$15 million ($23m). And from that moment onward, she became extremely difficult to track.

It marked a monumental shift in lifestyle for the British socialite, previously known for associating with some of the most famous and powerful people on the planet – as the photos of her alongside everyone from Donald Trump to the Clintons and Prince Andrew attest.

In 2017, Maxwell's lawyers told a judge she was living in London without a fixed address.

In August of last year, days after Epstein's death, there were rumours she was holed up in the Massachusetts mansion of Scott Borgerson, a tech firm CEO. Borgerson quickly shot down that idea.

"Ghislaine Maxwell is not at my house. I don't know where she is," he told CNBC.

Advertisement

Days later, a photo of her reading a book at an In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Los Angeles, was published by the New York Post. However, doubt was later thrown over the authenticity of the photo with the suggestion it had been staged by her lawyer.

Ghislaine Maxwell, driven by Britain's Prince Andrew leaves the wedding of a former girlfriend of the prince, Aurelia Cecil, at the Parish Church of St Michael. Photo / AP
Ghislaine Maxwell, driven by Britain's Prince Andrew leaves the wedding of a former girlfriend of the prince, Aurelia Cecil, at the Parish Church of St Michael. Photo / AP

In December, a lawyer representing one of Epstein's victims said he had been unable to serve Maxwell with legal papers because she was "hiding somewhere". Dan Kaiser told the Guardian he had no idea where she was.

"I wish I did. We've looked various places so far, to no avail," he said.

"We thought we had a lead in some compound in Colorado, a very good friend of hers, a wealthy family. We thought she might be there, but we're not sure. I expect the FBI knows exactly where she is."

Last month, the Sun claimed Maxwell was hiding in a glitzy Paris apartment near the Champs-Elysees.

A source told the paper she was "moving locations every month" and wanted to take advantage of France's extradition laws, believing she was safe from being sent back to the United States.

Advertisement

Today the speculation finally ended, as Maxwell was arrested at a secluded mansion in Bradford, New Hampshire.

She had only recently bought the house, described in its real estate listing as an "amazing retreat for the nature lover who also wants total privacy".

Investigators, it turned out, had been watching Maxwell for some time.

"We have been discreetly keeping tabs on Maxwell's whereabouts as we worked this investigation," FBI New York assistant director William Sweeney told the media.

"More recently we learned she'd slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire, continuing to live a life of privilege while her victims live [with] the trauma inflicted upon them years ago.

"We moved when we were ready, and Ms Maxwell was arrested without incident."

Advertisement

A reporter asked how long authorities had been tracking her, and whether they had "lost" her at any point.

"I think Bill Sweeney has given you a sense of that," Strauss replied.

Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / AP
Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / AP

"An eye was being kept, and information was being collected, and then the indictment was just recently voted and filed.

"That is when we were able, and prepared to, move to arrest her."

"How long has she been in New Hampshire?" a reporter asked.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Strauss said.

Advertisement

Asked why prosecutors decided to arrest Maxwell now, and not months ago, she indicated they had still been building their case.

"We were working hard on this investigation this past year. It's not easy to put together a case that goes back that far, but it was nothing other than we did the investigation and we were ready at this time to proceed," she said.

Documents filed in court today, asking for a judge to deny Maxwell bail, reveal more details about her efforts to stay hidden.

According to the filing, Maxwell changed her phone number and email address, registering the new number under the name "G Max".

She used a fake name to have packages delivered to her.

And she shifted her money between 15 bank accounts, sometimes moving hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time.

Advertisement

To bolster their argument that Maxwell was a flight risk, prosecutors also revealed she had three passports, from the United States, United Kingdom and France.

Years in plain sight

Before she was forced into hiding, Maxwell spent decades brazenly going about her life, despite the very public allegations against her.

The first woman to contact police about Epstein and Maxwell, Maria Farmer, did so in 1996. Nothing was done about her complaint.

Farmer, whose younger sister was also abused, is one of several Epstein victims to speak out publicly in recent years. Last year, she told the Guardian about Maxwell's alleged role in the underage sex ring.

"Ghislaine was key in making me feel safe," Farmer said.

"I trusted her because she is a woman. She would make us trust her, she would make us really care about her.

Advertisement

"My sister even said that she would feel so special if Ghislaine paid attention to her, because she had that way about her, you know? The popular girl in school, she was one of those. She knew everybody.

Ghislaine Maxwell arrives at Epsom Racecourse in 1991. Photo / AP
Ghislaine Maxwell arrives at Epsom Racecourse in 1991. Photo / AP

"She was so dangerous."

In the mid-2000s, police in Florida closed in on Epstein. They spoke to dozens of young women who were sexually abused at the billionaire financier's home in Palm Beach.

"This was 50-something 'shes' and one 'he' – and the 'shes' all basically told the same story," retired Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter told the Miami Herald in 2018.

The case ended up in the hands of the FBI. Investigators compiled a 53-page indictment, which could have locked Epstein up for the rest of his life.

Many of the victims involved provided testimony that implicated Maxwell, and could have led to her prosecution as well.

Advertisement

But that indictment was never used. Instead, federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta – who went on to serve in President Trump's Cabinet – gave Epstein the plea deal "of a lifetime", as the Herald called it.

The deal required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges, which got him a jail sentence of 13 months.

In return, the government gave Epstein and – in an extraordinary move – "any potential co-conspirators" immunity from all federal criminal charges.

Acosta also agreed that knowledge of the non-prosecution agreement would be kept from Epstein's victims until it had been approved by the judge - when it could no longer be stopped.

The deal essentially shut down the investigation into Epstein, and the immunity given to his unnamed "co-conspirators" seemed to ensure that Maxwell, too, was in the clear.

Acosta resigned as Trump's Labour Secretary when outrage over his role in the plea deal blew up last year. He did not apologise.

Advertisement

"We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail," Acosta said.

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Photo / Getty Images
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Photo / Getty Images

"We believe that we proceeded appropriately.

"We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight and we live in a very different world."

When Epstein was arrested again last year, then-US attorney Geoffrey Berman dismissed the non-prosecution agreement, arguing it only applied to cases brought in the Southern District of Florida – not his own jurisdiction, the Southern District of New York.

Maxwell has also been charged in that jurisdiction.

Maxwell's only way out?

Now that she has been arrested, Maxwell could take her chances in court, or try to reach a plea deal of her own.

Advertisement

The sex ring she allegedly ran with Epstein reportedly catered to a number of rich and powerful men. Maxwell could reveal their names to investigators and testify against them in an attempt to get a lighter sentence.

"I'm sure that Ghislaine's attorneys will try everything. They will try to make a deal where, perhaps, she speaks out about a bigger name to get reduced charges for herself," said Lisa Bloom, the lawyer representing one of Epstein's victims.

"But she herself is a big name. With Jeffrey Epstein's passing a year ago, she is one of the biggest names of people who were involved in this scheme."

Spencer Kuvin, who represents six of the victims, said his clients hoped Maxwell's arrest was "just the beginning".

"On behalf of the victims, we are very happy that the US Attorney's office has decided to move forward on this arrest, which is hopefully just the beginning. We're hopeful that there will continue to be additional arrests with respect to other co-conspirators," Kuvin said.

"The victims are very sceptical because there have been arrests in the past and the US government has not followed through."

Advertisement