Jeffrey Epstein escaped justice. His co-conspirator did not.
Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction Dec. 29 on five counts of conspiring to recruit girls for her perverted ex-paramour is the closest — for now — we will get to a reckoning in the Epstein case. It may not be everything, but after all these years, it’s a very important moment for the victims and society.
In an ideal world, Epstein would have faced his own reckoning more than a decade ago. Federal investigators had teed up charges that could have sent him to prison for life. Epstein molested girls at his Palm Beach home. Maxwell recruited them.
But two men intervened. In 2008, then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta and then-Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer approved a deal under which Epstein would face no federal charges. Instead, he pleaded guilty to a single state count of soliciting a prostitute. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office allowed him to serve his sentence as if the jail were a bed and breakfast.
People are also reading…
And it all would have ended there if not for the Miami Herald’s “Perversion of Justice“ project that ran three years ago. Lead reporter Julie Brown and her colleagues revealed the seamy dealing that led to the plea deal. Speaking with now-grown victims, they reconstructed the chamber of horrors into which Maxwell led them.
Seven months later, based on that reporting, federal prosecutors in New York arrested Maxwell. They then raided Epstein’s 40-room townhouse. Epstein’s suicide a month later seems to have confirmed his guilt but spared him a courtroom confrontation with his victims and a life in prison, stripped of the trappings of wealth and connections with such people as two former presidents — Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
That left Maxwell. For all their anger at Epstein, the victims reportedly have a special fury for Maxwell. She was female and came off as friendly. But she was a predator, too. She exploited girls — two of the witnesses at the trial were 14 when the abuse began — from broken homes first to perform massages on Epstein and later sex acts with him. She gave lessons.
And it wasn’t just Epstein. “You have a great body,” she told one girl, “for Mr. Epstein and his friends.”
Those “friends” allegedly include Prince Andrew, the third child of Queen Elizabeth. He embarrassed himself so badly during a 2019 interview when trying to defend his relationship with Epstein that he left public life. The prince is scheduled for trial next year on a charge of having sex with an Epstein victim when she was 17. The prince has denied the charge.
What emerged from the trial testimony was what a prosecutor called the “workaday cruelty” for the girls Maxwell recruited. Whether in Palm Beach, New York, New Mexico or elsewhere, routine mattered. Girls had their visits to Epstein scheduled. One witness said Maxwell told her that Epstein needed sex three times a day. That required shift changes.
Predictably, attorneys tried to cast Maxwell as the victim. They called Epstein the real criminal. Accusations against Maxwell were products of “memory, manipulations and money.”
Jurors didn’t buy it. Deliberations took several days because the jury instructions were 80 pages long. Though Maxwell was acquitted on one count, she still faces 65 years in prison. During depositions, she has come off as completely unrepentant.
From all reports, Maxwell’s recruiting was a return on Epstein’s investment. Though Maxwell was born into British society as the daughter of press baron Robert Maxwell, she reportedly got little money after his death. Prosecutors believe that Epstein transferred as much as $30 million to Maxwell.
Hilariously, Maxwell’s legal team characterized Epstein as a “21st-century James Bond” who had Maxwell under his spell. Prosecutors noted that James Bond is a good guy.
So what now? The only surviving conspirator could spend the rest of her life in prison. Does the accounting end there?
The public still hasn’t seen transcripts from the grand jury proceedings in Palm Beach County that led to the horrible plea deal for Epstein. Circuit Judge Donald Hafele recently rejected a request by The Palm Beach Post to release those confidential transcripts.
Though state law allows public disclosure “in the interest of justice,” Hafele ruled that the exception applies only in pending cases. We hope that an appeals court will disagree with Hafele’s narrow interpretation, especially in light of the Maxwell conviction.
There has been similar frustration at the federal level. A trial court judge found that the plea deal was illegal because prosecutors didn’t consult with the victims. In April, however, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that ruling, on the odd grounds that the law didn’t apply because the Department of Justice never charged Epstein.
It’s ironic that, after all the damage done to the victims by men — directly and indirectly — one woman will face punishment. But the damage could not have happened without Ghislaine Maxwell. For that, she must pay.