Federal agents on Thursday nabbed Ghislaine Maxwell, the British heiress and confidante of deceased sex trafficking suspect Jeffrey Epstein, while she was hiding out in New Hampshire.
Federal prosecutors say Ms. Maxwell helped her billionaire boyfriend “recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims,” whom they knew were underage, from 1994 to at least 1997. Some of the girls were as young as 14, according to the six-count indictment unsealed after her arrest.
“Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse,” Audrey Strauss, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a press conference. “In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse herself.”
Ms. Strauss said Epstein and Ms. Maxwell would befriend the girls by asking about their lives and taking them to movies and on shopping trips. They also would lure the girls to Epstein’s lavish residences in Manhattan, Palm Beach, Florida, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, Ms. Strauss said.
Once Ms. Maxwell gained the girls’ trust, she would start talking about sexual topics or undressing in front of them, the indictment says. The indictment also says she was present for some of the sex acts between the underage girls and Epstein.
“Maxwell’s presence as an adult woman helped put the victims at ease,” Ms. Strauss said. “As Maxwell and Epstein intended, this grooming process left the minor victims susceptible to sexual abuse.”
Ms. Maxwell, 58, was charged with conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and two counts of perjury.
Ms. Maxwell, who had been on the lam for months, appeared before a federal judge in New Hampshire hours after her arrest. The judge ordered that she be sent to New York for a detention hearing. She did not enter a plea.
Sigrid McCawley, an attorney for several Epstein survivors, including Virginia Giuffre, who accused Ms. Maxwell of recruiting her as a sex slave, cheered the arrest.
“Today the victims of Ghislaine Maxwell breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this sexual predator who not only engaged in sexual abuse herself but also assisted Jeffrey Epstein for decades in running his sexual trafficking scheme is behind bars,” she said in a statement. “The pain she has caused will never go away, but today is a step toward healing. … Today is also a powerful message to all Epstein accomplices that justice will prevail.”
Ms. Giuffre says Epstein sex-trafficked her to Britain’s Prince Andrew on several occasions when she was 17.
Prince Andrew, 60, has denied the allegations, but the prince was removed from royal duties and lost his $300,000 annual allowance as a result of the scandal.
The charges cover only the period from 1994 through 1997, well before Ms. Giuffre’s alleged encounters with the prince in 2001.
The indictment against Ms. Maxwell also charges she participated in “multiple group sexual encounters” with a woman identified only as Minor Victim-1 in New York and Florida. She is accused of giving Minor Victim-2 an unsolicited massage and encouraged Minor Victim-3 to give Epstein a massage in London, “knowing that Epstein intended to sexually abuse [her] during those massages.”
Ms. Maxwell was arrested without incident in Bradford, New Hampshire, said William Sweeney, FBI New York assistant director in charge.
He did not give details about how they tracked her down, though he said the FBI was “discreetly keeping tabs” on her whereabouts.
“We learned she had slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire, continuing to live a life of privilege,” Mr. Sweeney said.
Ms. Maxwell’s whereabouts had remained a mystery since Epstein’s arrest last year.
Epstein, who authorities say died in a jailhouse suicide in August, was awaiting trial for charges of paying hundreds of underage girls to have sex with him and associates at his opulent New York and Florida homes.
The charges against Epstein involve his actions in the mid-2000s, but Ms. Maxwell is accused of facilitating underage trafficking as early as 1994. Ms. Strauss called the case against Ms. Maxwell “the prequel” to the one against Epstein.
The perjury charges stem from allegations that she lied in a 2016 deposition before New York prosecutors when she denied knowledge of Epstein’s alleged trafficking empire.