Maxwell defense grills accuser on sex abuse claims

Maxwell defense grills accuser on sex abuse claims
© Johannes EISELE Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, points to a picture of Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein

The defense in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial sought Wednesday to poke holes in the key witness testimony of a woman who said she was sexually abused by the heiress and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein starting when she was just 14 years old.

The alleged victim, identified in court by the pseudonym “Jane,” was the first of four expected to testify in the trial of Maxwell, who is accused of grooming underage girls to be exploited by her long-time partner Epstein, who killed himself in jail two years ago while awaiting trial.

The 59-year-old Maxwell, who was wearing a turtleneck and black pants in court, has pleaded not guilty to six counts of enticing and transporting minors for sex. If convicted, she faces an effective life sentence.

Cross-examining the alleged victim, Maxwell’s defense lawyer Laura Menninger suggested discrepancies in how Jane told her story in initial conversations with the government versus her court testimony the day before, particularly in terms of her timeline.

Menninger pointed to law enforcement notes of conversations dating back to December 2019 that suggested Jane’s uncertainty over whether Maxwell touched or kissed her, comparing the conversations to the vivid account she gave the jury on Tuesday that alleged Maxwell’s participation in sexualized massages, group sex and lurid abuse with Epstein.  

Maxwell defense grills accuser on sex abuse claims
© Laura Cavanaugh A combination of pictures shows Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein

One line of defense questioning also sought to imply that Jane was drawing on her years of experience as an actor in a soap opera to heighten the drama of her testimony.

When the time came for the prosecution again to question Jane, US attorney Alison Moe asked her if she was “acting here today.”

“No,” Jane responded, adding that in her first interview with federal agents she had found it difficult to tell strangers “the most shameful, deepest secrets that I’ve been carrying around with me my whole life” and had not divulged every detail.  

– ‘Move on with my life’ –

Through tears she said she gradually became more comfortable about recounting her story, and “started to feel like I could trust” the government. 

“This is something that I have been running from my entire life. I’m just tired of it,” she said.

Under initial questioning by prosecutors, Jane said she met Epstein and Maxwell at a summer arts camp in Michigan in 1994, when she was 14 years old. 

During her time on the stand Wednesday, prosecutors asked Jane about the defense team’s suggestion that she was testifying because she thought it could help her receive money from civil cases or from the Epstein fund. 

Jane replied that she had no financial stake in testifying, noting that she does not have a pending civil case. 

She has already received $5 million from the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program, a restitution fund established as an alternative to lawsuits against his estate that compensated victims of his sexual assault. That sum came to $2.9 million after legal fees. 

Jane then paused a while, crying and hiding her face behind a tissue. When she regained her composure, she said she had been “seeking some sort of closure” by making a claim to the fund.

“I guess in this country compensation is the only thing you can get to try and move on with your life,” she said.

“Hopefully this just puts it all to an end.”

– ‘Money wasn’t free’ –

Following Jane’s testimony, her former boyfriend of approximately eight years — identified under the pseudonym “Matt” — corroborated her account of a difficult home life, childhood financial difficulties, her strained relationship with her mother, and the abuse she suffered under Epstein.

Matt recounted Jane telling him that Epstein provided her and her family with money. He said she never detailed the abuse, but had emphasized: “the money wasn’t free.” 

The government also called to the stand Daniel Besselsen, a finance executive at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, the nonprofit behind the summer camp where Jane said she first met Maxwell and Epstein.

Besselsen provided records including donor letters confirming Epstein and Maxwell’s relationship to the camp, including one addressed to Maxwell saying a lodge was reserved for Epstein’s use in August of 1994, when they are said to have met Jane.

Epstein had funded a two-bedroom lodge at Interlochen where parents, donors and other guests could stay.

The cabin in northern Michigan was previously known as the Jeffrey Epstein Scholarship Lodge, but is now available to rent as the Green Lake Lodge.

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