Jeffrey Epstein Maxwell Trial
In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell is seated at the defense table during her trial on Nov. 30. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

The first week of Ghislaine Maxwell's sex trafficking trial began with media from all over the world camped out in front of the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan waiting to get a glimpse of the British socialite.

Maxwell, the former girlfriend of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, is accused of recruiting and grooming girls, one as young as 14, to have sex with Epstein and his high-profile roster of friends.

The 59-year-old daughter of British media mogul Robert Maxwell faces six counts of trafficking-related charges, including enticing minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts. She is also accused of conspiracy, including using one of Epstein's accusers to recruit other girls to participate in "paid sex acts with Epstein." She's also charged with perjury for allegedly lying under oath during depositions in a civil lawsuit against her.


If convicted, she could spend 80 years behind bars.

Epstein killed himself in prison while waiting for his sex trafficking trial to begin in 2019. He was charged with the abuse of young girls between 2002 and 2005, while the indictment against Maxwell focuses on incidents between 1994 and 1997.

Maxwell has denied all charges against her and claims she was a victim of Epstein's manipulation. Prosecutors argued she was an active participant who targeted and befriended vulnerable girls.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

Here are the top takeaways from week one.

Abuser or victim? 

Prosecutors and defense attorneys worked hard this week to paint Maxwell in two very different lights in front of the jury.

Prosecutors said Maxwell and Epstein worked together to create a pipeline of young girls for sex and that she played an "active" role in the abuse.

Lara Pomerantz began her opening statement by telling the story of a 14-year-old girl named "Jane" who was attending a youth camp.

"She was sitting at a picnic table for kids when a man and woman walked by," Pomerantz said. "The man introduced himself as someone who gave scholarships for kids. They asked Jane for her phone number. What Jane didn't know then was that this meeting at summer camp was the beginning of a nightmare that would last for years." 

Pomerantz said Maxwell and Epstein were partners in crime who "promised these girls the world" and said Maxwell would earn their trust and offer them money to "massage" Epstein, which would turn into a lascivious opportunity for Epstein to touch the girls inappropriately.

Pomerantz said Maxwell knew the victims were well below the age of consent but that she preyed on their inexperience and even helped arrange travel for some between Epstein's estates in Palm Beach, Florida, his Manhattan townhouse, as well as properties in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and London.

Maxwell's attorney Bobbi Sternheim tried to create distance between her client and Epstein, telling jurors the two are nothing alike and that Maxwell is a "scapegoat."

"She is a target" for women who "believe they were victimized by Epstein," Sternheim said of her client.

"She is filling that hole and filling an empty chair," she added. "She is a brand name. She is a lightning rod. She is a convenient stand-in for the man who cannot be here."

Jeffrey Epstein Maxwell Trial
Lawrence Paul Visoski Jr. enters a federal courthouse to testify. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Friends in high places 

Epstein's longtime pilot got tongues wagging when he testified that former Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton were among the men who flew on Epstein's "Lolita Express," the nickname since given to the Boeing 727 he owned.

Lawrence Paul Visoski Jr. testified that in some cases, "special catering" was arranged.

In the case of Clinton, Visoski said he would be told in advance if he would be flying on Epstein's jet.

“There might be special catering?” defense attorney Christian Everdell asked about Clinton, who has been photographed with Maxwell aboard the plane.

“Sure,” Visoski replied.

When asked if he remembered an accuser in the case, identified as “Jane,” riding on the plane, Visoski said he couldn't "visualize her sitting in the passenger compartment like I would, say, President Clinton.”

Everdell also told jurors Trump flew on Epstein's plane.


Though Visoski did not implicate any of Epstein's passengers in the late convicted sex offender's sexual exploits, the mere mention of Trump led to vehement denials by QAnon followers.

The group has closely watched the developments in the case, claiming it provides proof that Maxwell not only aided and abetted Epstein but also that their involvement lends credibility to the conspiracy theory that there is a Satanic pedophile cabal made up of powerful Democrats, celebrities, and business owners.

The problem is that Trump is central to the QAnon narrative that believes he will expose the group to the world, leading to their arrest and ultimate execution.

Having Trump called out in court as someone who has flown on the "Lolita Express" and has ties and pictures with Epstein caused members of the radical group to air their disdain on Telegram, an online encrypted messaging platform.

The name "Lolita Express" is a nod to Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel about a middle-aged French professor who justifies the repeated rape and sexual assault of an American 12-year-old girl.

"Jane" testifies

Epstein's and Maxwell's youngest accuser took the stand this week.

"Jane," one of four women described in the indictment as key accusers, testified she was only 14 when she was approached and befriended by the older couple. She told jurors that Maxwell was often in the room when she had sexual interactions with Epstein.

Now, in her early 40s, Jane said Maxwell acted "very casual" during the encounters, "like it was no big deal."

She said Maxwell instructed her how to give Epstein erotic massages and sometimes participated.

Jane also told jurors that she was "frozen in fear" during her first time with Epstein and that she was "terrified and felt gross and felt ashamed."

She also described another encounter in which she said both Epstein and Maxwell took advantage of her.

"There were hands everywhere, and Jeffrey proceeded to masturbate again," she said.

Jane said other encounters involved sex toys and turned into oral sex "orgies" with Maxwell and other young women at Epstein's estate.

Maxwell maintained a steady gaze in Jane's direction during her testimony, sometimes jotting down a note and passing it to her lawyers, the Associated Press reported.

Jane also said Epstein took her to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort when she was 14 years old to meet him.

Defense attorneys did not pull any punches during cross-examination and accused Jane of being money-hungry and making up false claims.

Jeffrey Epstein Maxwell Trial
Ghislaine Maxwell's defense attorney Laura Menninger arrives at court. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

They said the actress, who has had parts in commercials, TV shows, and movies, was motivated by a multimillion-dollar settlement she got from Epstein's victim compensation fund and that her recollection of events had changed over the years to match emerging narratives.

Jeffrey Epstein Maxwell Trial
Kevin Maxwell and Isabel Maxwell stand in front of the federal courthouse where their sister Ghislaine Maxwell is on trial. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Family support

Maxwell has had at least one family member in her corner daily during the trial.

Her brother, Ian Maxwell, 65, who was brought up on financial crimes related to the business practices of his late father, called the criminal proceedings against Maxwell "the most over-hyped trial of the century" and maintains his sister is innocent. 

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's World at One, he said the family was relieved that the trial was starting but said he doubts Maxwell will get a fair shot. 

"I think that there are several reasons for that — the enormous amount of negative media coverage of Ghislaine for at least the last 18 months. It's only been going in one direction, and that level of negative reporting, which is not coming in any other direction than against her, I think it has a potential to poison the jury pool at some level if they are only hearing one side of the story and not the other," he said.


Another family member who has been a constant presence in the courtroom is Maxwell's older sister Isabel, 71, and brother Kevin.

Kevin Maxwell told reporters Wednesday it was the first time he’d seen his jailed sister in more than 500 days and thanked deputy U.S. marshals for allowing her to speak to him briefly before they took her out of the courtroom.

“Personally, it gave me a tremendous sense of ... to be close to her, to be able to actually see her in the flesh,” he said.

Maxwell, one of nine children, has seven living siblings.