British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has appeared in court after being charged with helping to lure underage girls who were then sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell, who has kept a low profile since Epstein‘s death in August last year, was arrested by the FBI in Bradford, New Hampshire on Thursday on charges relating to her former boyfriend and long-time associate.
Maxwell, 58, played a “critical role” in helping Epstein “identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse”, according to Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York.
It is also alleged Maxwell took part in some of the abuse.
Appearing via video link during a 17-minute court hearing in Concord, New Hampshire, she did not enter a plea and answered Judge Andrea Johnston’s questions with either “I do” or “I am aware”.
The judge ordered she be transferred to the custody of US marshals in New York.
Ms Strauss earlier said at a news conference: “Maxwell was among Epstein’s closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old.
“In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse herself.”
A court filing claimed Maxwell, who has wealth, extensive international ties, three passports, and citizenship in two other countries, posed an “extreme flight risk”.
It said she had been hiding out in locations in New England since Epstein’s arrest last July and she faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
She had been living in a property in Bradford, New Hampshire, which she bought for $1m (£800,000) last December.
Ms Strauss claimed Epstein and Maxwell “had a method”, where Maxwell would allegedly befriend young girls and pretend to be taking an interest in them, before trying to normalise sexual abuse.
Maxwell had “enticed and caused minor victims to travel to Epstein’s residence in different states” and that Maxwell would assist in their “grooming for and subjection to sexual abuse”, federal prosecutors said in court papers.
Prosecutors claimed Maxwell was well aware of Epstein’s preference for underage girls, and that he intended to sexually abuse them.
Lawyer Brad Edwards represents dozens of Epstein’s alleged victims. He says they are relieved by the arrest of Maxwell. “It’s a long time coming and I’ve spoken with my clients today, some of whom had a lot of interactions with Ghislaine, and others who have none.
“But either way, all of them were extremely relieved. And to understand the importance of this particular arrest.”
And he says he does not think Maxwell’s arrest will be the last. “I think that you’re going to see other people that along the way helped to facilitate enable these types of crimes to be committed. And I would not be surprised if some of these other people get indicted.”
Disgraced financier Epstein, 66, was accused of raping and trafficking underage girls over the course of nearly two decades.
Last year, Epstein was arrested in New York on charges of trafficking minors, but was found hanged in an apparent suicide in prison while awaiting trial.
Previously, he pleaded guilty in Florida to prostitution charges involving a minor, in a 2008 deal with prosecutors that was criticised as too lenient.
Some of Epstein’s alleged victims have claimed that Maxwell lured them into his circle, where they were sexually abused by him and powerful friends.
Maxwell – the daughter of newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell – was a former partner of Epstein, one of his closest associates and was also paid to manage his various properties.
She has denied any wrongdoing and said some of the claims against her were “absolute rubbish”.
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Ms Strauss said Maxwell had “repeatedly lied” about her involvement because the truth was “almost unspeakable”.
Ms Strauss claimed the socialite had “enticed young girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them”.
One alleged victim of Epstein, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has claimed that Maxwell arranged for her to have sex with Prince Andrew at the socialite’s London townhouse.
The Duke of York categorically denies he had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Ms Roberts.
US investigators said they would “welcome” having Prince Andrew in to talk with them, adding their “doors remain open”.
A now public court filing against Maxwell says she “assisted, facilitated and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse” girls under the age of 18.
The indictment included counts of 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 a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and two counts of perjury.
According to the indictment, Maxwell attempted to befriend some of the alleged victims before their abuse, including by taking them to the cinema or shopping.
After gaining their trust, she would “try to normalise sexual abuse for a minor victim by… discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein”, the indictment says.
In some instances, she would massage Epstein in front of girls and encourage them to take part in massages while they were fully or partially nude.
The alleged victims were abused in multiple locations, including Epstein’s homes in New York, Florida and Sante Fe, and Maxwell’s home in London, the indictment claims.
The documents allege Maxwell perjured herself by saying “I don’t know what you’re talking about” when asked if Epstein schemed to recruit underage girls for sexual massages.
She also said she was unaware Epstein was having sexual activities with anyone, other than her and two other people, while she was with him.
FBI New York assistant director William Sweeney said investigators had been “discreetly keeping tabs” on Maxwell’s whereabouts before her arrest.
“More recently we learned she had 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,” he said.
He added: “She befriended the innocent, attempted to normalise sexual abuse, and worked to put victims at ease, aware the entire time of the abuse that would follow.”