NEW YORK — Ghislaine Maxwell spent the first half of her life with her father, a rags-to-riches billionaire who looted his companies’ pension funds and died mysteriously. She spent the second with another tycoon, Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself while charged with sexually abusing teens.
After a life of scandal and luxury, Maxwell’s next act will be decided by a U.S. trial.
Starting Monday, prosecutors in New York will argue that Maxwell, 59, abetted Epstein’s crimes with girls as young as 14. A key question for jurors: Was Maxwell an unwitting pawn of Epstein’s manipulations or a knowing opportunist?
Ian Maxwell told The Associated Press his sister is “paying a heavy price, a blood price” to a justice system intent on holding someone responsible for Epstein’s crimes.
Ghislaine Maxwell, 59, grew up in a 51-room English country mansion where high-society parties were punctuated by trumpeters and fireworks. BBC images from the time show Ghislaine as a child with a kid-size plate of food, learning how to be a master networker.
Her father, born Jan Ludvik Hoch, was born to Yiddish-speaking parents in what is now southwestern Ukraine. Escaping the Holocaust, he ultimately joined the British Army and transformed himself into Robert Maxwell.
Maxwell built on his military connections to found a publishing empire that ultimately included the British tabloid The Daily Mirror, the New York Daily News and the book publisher Macmillan. He married, fathered nine children, was twice elected to Parliament — and earned a reputation for boorish and bullying behavior.
Ghislaine was Maxwell’s youngest, born on Christmas Day 1961. Her 15-year-old brother Michael was severely brain damaged in a car accident just days later. Her mother, Elisabeth Maxwell, wrote in her memoir that their baby daughter was overlooked as a result: A the age of 3, Ghislaine declared, “Mummy, I exist!”
“I was devastated,’’ Elisabeth Maxwell wrote. “And from that day on, we all made a great effort with her, fussing over her so much that she became spoiled, the only one of my children I can truly say that about.’’
While at the University of Oxford, Ghislaine Maxwell began building high-profile contacts. After graduating, she worked for her father and, in 1991, became his U.S. emissary after he bought the Daily News amid efforts to compete with fellow media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Later that year, Robert Maxwell fell off his yacht — the Lady Ghislaine — and drowned in what some saw as an accident and others a suicide. Investors would discover his wealth was an illusion: He had diverted hundreds of millions of pounds from the pension funds to prop up his empire.
Soon after his death, Ghislaine Maxwell was photographed sitting next to Epstein during a memorial.
Ian Maxwell said her relationship with Epstein developed after the family advised her to remain in the U.S. because the Maxwell name was tainted in the U.K. She had to forge new friendships in New York, he said.
One of those was with Epstein, a onetime teacher who built his fortune on the back of his own powerful contacts.
“My father was a powerful man — you know, an alpha male, really. And when you have that kind of experience, all of us, all of the brothers and sisters have had to somehow deal with that,” Ian Maxwell said. “Ghislaine was no exception. But clearly to then say, ‘Well, you know, he dies, then she moves along to the next rich man.’ I just don’t buy that.”
In sworn testimony for an earlier civil case, Ghislaine Maxwell acknowledged she dated Epstein but said she later became his employee, tasked with things like hiring staff for his six homes.
“A very small part of my job was to find adult professional massage therapists for Jeffrey,” Maxwell said during a deposition in 2016. “As far as I’m concerned, everyone who came to his house was an adult professional person.”
But in 2005, Epstein was arrested in Palm Beach, Florida, accused of hiring multiple underage girls to perform sex acts. He pleaded guilty to a charge of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and served 13 months in jail.
Years of civil litigation followed, in which women accused Epstein and Maxwell of sexual abuse. Prosecutors in New York charged Epstein with sex trafficking in 2019, but he killed himself in jail before trial.
The indictment against Maxwell is based on accusations from four women who say she recruited them to give Epstein massages that progressed into sexual abuse. Maxwell sometimes participated in the sexual encounters and was involved in paying at least one accuser, prosecutors allege.
Annie Farmer alleges she was 16 when she was tricked into visiting Epstein’s New Mexico ranch under the guise of attending a bogus event for college-bound students. She said Maxwell tried to groom her by taking her to the movies and shopping, and giving her an unsolicited massage while the teenager was topless.
The AP does not identify people who say they were victims of sexual abuse unless they come forward publicly. Although not identified in court documents, Farmer has described her experiences to ABC and The New York Times. When Maxwell sought bail, Farmer asked the judge to deny it, calling her a “psychopath.”
U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan repeatedly denied Maxwell bail, leaving her isolated in a small cell equipped with a toilet and a concrete bed.
Prosecutors say Maxwell had gone into hiding after Epstein’s suicide, moving into a gated New Hampshire home — with a husband her lawyers have declined to publicly identify — and wrapping her cellphone in foil to ward off hacking.
Maxwell has remained mostly silent about the Epstein allegations, but in a 2016 deposition, she said she learned about the accusations “like everybody else, like the rest of the world, when it was announced in the papers.’’
She said she never saw Epstein getting massages from anyone under 18 and that no one ever complained to her that Epstein demanded sex.
With Epstein gone and no apparent recordings of alleged incidents, a jury will soon decide who it believes.