Strauss called the case against Maxwell “a prequel” to the case prosecutors filed against Epstein a year ago but had to drop after his death.
The head of the New York FBI office, Assistant Director William Sweeney, blasted Maxwell as “one of the villains in this investigation.” He said she was arrested ”without incident” in Bradford, N.H. early this morning.
“We have been discreetly keeping tabs on Maxwell’s whereabouts as we worked this investigation and 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 lived with the trauma inflicted upon them years ago,” Sweeney said. “We moved when we were ready.”
Maxwell was secretly indicted on Monday, court records show, after federal grand juries in most of the U.S. were suspended for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Strauss did not say if that affected the investigation, but declared: “The indictment was just recently voted and filed and that was when we were able and prepared to move to arrest her.”
The arrest of Maxwell, who went to great length to remain out of the public eye in recent years, is the most dramatic development in the long-running Epstein saga since his death last August.
Maxwell was expected to appear in federal court in Concord, N.H. Thursday afternoon for an initial hearing.
From the time federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein last July with similar sex trafficking charges, they made clear they were investigating any and all accomplices who aided the late financier during what was a years-long practice of enticing teenage girls to visit his opulent homes and provide massages that involved sexual acts.
The indictment of Maxwell tracks with the accounts of several victims by describing the heiress as a key player in recruiting and winning the trust of a steady stream of female teens to be abused by Epstein.
“Maxwell first attempted to befriend some of Epstein’s minor victims prior to their abuse, including by asking about their lives, their schools, and their families,” the indictment says. “Maxwell encouraged minor victims to provide massages to Epstein, including sexualized massages during which a minor victim would be fully or partially nude.”
The charges say the grooming or abuse of at least three minors took place at Epstein’s homes on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, in Palm Beach, Fla., in Santa Fe, New Mexico and at Maxwell’s home in London.
Epstein also reportedly received similar massages on a private island he owned in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which was his official residence in recent years. It is not mentioned in the indictment.
In an unusual move, prosecutors did include in the indictment photos of Epstein’s luxurious residences, as well as an image of Epstein and Maxwell hugging. Early in the press conference Thursday, Strauss emerged from behind the lectern and stood pointing at the photo of the pair for more than 20 seconds as photographers snapped away.
All of the sexual abuse alleged in the indictment took place more than two decades ago, between 1994 and 1997.
“It’s not easy to put together a case that goes back that far,” Strauss acknowledged.
While the alleged victims are not named in the indictment, prosecutors claim Maxwell took part in the abuse of at least two of them by engaged in sexual activity with Epstein during the massages and by massaging one of the girls while she was topless.
In what may be an attempt to add fresher allegations to the case, the indictment includes two felony charges pertaining to statements Maxwell made in 2016 in a lawsuit filed against her by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claims she gave sexual massages to Epstein after being recruited in Florida. (The indictment twice provides an inaccurate docket number for Giuffre’s case.)
Prosecutors say Maxwell lied when she denied knowing that Epstein sought sexual massages from underage girls, when she said she did not know he had sex toys in his homes, and when she said she never gave massages to anyone, including the alleged victims.
“Maxwell lied because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable,” Strauss told reporters.
The Epstein saga has been the subject of political intrigue for more than a decade. Epstein, a wealthy financier and philanthropist, had numerous friends in elite circles of politics, academia, business and the legal community. Among those associates: President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton.
Trump flew on one of Epstein’s planes at least once, according to flight logs, while Clinton made several trips overseas on Epstein’s aircraft. Epstein was also a benefactor of the Clinton Foundation.
Epstein was reportedly a regular at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. In addition, Guiffre claimed she was working as a towel girl at the resort when she was recruited by Maxwell to give massages to Epstein that involved sexual acts.
Both Trump and Clinton say they broke off all contact with Epstein a decade or more ago. Trump has reportedly claimed he banned Epstein from Mar-a-Lago.
One key question about the charges against Maxwell is whether she might agree to cooperate with prosecutors and name other prominent figures who took part in the abuse Epstein perpetrated.
Asked Thursday whether the perjury charges might undercut Maxwell’s use as a cooperator, Strauss said she doubted that would be a problem.
“People can go on from there and become cooperators. … so, I’m not concerned about that. In the event that she were to become a cooperator, I think that we can deal with that,” the prosecutor said.
Maxwell faces up to 35 years in prison on the charges, although defendants typically get shorter sentences under federal sentencing guidelines.
Strauss said prosecutors plan to ask that Maxwell be held without bail. In a court filing, prosecutors called her “an extreme risk of flight.”
The French-born socialite, who also holds British and U.S. citizenship, has “effectively been in hiding” for since the indictment of Epstein was announced a year ago, prosecutors alleged. “Thereafter, the defendant – who had previously made many public appearances – stopped appearing in public entirely, instead hiding out in locations in New England,” they added.
Prosecutors say Maxwell moved at least twice during the period, registered a cell phone under the name “G Max,” and had packages delivered under another name. She took refuge in recent months on a 156-acre New Hampshire property purchased by a limited liability corporation last December, according to the prosecution.
Prosecutors urging Maxwell’s detention also pointed to her wealth, saying she has been linked to at least 15 bank accounts since 2016 and sold a New York City residence that year for $15 million. Maxwell is a daughter of Robert Maxwell, a wealthy British publishing magnate who died in 1991 at age 68 after apparently falling overboard from his yacht while his companies were under investigation for pension fraud.
Much of the controversy around the Epstein case has stemmed from what many of his alleged victims called an overly lenient 2008 plea deal his lawyers struck in Florida to resolve criminal allegations about his alleged abuse of teenage girls.
The legal settlement, in which federal prosecutors agreed to forgo federal charges in exchange for Epstein pleading guilty to two state prostitution offenses, resulted in Epstein serving only 13 months in a county jail — much of it on work release at his nearby office during the day.
The case drew little attention for years, but occasionally sprang into the headlines, like when POLITICO reported in 2014 that Giuffre claimed she was trafficked for sex to several of Epstein’s friends, including renowned attorney Alan Dershowitz and the United Kingdom’s Prince Andrew.
Both men adamantly denied Giuffre’s claims.
The Epstein story also brought down a Trump Cabinet member, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. After federal prosecutors in New York obtained a new indictment of Epstein last year, Acosta resigned due to ongoing questions about the decade-old plea agreement, which he approved as the U.S. Attorney for south Florida at the time.
Epstein was arrested last July as he flew into New Jersey from France on his private jet. His lawyers asked that he be released to home confinement in New York, but a judge refused.
The following month he was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Manhattan. Authorities said he hanged himself using a bedsheet.
Last November, two guards on duty at the prison that night were later charged with falsifying records to cover up their failure to perform required checks. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
After the indictment of Epstein last July, Prince Andrew retired from public life but said he would cooperate with the U.S. investigation. However, prosecutors have said he has yet to speak with them.
“I’m not going to comment on anyone’s status in this investigation, but I will say we would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk to us. We would like to have the benefit of his statement,” Strauss said Thursday. “Our doors are open.”
An attorney for Giuffre and other women who claim that while teenagers they were abused by Epstein, Brad Edwards, welcomed word of Maxwell’s indictment.
“My clients are very pleased by the news that Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested today,” Edwards said in a statement. “They are also thankful for the determination that the SDNY prosecutors have demonstrated throughout their investigation. As for Ghislaine’s importance in Jeffrey Epstein’s organization as well as her loose affiliation with the truth, we have worked for years to expose both. Today brings us one step closer to justice.”