Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein's confidant, arrested in sex abuse probe

The daughter of the late British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell has been accused of playing a role in the trafficking operation.
Image: Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in New York City in 2005.Joe Schildhorn / Patrick McMullan via Getty Images file

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By Tom Winter, Jonathan Dienst, Joe Valiquette and Sarah Fitzpatrick

Federal authorities arrested Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime confidant of Jeffrey Epstein, on Thursday in New Hampshire in connection with the late, accused sex trafficker, authorities announced.

She was taken into custody at about 8:30 a.m. in Bradford, officials said, and hours later appeared, via video feed, before Magistrate Judge Andrea Johnstone in Concord.

Johnstone ordered Maxwell, who did not enter a plea, to be sent to New York City and kept in federal custody there.

Maxwell was charged with six counts for acts committed between 1994 and 1997 and then allegedly lying to investigators in 2016. Four counts are related to allegedly helping transport minors for sexual activity and two for perjury, according to the criminal complaint.

"Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse," Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss told reporters in Manhattan. "In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse herself.”

FBI agents in New York, Boston, Newark and Albany had been keeping tabs on Maxwell before her arrest, officials said.

She was living on a 156-acre property, in a 4,300-square foot timber frame house, purchased for a little more than $1 million late last year by an anonymized limited liability corporation, records showed.

"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 on them years ago," said William Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI in New York City.

"We moved when we were ready and Ms. Maxwell was arrested without incident."

Prosecutors said Maxwell poses an "extreme" flight risk because she has access to substantial funds in multiple bank accounts and holds U.S., French and U.K. passports and has frequently traveled to the U.K, Japan and Qatar.

Given “the seriousness of the allegations, the strength of the evidence, and the possibility of lengthy incarceration — creates an extraordinary incentive to flee," according to prosecutors.

In court on Thursday, a defense lawyer said Maxwell wants a bail hearing scheduled once her case reaches the Southern District of New York.

Reached separately by NBC News, Maxwell's lawyer declined comment.

Multiple young women have accused Maxwell, 58, the youngest daughter of the late British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, of complicity in Epstein's alleged sex trafficking ring.

They say she either recruited them directly or provided logistical support, like scheduling visits to Epstein's home.

The abuse allegedly happened at Palm Beach, Florida; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and at Epstein's home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, officials said Thursday.

"Maxwell was the center of that sex trafficking ring. Now that the ring has been taken down, I know that I can’t be hurt anymore," Epstein victim Jennifer Araoz said in a statement.

Araoz accused Epstein of sexually abusing her when she was just a teenager and has sued Maxwell, claiming that she and other staffers "conspired with each other to make possible and otherwise facilitate the sexual abuse and rape of Plaintiff."

"Day after day, I have waited for the news that Maxwell would be arrested and held accountable for her actions," Araoz said. "Her arrest is a step in that direction, and it truly means that the justice system didn’t forget about us.”

Victims were often treated to expensive shopping trips, travel and education so they'd feel indented to Epstein, prosecutors said.

Epstein gained the trust of victim, with crucial help from Maxwell, according to Strauss.

"Maxwell would discuss sexual topics with the victim and undress in front of the victim," Strauss said. "Maxwell's presence as adult woman helped put the victims at ease, as Maxwell and Epstein intended. This grooming process left the minor victims susceptible to sexual abuse."

Maxwell's alleged role came into sharper focus in August when unsealed court filings revealed depositions from Epstein's former masseuses, staffers and associates. They painted a portrait of Maxwell as the accused sexual predator's chief enabler.

Epstein’s estate has sought to shield Maxwell from civil legal liability by classifying her as a former employee under the terms of the recently established Epstein Victims Compensation Fund, according to the administrator for the program.

In order to receive money from the funds, victims must waive their right to sue any individuals employed by Epstein.

Maxwell, through public court filings and statements, has denied any wrongdoing.

Strauss on Thursday declined to discuss any details regarding Britain's Prince Andrew, who once befriended Epstein and has been photographed with Maxwell.

“I’m not going to comment on anyone's status in this investigation," Strauss said. "But I would say we would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us. We would like to have the benefit of his statement."

Epstein was arrested July 6 last year at an airport in Teterboro, New Jersey, as he returned from Paris on a private jet. He was charged with one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking, and faced up to 45 years in prison if found guilty.

He pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.

The indictment in his case showed that he sought out minors, some as young as 14, from at least 2002 through 2005 and paid them hundreds of dollars in cash for sex at either his Manhattan townhouse or his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, federal prosecutors revealed last month.

Before Epstein could stand trial, he was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell shortly after 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 10 of last year. His death was ruled a suicide. Several guards responsible for checking on Epstein’s cell during the course of the night were charged with falsifying records and never actually checking in on him.

At the time of his death and throughout the year, federal prosecutors have vowed that the investigation into Epstein’s conduct and anyone who may have been involved in recruiting or facilitating his sex with minors will continue.

Epstein had previously served 13 months of an 18-month sentence for two Florida prostitution charges. Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008, after striking a plea agreement that many considered to be far too lenient and which hid its details from victims.

The deal was agreed to by the former Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, who was then the U.S. attorney in Miami.

David K. Li contributed.