No abuser exists in a vacuum. That’s perhaps one of the most terrifying truths of Netflix’s recent documentary Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich: The disgraced financier might have been a convicted sex trafficker, but he was repeatedly aided and abetted by those around him. And one of his main alleged accomplices has now been arrested: Ghislaine (pronounced ghee-lane) Maxwell, a British socialite and Epstein’s one-time girlfriend.
On July 2, law enforcement officials announced the FBI had arrested Maxwell on “Epstein-related charges,” and she’d soon appear in federal court, according to NBC. Maxwell went underground after Epstein’s conviction and alleged suicide in 2019, but investigators have continued to pursue the case, suspecting Epstein was far from the only criminal involved. Filthy Rich gave a platform to survivors including Annie and Maria Farmer, Virginia Giuffre, Sarah Ransome, Haley Robson, Courtney Wild, Michelle Licata, and several others—nearly every one of them mentioned Maxwell.
According to the survivors’ testimony, Epstein’s “molestation pyramid scheme”—as victims’ attorney Brad Edwards called it—worked like this: Epstein (or, allegedly, Maxwell) would recruit a young girl to come to his property and give him a massage in exchange for money. Usually these girls self-identified as vulnerable, in need of the cash, the connections or both. But they say the massage didn’t go as they’d assumed; it would reportedly turn sexual when Epstein asked the girls to undress. Survivors claim Maxwell would sometimes partake in the sexual activity herself. Then Epstein would pay the girl, ask her to “recruit” and return with friends, and she would often do so out of fear, desperation or need. Thus Epstein built a vast network of young women and underage girls, of whom there are likely hundreds of trafficking survivors.
In 2019, Epstein was finally arrested, charged with sex trafficking, and sent to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he reportedly took his own life. The shocking death unleashed a fury of conspiracy theories, but it also put an enormous target on Maxwell’s back as one of his closest connections.
Yet, for months after Epstein’s name faded from headlines, Maxwell eluded arrest, and she categorically denied any knowledge of or involvement with Epstein’s sex crimes. Here’s what we know about her arrest—and where her case might go next.
She was once Epstein’s “best friend.”
Maxwell had the sort of connections that Epstein craved. She was the daughter of a successful but disgraced media tycoon, Robert Maxwell, who had committed massive fraud and died after falling off his yacht in the Canary Islands in 1991. After his death, Maxwell moved to New York, where she cultivated relationships with high-profile people including, reportedly, Donald Trump, the Clintons, Prince Andrew, and more. It was in New York where she met Epstein.
Accounts are scarce of how exactly the two became involved, and the exact nature of their relationship is still in question. Epstein referred to her as his “best friend” in Vicky Ward’s infamous Vanity Fair profile. Ward reported, “He says [Maxwell] is not on his payroll, but she seems to organize much of his life—recently she was making telephone inquiries to find a California-based yoga instructor for him.”
The journalist Conchita Sarnoff told The Guardian she had socialized with Maxwell and Epstein before they were officially involved: “She seemed in love when I first saw them together. I believe Jeffrey was taking care of her. I feel Ghislaine clung to Jeffrey because she felt protected by him.”
Maxwell claims she had no knowledge of or involvement in Epstein’s crimes.
Throughout Filthy Rich, Epstein’s survivors make frequent mention of Maxwell’s alleged involvement in Epstein’s sex trafficking ring. They say she was his public face, a charming, charismatic woman who could convince other women to meet an intriguing billionaire, who maybe, just maybe, could change their lives.
Dan Kaiser, a lawyer for one of the survivors, summed the accusations up thusly to The Guardian: “[Maxwell] provided important administrative services in terms of the hiring of recruiters, and management of those employees, the making of appointments and dates for interactions between Mr. Epstein and the underage girls that were providing sexual services to him. She also maintained the ring by intimidating girls, by ensuring their silence.”
Yet Maxwell claims she had no idea any of Epstein’s crimes were taking place. In a recent complaint filed against Epstein’s estate, Maxwell said she “had no involvement in or knowledge of Epstein’s alleged misconduct.”
Her whereabouts were, until recently, apparently unknown.
According to the New York Times, Maxwell kept a “low profile” after Epstein’s death in 2019. In fact, “low profile” might be an understatement. Even before his death, she hadn’t been photographed in public in years, apart from a reported appearance at a Los Angeles In-N-Out Burger in August 2019.
The 58-year-old former British socialite moved out of her New York townhouse in 2016 and shut down her TerraMar Project, an environmental nonprofit, in 2019. Her last known meeting with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York—who was also connected to Epstein—was two weeks after U.S. prosecutors announced their intention to reopen investigations around Epstein in 2019. Since then, she has remained mostly out of the public eye.
Survivors allege Maxwell purposefully evaded contact.
According to ABC News, on May 22, a federal magistrate judge granted Maxwell a temporary “reprieve” from answering any questions in a lawsuit that alleges she committed “sexual battery against a teenage girl”: survivor Annie Farmer. The reasoning was that a federal investigation into Epstein’s accomplices is still in motion, and a victims’s compensation fund could be nearing final approval.
The reprieve ruling was made by Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman, who said, “I’m permitting [Maxell] not to respond to [written questions] and not to have her deposition. Not forever, but at least long enough to let us know whether the claims process is likely to go forward.”
And in March, Maxwell took her own action against the Epstein estate. She sued for reimbursement of her legal fees and security costs, claiming that the late financier had made “clear and unambiguous promises” to financially support her, and that she has “incurred significant legal fees, personal security costs and other expenses” due to her involvement with Epstein’s businesses. She also says Epstein had “promised to pay her legal fees” for any of the suits involving his alleged victims.
Victims said they believed Maxwell was purposefully trying to buy time and resources. Several have mentioned unsuccessful attempts to locate and make contact with Maxwell.
“[Maxwell] has been using this Court as a sword and a shield for many years, and she, Jeffrey Epstein, and their other co-conspirators have attempted to thwart their victims from obtaining justice for decades,” wrote Joshua Schiller, survivor Maria Farmer’s attorney, in a petition. “Maxwell must face the allegations against her, and the Court should deem the service methods attempted to be sufficient.”
Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire.
In 2019, David Weinstein, a former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told INSIDER that courts are “going to have to prove that she was a knowing, intentional participant in a conspiracy to traffic underage minors as sex slaves. Mere presence isn’t going to be enough.” This means prosecutors would have needed to gather as much evidence from victims, co-conspirators, and others as possible before making a move against Maxwell.
When Epstein survivors got their day in court in August 2019 after Epstein’s death, they told federal prosecutors the battle was not over, according to the New York Times.
“Jeffrey is no longer here, and the women that helped him are,” said Teresa Helm, one of the survivors. “They definitely need to be held accountable for helping him, helping themselves, helping one another carry on this huge — almost like — system.”
Now that Maxwell is in FBI custody, she will appear in federal court. According to CNBC, the Southern District of New York will hold a press conference on Maxwell’s arrest shortly.