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Who is the Real Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s Perverted Madam or His Clueless Girlfriend?

When Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial opened, one of her defense lawyers declared: “This case is about memory, manipulation, and money.”

And as the criminal proceedings came to a close, Manhattan federal prosecutors seized on the phrase and adopted it as their own. “Let me be clear,” assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said during a roughly two-hour summation on Monday. “Maxwell made her own choices. She was a grown woman who knew exactly what she was doing.”

Moe told jurors that Maxwell manipulated underage girls to make them feel special before delivering them to a middle-aged man: her former boyfriend and “partner in crime,” the late multimillionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The British socialite also received massive amounts of money from Epstein—at least $30 million—as she allegedly groomed and procured girls for him, while the victims themselves received up to $300 in cash following sexualized “massages” with the money-manager, who sexually assaulted or even raped them.

As for memory, the women Epstein and Maxwell exploited carried their disturbing images of the couple’s alleged abuse with them, decades later. “She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls,” Moe said. “It is time to hold her accountable.”

The prosecution also highlighted Maxwell’s longtime romance and friendship with Epstein. “When you’re with someone for 11 years you know what they like. Epstein liked underage girls … Maxwell knew it,” Moe said.

Maxwell is charged with six counts: enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; sex trafficking conspiracy; and child sex trafficking. If convicted, she could be sentenced to a maximum of 80 years behind bars.

She also faces a separate trial next year on two counts of perjury in connection to a 2016 deposition in a civil suit filed by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a victim of Epstein who claims the money-manager and Maxwell kept her as their “sex slave.”

During opening arguments, the prosecution depicted Maxwell as a predator of young girls and Epstein’s partner in crime. “She put them at ease and made them feel safe all so that they could be molested by a middle-aged man,” assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz said. “She knew what was going to happen to those girls.” Throughout the trial, the government presented evidence including flight records, financial transactions, emails, FedEx invoices, phone message pads, massage tables—including one that was set up in the courtroom—an imperious “household manual,” and nude photographs collected in Epstein’s mansions. The feds also called former employees including butler Juan Alessi, who testified that he knew two victims were underage.

But Maxwell’s team argued the heiress was “a scapegoat” for Epstein, who killed himself in jail in August 2019, just weeks after his arrest for trafficking girls. In her own opener, defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said the case “is about memory, manipulation, and money,” and suggested the four accusers in the indictment had motive to testify: it helped them secure millions from the Epstein victim compensation fund. Maxwell is “filling an empty chair” after Epstein’s death, Sternheim argued, and is a “convenient stand-in.”

On Monday, two more of Maxwell’s siblings, Ian and Christine, showed up in court to support her. They sat next to Isabel and Kevin, who have been stationed in the front row every day. As Moe spoke, Maxwell rifled through papers at the defense table, scribbled in a notebook, and sometimes gazed toward the jury. She was still when her own lawyer took the podium.

Defense attorney Laura Menninger labored meticulously to cast doubts on the credibility of certain witnesses and victims’ motives for coming forward, telling jurors, “Jeffrey Epstein died and everyone lawyered up.” She also took swipes at the government and all but suggested a vast conspiracy to frame Maxwell for Epstein’s sex crimes.

“Every last one of the government’s interviews with these accusers was not recorded … and that was by design,” Menninger said, adding that the feds don’t have audio recordings or transcripts of conversations with victims.

“So it was left to us to ask the hard questions of these witnesses on the stand,” Menninger said, referring to four accusers who testified at trial: “Jane,” “Kate,” Carolyn and Annie Farmer.

Menninger’s arguments largely focused on Jane, who testified that Maxwell and Epstein sexually abused her for years but couldn’t recall specific memories of when Maxwell was in the room for the financier’s “massage” sessions.

“Her lapses of memory pervade this case,” Menninger added of Jane. The lawyer said Jane claimed to fly on Epstein’s plane with Prince Andrew, Epstein’s brother and mother but flight records backing up this allegation couldn’t be found.

Menninger also warned jurors that Jane shared conflicting memories of the first time Epstein abused her, at one point saying it was in Epstein’s Florida pool house and on another occasion saying the molestation occurred on a trip to New York.

“That’s the evidence they want you to convict Ghislaine Maxwell on—’I don’t know’? ‘I don’t remember’?” Menninger fumed, referring to a brutal cross examination of Jane on the third day of trial.

According to Menninger, each of the victims exaggerated their stories when submitting applications to the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program in order to reap millions of dollars in settlement funds. “There are many reasons to hesitate and many reasons to doubt,” Menninger told jurors.

“She’s being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein,” Menninger said of Maxwell. “Maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life, but it wasn’t a crime.”

Prosecutor Maureen Comey then delivered an impassioned rebuttal, targeting the defense’s claims that the government lacked evidence to support its case, before Judge Alison Nathan delivered instructions to the jury on the charges.

“The victims are the evidence,” Comey said, adding that people who prey on children don’t leave behind memos documenting what they did.

“Some things you never forget because they’re seared into your brain forever, like Jane remembering the defendant touching her breasts, Annie remembering the defendant touching her breasts…” Comey said.

“If these women are lying, then all the witnesses who backed them up are lying too,” Comey continued, referring to government witnesses like former Epstein butler Juan Alessi, who testified he knew Jane was underage, and ex-boyfriends of the victims who said the women confided in them about the abuse decades before.

“There is no massive conspiracy here to frame Ghislaine Maxwell,” the prosecutor added.

Maxwell never imagined the teenage girls she abused would be the adult women testifying against her, Comey said. “In her eyes, they were just trash,” the prosecutor told jurors. “Beneath her.”

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