Ghislaine Maxwell is on trial in New York City. People are hungry for answers about her and her baffling life with Jeffrey Epstein. We’ll warn you now that this trial may not deliver those answers, and may muddy our understanding even further. Still, here’s everything we do know.
What’s the deal with this trial?
The trial — you can call it by its government name, U.S.A. v. Ghislaine Maxwell, if you want to be dramatic — began on Monday, November 29. It’s expected to last about six weeks, everyone agrees, unless something odd and conspiracy-theory inducing happens.
It will take place in the glamorous Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in downtown Manhattan, which was the home of two historic trials: that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1951 and that of Martha Stewart in 2004.
This case truly got going in July 2020, when Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire. Since she has been in custody, both the government and her lawyers have filed an amazing, seemingly endless stream of legal documents.
What is Ghislaine Maxwell charged with?
The government says it will prove that she helped Jeffrey Epstein sexually exploit and abuse girls — helping him “to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse” victims as young as 14 — and that she physically brought people to him for this purpose. Specifically, Maxwell has been charged with enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; conspiracy charges related to both of those; sex trafficking of a minor; and sex trafficking conspiracy. (The latter two charges were added earlier this year.)
She also faces two charges of perjury — the government claims that she lied under oath when previously questioned about matters pertaining to Epstein — for a total of eight federal counts. The perjury charges will not be addressed in this trial.
Maxwell vigorously proclaims her innocence on all counts.
How do you say “Ghislaine”?
A reader writes: “How the hell do you pronounce her name?” It depends. Here’s a hilarious video that covers how to say it in French. (Aim for Shizz-lane.) But Vicky Ward, a journalist who was early to the Epstein story, uses what I think is the right English pronunciation: Gill-len. And Ghislaine Maxwell’s brother Ian says it very casually, like Gill-un. You can hear his version here. (Think gill like gills on a fish and then rhyme the last half with gun.) However you want to do it, just say it fast. Vanity Fair wrote an entire explainer on this, but did not arrive at a conclusion besides “Never pronounce the s.” I, personally, aim for Gill-lane — a sort of Americanese gloss on the English of the French.
Who’s on the Maxwell jury?
On its surface, the jury seems to be a random, delightful grab bag of New Yorkers. They need to retain their anonymity, but it’s appropriate to say that, quite specifically, the group looks like what you’d get if you abducted about a third of the passengers on an afternoon’s rush-hour 4/5 subway car.
And yet, unlike many New Yorkers, each of them has supposedly existed until this point in time unburdened by knowledge about anything related to Jeffrey Epstein. Also, none of them profess a bias against wealthy people — a question asked of them before they were recruited into this terrible service. To many, both of these may seem like unimaginable conditions of existence, but we all make different choices with our lives, and in the end, who can say what’s best — mainlining online news about predators and criminals around the clock, or doing the opposite of that?
Reporters see little of the jury because the vast majority of us are not in the courtroom with them. (We have to watch the trial on TVs in rooms across the building.) We do see them a bit on video and elsewhere, enough that we would recognize some members.
During trials, some reporters try to learn more about jurors so that when the whole thing is over, they can attempt to talk to them. Sometimes this process can be messy. Earlier this month, the judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial barred MSNBC from the courthouse. He, and police, said someone from the network had tried to follow a jury bus; MSNBC denies that the freelancer in question was attempting to contact or photograph anyone from the jury. Whatever happened there, it hangs over this trial a bit.
Who will testify in this trial?
Here is what we have been promised by the prosecution. First, they said, four of the alleged victims would testify. Next up, relatives and others, “who knew them not as the adults that you will see during the course of this trial but as the kids they were when the abuse happened.”
Also: “You’ll also hear from some of Epstein’s staff. You’ll hear from the pilots who flew Epstein and the defendant and some of the victims in Epstein’s private planes. You’ll hear from some of the employees who worked at Epstein’s Palm Beach residence.”
And then there are the expert witnesses. They will be key to Maxwell’s defense, which posits that her accusers have “memories that are untrustworthy, uncorroborated, and unreliable,” as her lawyer put it.
Witness testimony began on the trial’s first day with Larry Visoski, a pilot who flew Epstein’s plane. He did a lot of scene-setting for the jury’s benefit, which could explain why he went first. He described the various Epstein locations; just how frequently flights were taken (constantly); and some high-profile passengers, all names long in circulation. (Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, etc.)
The first of the four accusers to take the stand was “Jane.” Her testimony was extremely graphic and disturbing. She recounted being forced into having sex with Epstein when she was 14, 15, and 16 and said that others were involved sometimes. She described an unwanted incident with both Epstein and Maxwell, when she was 14, in which Maxwell was fondling and kissing Epstein. She said Maxwell was in the room more than twice when Epstein abused her. She said Maxwell would instruct her in how Epstein liked to be massaged. And she said she traveled with Maxwell and Epstein maybe ten times, between Florida, Manhattan, and New Mexico.
What was the relationship between Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein?
They may have met as early as 1988 through her father, a wealthy media tycoon. (He died in 1991 — an event that revealed that the family business was fantastically insolvent and subjected Ghislaine Maxwell’s brothers to years of lawsuits.) We know that she and Epstein were spending time together in 1992, when she was seen boarding the Concorde with him.
She became Epstein’s girlfriend and then his majordomo, essentially — making things work as he jetted from house to house. It was as soon as 1994, the government claims, that she began providing Epstein with young girls. One court document discusses her leaving calling cards at spas and chatting up people in malls. The government claims that she would take the girls shopping or to the movies — as well as talk about sex with them and even be “present for sex acts.” She also allegedly encouraged them to accept money from Epstein. Though she took breaks, it seems like she worked in some official capacity for Epstein from 1999 to 2006.
Why wasn’t she out on bail?
At least four times, Maxwell has applied to be released on bail. Her most recent request was denied on November 9. The court’s reasoning, in part: Maxwell holds multiple foreign citizenships, which include the U.K. but also France, “a nation that does not appear to extradite its citizens,” as the judge put it. (Maxwell has offered to renounce her foreign citizenships.) The court also described her finances as “opaque.” (Maxwell has offered to put her money under supervision in exchange for her temporary release; this offer too was declined.) The phrase “extraordinary capacity to evade detection” has been bandied about by the judge, which makes sense considering that no one knew where she was for years, although she was essentially in plain sight the entire time.
How has her time in jail gone?
Maxwell is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center, which is on 29th Street, by the BQE, in Sunset Park.
When she needs to go to court, she is woken up in what is essentially the middle of the night. She’s kept in isolation. She often has not looked good. The prison death of her longtime friend Jeffrey Epstein hangs over the whole situation — literally, as the prison in which he died, now closed, is directly behind the courthouse in Manhattan. Prison guards shine a flashlight on her every 15 minutes to make sure she hasn’t met the same fate. One of Maxwell’s lawyers said in court filings that her client was being kept in the worst conditions she has seen in decades of practice. Maxwell says that she can’t properly communicate with her lawyers and can’t get mail promptly and that conditions are grim, unsanitary, and unsafe. Much of that is standard for nearly everyone in that Bureau of Prisons system, so she’s probably not lying! The court has intervened on some issues; for example, it is trying (and, according to lawyers, failing) to ensure that Maxwell gets legal mail fairly promptly.
What were the circumstances of her arrest?
On July 2, 2020, the FBI broke down the door of a private and gated house located on 156 acres in Bradford, New Hampshire. In the end, the Feds had located her by, essentially, hunting for her cell-phone signal. Built in 2002, the New Hampshire house is gorgeous, though a little large if you can’t have anyone over owing to the being-in-hiding thing.
Where the heck has she been?
There have been many stories about Maxwell’s whereabouts over the years, but the truest seems to be the simplest. She was living in the tony town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, up the coast from Boston, pretty much the whole time, doing normal stuff: making lunches for her stepchildren, jogging, swimming.
She sold her New York City townhouse in 2016; the name “Jennifer Ellmax” (get it?) appeared shortly thereafter on a filing for the house in Manchester-by-the-Sea. “We hope to live here for a very long time” and be “wonderful neighbors,” her husband, Scott Borgerson, said in 2018, according to minutes of the town zoning board. (The core of the house dates to around 1700; it was apparently floated over from Salem! It’s super-nice!) Visitors said the happy couple even conducted tours. Photos of the pair dotted the place, including one of Maxwell piloting a helicopter. (Jeffrey Epstein paid for her pilot’s license.) Relationships with neighbors turned sour.
So she was just at home the whole time. “She was not running away from law enforcement,” her brother Ian said. (Which raises the question of why it was so difficult for them to find her.) Instead, he says, she was lying low to protect her family.
But apparently she was still jet-setting plenty during this time. Per the government, Maxwell took “at least 15 international flights” between 2017 and 2020 to the U.K., Japan, and Qatar. (Given how thoroughly Americans are tracked as they travel, it’s surprising that the Feds could not seem to locate her.) She was spotted on a Miami–to–New York City flight in spring of 2018. And she — and her husband — were at Jeff Bezos’s secret annual gathering that year.
Maxwell purchased the New Hampshire house, a two-hour drive inland from Manchester-by-the-Sea, a few months after Epstein’s death in 2019. The deal was all in cash, and the purchaser was an LLC.
Who is her husband?
We believe she married a man named Scott Borgerson in 2016. They have known each other since at least 2013; Borgerson and his previous wife divorced in 2015. He is something of a specialist in the affairs of the Arctic, and a former Coast Guard captain and the former chief executive of CargoMetrics, a “maritime analytics company,” which was transforming into something kind of hedge fund–y and big data–y that tracks ocean supply chains to maybe predict markets or otherwise somehow create profit? He resigned from the company in July 2020. He’s also about 14 years younger than Maxwell.
Their relationship is tinged with mystery. Maxwell has denied being married to Borgerson and also said she was “in the process of divorcing her husband” after her arrest. The couple recorded themselves as “single” in financial documents in 2018. Further muddying the picture, in 2019, Borgerson said that he and Maxwell weren’t even dating, that she wasn’t living in the house in Manchester-by-the-Sea, and that “I’m home alone with my cat.” He also called her a “former friend.” (Rude.) This year, his name and status as her husband are regularly cited in court documents. But no one seems to have located a marriage license, and we’ve all tried.
In the same way that nothing about Maxwell makes sense, nothing about Borgerson tracks either. He is frequently referred to as a tech millionaire, which may or may not be true.
Since the outset of his relationship with Maxwell, Borgerson has grown a beard — “This is new,” he said about the facial hair in a House subcommittee meeting about the Arctic in late 2014 — and changed his hair and dress style; he is now usually photographed looking stressed in sunglasses and athleisurewear. The one time we heard from him directly, in a rare interview with Business Insider, he was co-parenting his two children with his ex-wife, wanted to write a book or two, and was praying a lot. Judging by a letter he wrote to the judge urging bail for Maxwell, he seems like a true believer in her innocence, as one tends to be when one is married to someone accused of a crime.
Shortly before the start of the trial, he was seen by reporters in Manchester-by-the-Sea driving a Tesla.
How much money does Maxwell have?
It’s complicated! She reported $3.5 million in assets in July 2020. But then later that year, in one of her bail requests, she said that she and Borgerson had assets of $22.5 million. This did not go over well with the court, which described this as unlikely to be a mistake and more likely to be “misdirection.”
Maxwell sold a New York City townhouse at 116 East 65th Street for about $15 million in 2016. (It was owned by an LLC.) It’s pretty and is now in the name of a real-estate-management company. According to prosecutors, Maxwell has at least 15 different bank accounts in multiple countries. But the government hasn’t revealed anything truly interesting or damning about the money — it has only claimed that sometimes millions of dollars disappeared from and then returned to accounts belonging to Epstein and accounts “associated” with Maxwell.
Where is Scott Borgerson’s alleged cat?
We haven’t heard of the alleged cat since. We will pursue this as diligently as possible. Perhaps this impulse is evidence that Borgerson and Maxwell are correct, that they are indeed over-pursued by the media.
What about Scott Borgerson’s dog?
When Borgerson was photographed walking a vizsla in Boston, the media used it as proof of his at-the-time blurry relationship to Maxwell, because it was assumed, reasonably, that the vizsla was her dog. Maxwell, of course, showed a vizsla at the Westminster Dog Show. (Working name: GCH BOWCOT’S CAPTAIN NEMO, born November 26, 2009.) But we all learned something from this experience, because the dog was not Maxwell’s. It was actually a dog named Secretary Hamilton, which is a reference to Alexander Hamilton, who founded the Coast Guard, a fact that apparently gets but one reference in the musical Hamilton.
How many vizslas are there in this family?
As is very well explained in reporting by Business Insider, it seems there are two, and they’re closely connected. Captain Nemo, Maxwell’s elusive vizsla, was sent to a breeder in exchange for a pick of the resulting litter. That pick? Secretary Hamilton, making Captain Nemo the parent of Borgerson’s dog.
Sadly, the Captain fell down on the job. According to Business Insider, Captain Nemo slowly became deranged and “would frequently attack Secretary Hamilton in fits of psychosis.”
Again, no word on the cat. Even the simplest matters — the existence or nonexistence of their marriage, the existence or nonexistence of their dogs, this mystery cat — becomes a tangle.
What about that infamous In-N-Out photo?
In August 2019, nearly a full year before her arrest, photos of Maxwell reading while dining at an In-N-Out Burger in Studio City, near Universal Studios, appeared online to great excitement. The extent of the hubbub goes to show just how far underground she had gone. The photos were at first treated as a shocking discovery — Here she is! — and then, almost as quickly, a cloud passed before that sunny moment.
The photo’s metadata, a purchaser of the photos said, contained the word Meadowgate, the name of a company owned by Leah Saffian, an Encino-based attorney and friend of Maxwell’s who once represented her brother Kevin on fraud charges and who has visited Maxwell in prison and shown up in court.
A dog who appears in one photo is also likely Saffian’s — it was most certainly not either of the two Maxwell/Borgerson vizslas, Captain Nemo or Secretary Hamilton. Saffian’s dog appears to be a terrier.
As it happens, Maxwell also had a dog named Max in the late ’90s. He was a Yorkshire terrier. That dog was named after her father; it is presumed dead.
What is the whole deal with the Maxwell family?
Oh, boy. Ghislaine’s father, an entrepreneur named Robert Maxwell (born Jan Ludwik Hoch in the former Czechoslovakia) died in 1991 at sea, having, apparently, fallen from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine.
In a speech on the boat after his death, Ghislaine announced she thought he’d been murdered. Rupert Murdoch said that he believed Maxwell jumped. One book proposes that the Mossad had him killed. The boat is now named Dancing Hare and is owned by Anna Murdoch.
Robert Maxwell owned companies and publications including Macmillan, the Daily News, and the Mirror newspaper group.
At the time of his death, the operation was a mess, saddled with enormous debt; Maxwell had defaulted on a £50 million loan from the Bank of England. “By the time he died,” the New York Times wrote in 1991, “his sprawling empire was in complete disarray.” The companies went bankrupt, taking some of the Maxwell brothers with them.
Her brothers were charged with what now?
Kevin and Ian Maxwell, two of the seven Maxwell children, were accused of misusing pension-fund money to keep the family businesses afloat. Extremely lengthy trials ended in 1996 with their acquittals.
What did Ghislaine Maxwell do for a living while her family was going broke?
This is a great question. Honestly, what she, Jeffrey Epstein, his brother Mark Epstein, and literally anyone near them did professionally is close to inexplicable.
From about 1992 to 1999, she seems to have swanned around on Jeffrey Epstein’s dime.
From about 1999 to 2006, she is said to have worked for Jeffrey Epstein in some capacity.
After that: a little bit of attending Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, giving TED Talks, and speaking at the U.N. From 2012 to 2019, she was chief executive of a pro-ocean nonprofit called the TerraMar Project, described in the New York Times as “an opaque organization that had no offices and gave no grants to other organizations.”
How many planes did Jeffrey Epstein have?
This is a very good question! From records, we can count at least six:
- A now-deregistered Boeing 727 that seats nearly 200. The initials “GM” show up on the flight manifests for lots and lots of flights between 1999 to 2002. Maxwell flew multiple times a month with and without Epstein.
- A Gulfstream IV
- A Cessna 421
- A 20-seat 2007 Gulfstream G550
- A 10-seat 2001 Bell helicopter
- A 14-seat 2008 Sikorsky (Keystone) S-76 helicopter. They like to call this one “Air Ghislaine.”
The helicopters were needed because Little St. James, the 75-or-so-acre private island owned by Epstein in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was only equipped with a helipad. (Epstein eventually bought the island next door as well, to create more of a barrier to the outside world.) Air-traffic controllers at the St. Thomas public airport would see Epstein arriving with girls, children, and young women to be transferred to his island “dozens of times over two decades,” according to a lawsuit filed against his estate.
How did Jeffrey Epstein die?
On August 10, Epstein was found dead in his cell. His death was ruled a suicide, and promptly spawned ten million conspiracy theories. The New York Times sued the Bureau of Prisons for its Epstein records and did not find any reason to doubt that it was death by suicide. The paper did, however, shed more light on the mass incompetence that allowed it to happen.
How many people was Epstein accused of abusing?
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Trump told us 20 years ago. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” People knew what was going on even earlier than that — in 2003, Vicky Ward was ready to publish accusations from three women against Epstein in Vanity Fair, but she says they were edited out.
Not long after, Epstein was charged with sexually assaulting and trafficking minors; the FBI started investigating him in 2006. In 2008, he agreed to a deal, brokered by future Labor secretary Alex Acosta, in which he pleaded guilty to one charge of solicitation under Florida law in exchange for a guarantee that he would not be federally prosecuted. For a little over a year, he slept in jail but was picked up by a driver at the Palm Beach County Jail and taken to his office every day, escorted by deputies acting as security guards. (The office was a scam, too: a fake foundation set up before he went to jail.) Upon his release, if you can call it that, victims filed suit — dozens of them.
By 2018, the intrepid Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown had identified more than 60 victims. The attorney general for the U.S. Virgin Islands has said there are more. The Epstein Victims’ Compensation Fund, an independent entity of the Epstein estate created by the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, paid about $125 million to 150 recognized victims out of 225 applicants to the fund.
What’s the deal with the perjury charges?
In a deposition in April 2016, Maxwell was asked: “Did Jeffrey Epstein have a scheme to recruit underage girls for sexual massages? If you know.” She replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” So there’s that.
She was also asked a number of questions about sexual activity:
- If there were sex toys in Epstein’s Palm Beach house and whether she knew he owned sex toys. “No,” she said, to each question. (There were sex toys.)
- If Epstein was having sex with anyone else other than an unnamed blonde and a brunette with whom they had three-ways. She said “no.”
- Whether she had given anyone — either a victim or Epstein — a massage. She said “no.” At least one victim has already testified that Maxwell had massaged her.
The judge in Maxwell’s case said they would have to address this in a separate trial to avoid complicating the central issues of the current one. The perjury issues could also possibly disqualify any of Maxwell’s current lawyers who represented her back in 2016. This is a very good explanation of the whole deal!
What is David Boies doing in this?
He has been representing a number of people suing Maxwell, including Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who was recruited to work for Epstein as a teenager. Giuffre sued Maxwell for defamation, and Boies got to depose Maxwell in 2016, which is where the perjury charge comes from.
The defamation lawsuit was heated. “Giuffre’s fantastical claims,” Maxwell’s lawyers wrote, existed to “facilitate Giuffre’s media exposure, enhance her marketability, to extract financial gain for herself and her family, and to promote her sham non-profit, Victims Refuse Silence, Inc.” Much of the material in this lawsuit was sealed and is being revealed in chunks.
Apart from serving the interests of his clients, this is a nice way for Boies to try to smooth out his reputation. Boies worked on behalf of Harvey Weinstein to prevent the New York Times from publishing details of Weinstein’s sexual assaults. He did so while working for the Times on other matters. He was also involved in this very weird situation.
How is this going to end?
Only a fool would predict anything in this sad and awful spectacle! It goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway: We always prefer to forget that trials are conducted to examine extremely specific questions with very narrow and limited amounts of information under consideration. Writing about the recent trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and the people who killed Ahmaud Arbery, public defender Sarah Lustbader reminds us: “the jury is tasked not with deciding overarching questions of fairness but rather with applying a specific set of laws to a specific set of facts.”
“For Epstein’s victims, it will be an opportunity for justice long denied,” wrote Vanity Fair of the Maxwell trial. I disagree. Anyone who has been paying attention can tell you that the victims, and the public, should expect disappointment.