Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyer told a jury on Monday that the sex abuse charges against the British socialite were for things that deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein had done and that the memories of the accusers had been “manipulated".
“The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did, but she is not Jeffrey Epstein,” defence lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said.
Ms Maxwell is on trial in Manhattan federal court for recruiting and grooming four young girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004. Epstein died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
Prosecutors say that Ms Maxwell — a former employee and romantic partner of Epstein's — sent gifts such as lingerie and discussed sexual topics with the girls to win their trust before encouraging them to give Epstein erotic massages, the 2021 indictment against her says.
“She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up to be sexually abused,” Assistant District Attorney Lara Pomerantz said in the prosecution's opening statement.
Ms Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of sex trafficking and other crimes, including two counts of perjury that will be tried at a later date.
Appearing in court wearing a white face mask, she faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
The trial comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged victims of sexual abuse to speak out against powerful men such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein and R&B singer R Kelly. The case against Ms Maxwell stands out in part because she is a woman.
Four accusers are expected to give evidence as government witnesses in the trial.
Ms Maxwell frequently wrote during the morning proceedings, sometimes handing notes to her lawyers.
Prosecutors have said Ms Maxwell encouraged the girls to massage Epstein while they were fully or partially nude. In some cases, Epstein or Ms Maxwell would pay them cash or offer to pay for their travel or education, and Epstein sometimes performed lewd acts during the massages, prosecutors said.
Ms Pomerantz described Ms Maxwell as “essential” to Epstein's abuse of the girls, seeking to undermine the defence's expected argument that she was not aware of Epstein's alleged crimes.
“Sometimes, she was even in the room for the massages herself, and sometimes she touched the girls' bodies,” Ms Pomerantz said.
“And even when she was not in the room, make no mistake: she knew exactly what Epstein was going to do with those children when she sent them to him inside the massage rooms.”
Defence lawyers have said that prosecutors, unable to convict Epstein, are using the daughter of late British media magnate Robert Maxwell as a scapegoat.
Ms Sternheim told jurors that the memories of Ms Maxwell's accusers had been “manipulated” by lawyers who encouraged them to sue Ms Maxwell and Epstein for damages.
A compensation fund set up after Epstein's death has been paying claims of accusers from the financier's estate. Ms Sternheim said Ms Maxwell's accusers received payouts.
“Memories fade over time and in this case, you will learn that not only have memories faded, but they have been contaminated by outside information, constant media reports and other influences,” Ms Sternheim said.