© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ghislaine Maxwell appeared via video link during her hearing on her placement at Manhattan Federal Court in New York
By Jonathan Stempel and Karen Freifeld
NEW YORK (Reuters) – British social media site Ghislaine Maxwell on Friday pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking allegations in a charge that she helped the late financier Jeffrey Epstein hire and abuse girls.
Maxwell, 59, passed his lawyer to plead guilty before US District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan.
The charges were included in an eight-charge indictment published on March 29. It was Maxwell’s first time facing a judge directly since she was arrested last July.
Prosecutors accused Maxwell of grooming and paying a girl, starting at age 14, giving Epstein a nude massage and performing sex with him between 2001 and 2004, At the same time, she said this girl had recruited someone else to provide erotic massage services.
Maxwell had previously pleaded not guilty to accusations that she helped Epstein recruit and in-law three other girls to have him sexually abused between 1994 and 1997, and committing perjury.
Epstein, 66, committed suicide in a Manhattan prison in August 2019, a month after being arrested for sex trafficking.
Maxwell’s trial is still scheduled for July 12, provided there is a courtroom, but her lawyers are looking to delay it by months because of the new allegations, a request that the public the prosecutor protested.
“Ghislaine is looking forward to that trial,” said a spokesman, David Markus, after the arrangements were made. “She looks forward to fighting and she will fight.”
Nathan has yet to decide whether to postpone the trial, but said she wants to start as close to July 12 as possible if there are no delays.
Maxwell faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Two offenses of perjury will be handled separately in the second trial.
Friday’s hearing marks the first time Maxwell makes a live public appearance since she was arrested last July at her home in New Hampshire.
Prosecutors said she escaped, while Maxwell’s lawyers said she moved there to evade the media’s relentless negative public opinion. Since her arrest, she has been jailed in Brooklyn.
Maxwell wore a loose, blue short-sleeved shirt and a white mask, with black hair that fell below his shoulders. Her sister, Isabel Maxwell, attended the hearing. Maxwell has appeared via video for her pre-arrangement.
Maxwell’s lawyers have complained that she has lost weight and hair loss in prison, which prosecutors have denied.
Nathan declined the guarantee three times, calling Maxwell a significant risk in flight despite proposing a $ 28.5 million guarantee package.
On Monday, Maxwell’s attorneys are expected to argue before the federal court of appeals in Manhattan that the denial of a third bail should be overturned.
NOT A ‘MONSTER’
In seeking to delay the trial, Maxwell’s lawyers cited a “huge” amount of evidence, blaming prosecutors for being too late to deliver documents and claiming prison restrictions. hinder Maxwell from preparing to make excuses.
Lawyers have also repeatedly raised doubts about whether their clients can get a fair trial, leading the media to see her as a “monster” because of the “Epstein effect”.
Prosecutors have pledged to make “substantial efforts” to ensure that Maxwell is prepared for a trial in July.
They also said the delay would also harm the four alleged victims, saying that the two reported significant stress from the case and expressed a desire to go to trial.
“Everyone felt they were deceived by Mr. Epstein’s death,” said David Boies, the attorneys for some of the Epstein and Maxwell accusers, after the lawsuit.
“Miss Maxwell is going to court now,” he added, “I think that’s what they’re expecting.”
Even if no delays are accepted, commencement on July 12 is not guaranteed.
Only seven courtrooms in Manhattan courts have been reconfigured for the COVID-19 pandemic to accommodate jury trials, according to a court spokesman.
Defendants jailed in criminal cases had higher jury trial priority, but some were ahead of Maxwell.