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During Ghislaine Maxwell’s decades-long association with Jeffrey Epstein, the exact nature of their relationship has been hard to pin down. Were they romantic partners, business associates, best friends? The new Peacock docuseries “Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell,” which also airs on Oxygen on Tuesday, August 10 at 8/7c, focuses on Maxwell’s mysterious life and her infamous association with the disgraced financier and now-deceased sex criminal.
The federal government alleges that, at the core, Maxwell and Epstein were co-conspirators in a sex trafficking scheme wherein the former socialite groomed and recruited young girls to be sexually abused by Epstein. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her. Now as Maxwell sits in a federal jail, the media’s focus has shifted away from Epstein. What did she know? Was she complicit? How did she become so deeply enmeshed in the life of a convicted pedophile?
It’s unclear exactly when Maxwell and Epstein first met. Epstein’s business partner Steven Hoffenberg, who was convicted for his role in a Ponzi scheme and is featured in the docuseries, says that Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine’s publishing tycoon father, first introduced them in his London office in the late 1980s. But in an obituary for Epstein, The Times of London reported that they first met at a party in New York City in the early 1990s, shortly after Maxwell had undergone a “difficult breakup” with a hotel heir.
Some believe that after Maxwell’s father fell to his death from his yacht in 1991, leaving behind a legacy of scandal and debt for his daughter, she focused on attaching herself to another powerful man.
“With much of her family’s publishing empire gone, Ms. Maxwell moved into a modest Upper East Side apartment,” wrote the New York Times in 2019. “But once she and Mr. Epstein were dating, she was back in the type of grand residences she desired.”
Their relationship was mutually beneficial. Epstein was a billionaire, but Maxwell had social standing in circles that included royalty – like Prince Andrew, who has been accused of sexually abusing a then 17-year-old Virginia Giuffre, allegedly with Maxwell’s blessing, at her London townhouse. In return, Maxwell enjoyed the comforts of wealth with which she’d grown up: multiple mansions around the world, a private jet, and a life of ease that another Epstein victim, Maria Farmer – who knew Maxwell personally and has also accused her of abuse – told “Epstein’s Shadow” filmmakers consisted largely of “shopping and swimming.”
It seems clear that while their official romantic relationship ended, their partnership continued for more than a decade. Epstein famously referred to Maxwell as “his best friend” in a 2003 Vanity Fair profile. People who worked at Epstein’s various residences, including Farmer, say she acted a kind of chief of staff, responsible for organizing Epstein’s life and overseeing his complicated business interests.
Investment banker Euan Rellie, who knew the couple, told the New York Times that Maxwell “seemed to be half ex-girlfriend, half employee, half best friend, and fixer.”
And in legal documents and survivor testimony, Maxwell is accused of being the first point of contact for young girls that she would enlist to give “massages” to Epstein, or entice them with promises of a modeling career. Instead, Epstein sexually assaulted them. Maxwell is accused of not only facilitating the abuse but also sometimes taking part in it.
In Palm Beach the couple regularly entertained the wealthy and powerful, including Donald Trump. They are also alleged to have created a pyramid scheme of sex trafficking with Maxwell recruiting young girls and then paying them to recruit other girls, many of whom lived in West Palm Beach, a low income neighborhood close to the Epstein mansion physically, but completely separated by class.
In 2005, the Palm Beach police and the FBI began investigating Epstein and after a lengthy negotiation with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges of one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of solicitation of prostitution with a minor under the age of 18. He was sentenced to 18 months in Florida prison, a sentence his victims felt was far too light, as the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown, doggedly reported.
By the time Maxwell was subpoenaed in a lawsuit filed by Giuffre in 2009 she’d begun to distance herself from Epstein, taking up environmental causes and founding a nonprofit called the TerreMar Project dedicated to preserving the ocean. She was linked romantically to Scott Borgerson, the former CEO of Cargometrics Technologies. And while she may not have been appearing publicly with Epstein, she remained very much on the social circuit, attending Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, and giving a 2014 TEDTalk about TerreMar.
In 2015, however, Virginia Giuffre filed a defamation lawsuit against Maxwell, who quickly sold much of her real estate (including the Upper East Side New York townhome blocks away from Epstein’s mansion). She largely dropped out of the public eye. When Epstein was arrested on federal charges in 2019 Maxwell went into hiding at her boyfriend Scott Borgerson’s New Hampshire home.
It appears however, that up until the moment Maxwell largely disappeared from the public eye, she was still in contact with Jeffrey Epstein, according to personal documents that were ordered released by a court last year. On Jan. 25, 2015, he sent her an email that read, “You have done nothing wrong and i would [sic] urge you to start acting like it. go outside, head high, not as an esacping [sic] convict. go to parties. deal with it.”
Maxwell’s trial on sex trafficking charges related to her relationship with Jeffrey Epstein is expected to begin in November of 2021.
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