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A sweeping sex-trafficking case against American financier Jeffrey Epstein lost its primary focus when he hung himself in a Manhattan jail cell last August, but his alleged victims are still pursuing justice, with his longtime confidante Ghislaine Maxwell seemingly in the crosshairs.
Epstein, 66, was found dead in his cell last August — his death was determined to be a suicide, but it sparked widespread conspiracy theories — just one month after he was arrested on sex trafficking charges for allegedly sexually abusing girls, some as young as just 14, over the course of years. While he denied the accusations, he previously admitted soliciting a prostitute and of procuring an underage girl for prostitution in 2008 in Florida. In the 2008 case, he took a plea deal for a reduced sentence despite the fact that more than 30 girls claimed he sexually abused them, the Miami Herald reported last year.
But his victims say he didn't act alone, with Maxwell allegedly playing a critical role in his serial abuse.
Maxwell, 58, is a British socialite who moved to the United States in 1991 after the mysterious death of her father Robert Maxwell, a disgraced publishing tycoon. She and Epstein dated before their relationship morphed into a different dynamic, with her playing role of friend and confidante. He referred to her as his "best friend" in a 2003 Vanity Fair profile on him. The piece noted that while Maxwell was not on Epstein's payroll, she seemingly organized a good part of his life and, at the time, was currently seeking a yoga instructor for him. However, their relationship was allegedly much more sinister than that. Maxwell has been accused of picking out teen girls whom she'd lure to Epstein's mansion for him. Epstein would allegedly pay the girls to massage him, which would escalate to sexual abuse.
Jennifer Araoz told NBC News last year that she was 14 years old and a freshman in high school when Maxwell approached her outside her school in 2001 to recruit her to be a masseuse. Aroaz said this led to sexually explicit massages and ultimately forcible rape.
Another alleged victim, Virginia Giuffre, claimed last year that Epstein and Maxwell took her to London in 2001 when she was only 17 years old, to be sex trafficked to Britain’s Prince Andrew. (Prince Andrew has vehemently denied the accusation.) Giuffre filed a defamation suit against Maxwell in 2015 after Maxwell publicly called Giuffre a liar.
Yet another alleged victim, Annie Farmer, has said that both Epstein and Maxwell trafficked her as a teen in the 1990s. She alleged that both Epstein and Maxwell sexually abused her at Epstein's New Mexico ranch when she was in high school, as Netflix's new docuseries "Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich" shows.
Farmer's older sister Maria Farmer, whom Epstein employed, told "CBS This Morning" last year that “all day long, I saw Ghislaine going to get the women. She went to places like Central Park. I was with her a couple of times in the car. ... She would say, ‘Stop the car.’ And she would dash out and get a child.”
Maxwell has denied all the accusations.
What happened to Maxwell following Epstein’s 2019 arrest and death?
Since Epstein’s 2019 arrest, she has reportedly been in hiding. She’s been rumored to be everywhere from Israel to France, ABC News reported in January. There have been additional rumors that she was spotted taking a pilates class in California and that she was hunkering down in a small New Jersey home, Vanity Fair reported in November.
At least five women –– including Araoz –– have named Maxwell as a co-defendant in lawsuits against Epstein's estate. All three have been trying to track her down, ABC News reported in January.
“We have made repeated efforts to locate Ms. Maxwell, including engaging surveillance services," Araoz’s attorney Bill Kaiser told ABC News. "We have thus far been unable to find her for the purposes of serving her with the complaint.”
Maxwell was granted a temporary reprieve last week from having to respond to questions in Farmer's civil lawsuit, ABC News reports. Maxwell requested the delay because of the ongoing federal criminal investigation into Epstein's alleged co-conspirators. Epstein’s estate is also reportedly wrapping up a proposal for a fund that would compensate his alleged victims.
"I'm permitting her not to respond to [written questions] and not to have her deposition," Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman said in Friday's ruling. "Not forever, but at least long enough to let us know whether the claims process is likely to go forward."
Sigrid McCawley, a lawyer for Farmer and four others suing Epstein's estate unsuccessfully argued against the delay.
"We have no indication of any time frame with respect to ... how long that investigation could go on," she said. "And to not be able to get discovery and ask Miss Maxwell questions ... that puts us in handcuffs with respect to being able to establish our claims."
Maxwell has also filed a lawsuit against Epstein’s estate seeking reimbursement for her legal fees. Her lawyer Laura Menninger said her client denies the accusations. She hasn't revealed where Maxwell is.
She has not been formally charged with any crime.
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