British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested Thursday in the United States on charges she helped recruit three girls — one as young as 14 — to be sexually abused by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who died last year.
Maxwell, who lived for years with Epstein, was taken into custody around 8:30 a.m. local time in New Hampshire, said FBI spokesperson Marty Feely.
An indictment made public Thursday alleges that Maxwell "assisted, facilitated and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein's abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse" girls under age 18.
Epstein, 66, died by suicide in a federal detention centre in New York last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. In 2008, he pleaded guilty in Florida for soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution.
The indictment included counts of conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and two counts of perjury.
It focused on Epstein's alleged abuse of three specific girls at his Manhattan mansion and other residences in Palm Beach, Fla., Santa Fe, N.M., and London. Their names were not disclosed in court filings.
WATCH | Ghislaine Maxwell facing multiple criminal charges:
"More recently, we learned she had slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire, continuing to live a life of privilege while her victims live with the trauma inflicted upon them years ago," William Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York office, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
At a brief hearing Thursday, a magistrate judge ordered Maxwell to remain in custody while she is transferred to New York for a detention hearing.
Maxwell, 58, was accused by many women of recruiting them to give Epstein massages, during which they were pressured into sex. Those accusations, until now, never resulted in criminal charges.
Messages were sent Thursday to several of Maxwell's attorneys seeking comment. She has previously repeatedly denied wrongdoing and called some of the claims against her "absolute rubbish."
Read the full indictment here:
"Maxwell lied because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable," Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said at the press conference.
Jennifer Araoz, a woman who says Epstein raped her in his New York mansion in 2002 when she was 15, said she feared the financier's ring of conspirators for years.
"Now that the ring has been taken down, I know that I can't be hurt anymore," Araoz, now 33, said in a statement.
"Day after day, I have waited for the news that Maxwell would be arrested and held accountable for her actions. Her arrest is a step in that direction, and it truly means that the justice system didn't forget about us."
Among the most sensational accusations was a claim by one Epstein victim, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, that Maxwell arranged for her to have sex with Prince Andrew at her London townhouse. Giuffre bolstered her allegations with a picture of her, Andrew and Maxwell that she said was taken at the time.
Prince Andrew denied her story. Maxwell said in a deposition that Giuffre was "totally lying."
Strauss said she would "welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us," but did not answer further questions pertaining to these charges and Andrew.
'Entice and groom'
The indictment mirrored many of the claims previously made in civil lawsuits against Maxwell.
It said that as early as 1994, Maxwell would "entice and groom" minor girls by asking them about their lives, their schools and their families.
"Through this process, Maxwell and Epstein enticed victims to engage in sexual activity with Epstein. In some instances, Maxwell was present for and participated in the sexual abuse of minor victims," the indictment said.
Maxwell repeatedly lied when questioned about her conduct, it said.
At the time the alleged crimes occurred, Maxwell was in an intimate relationship with Epstein and also was paid by him to manage his various properties, according to the indictment, which included a photograph of Epstein with his arm around Maxwell and his head nuzzling hers.
Epstein was initially investigated in Florida and pleaded guilty to state charges in 2008 that allowed him to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. He was free a little after a year in prison.
At the time, a federal prosecutor in Florida signed off on an agreement, initially filed in secret, that barred the federal government from charging "any potential co-conspirators of Epstein."
Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, argued that federal prosecutors in New York were not bound by that agreement and brought a sweeping indictment against Epstein. Berman vowed to continue seeking justice for Epstein's victims even after the financier's death, but was abruptly fired last month.
Maxwell was described in a lawsuit by another Epstein victim, Sarah Ransome, as the "highest-ranking employee" of Epstein's alleged sex trafficking enterprise. She oversaw and trained recruiters, developed recruiting plans and helped conceal the activity from law enforcement, the lawsuit alleged.
Brad Edwards, an attorney representing Giuffre and several other Epstein victims said his clients were relieved by the charges.
"Today is a very good day," he said.
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