Once a card-carrying member of the jet-set's fashionable elite, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell now faces years in prison if convicted of sex trafficking minors in collaboration with her former partner, the late Jeffrey Epstein.
The shadowy 58-year-old daughter of British media mogul Robert Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire Thursday (local time) on six criminal counts alleging she conspired with Epstein to groom teenage girls for illegal sex acts — and sometimes actively participated.
Maxwell later appeared by video at a hearing on transferring her to New York to face the charges, which carry a potential life sentence.
Since the late 66-year-old financier's arrest last year much speculation has swirled around Maxwell, casting her as an international woman of mystery with close ties to both British royalty and US politicians.
The French-born, Oxford-educated holder of multiple passports seemingly vanished last summer after Epstein's shock death while awaiting trial, which authorities deemed a suicide.
Epstein's accusers described Maxwell as the registered sex offender's right-hand confidante, acting both as paramour and madam at the behest of the multi-millionaire's proclivities.
Together the pair allegedly crafted a sex-trafficking ring to procure young girls for Epstein, who, according to 2,000 chilling pages of court documents released just before his death, claimed a "biological" need for sex three times a day.
The plaintiffs in his case — some poor and underage at the time of the alleged abuses in the early 2000s — said Epstein's "recruiters" approached them outside their schools or at their workplaces.
Now prosecutors accuse Maxwell of taking girls as young as 14 under her wing in the mid-1990s, later cajoling them into offering Epstein nude massages and eventual sex acts.
Maxwell's name entered the spotlight in 1991 when her father — a British media tycoon who also spent six years as a member of parliament — went overboard the side of his yacht, which he had christened "Lady Ghislaine" after his daughter.
Rumours churned following the apparent accidental drowning of the Czechoslovakian-born businessman, along with details of his financial misdeeds at Mirror Group Newspapers that tarnished the family name.
But it didn't stop Maxwell's ascent to a life of opulence: she rebooted her image in Manhattan and became a fixture on the global luxury-party circuit.
Her social circle included Britain's Prince Andrew, US President Donald Trump and the Clinton family — she's even pictured in a widely circulated 2010 wedding photo showing Bill Clinton walk his daughter Chelsea down the aisle.
A Vanity Fair writer in 2011 described the well-heeled, well-connected, well-educated socialite as "always the most interesting, the most vivacious, the most unusual person in any room”.
"Her Rolodex would blow away almost anyone else's I can think of."
Maxwell described as Epstein’s ‘best friend’
Maxwell reportedly also was an avid scuba diver and pilot, and founded a now-dissolved environmental charity, the TerraMar Project focused on ocean protection.
A 2003 Vanity Fair article described how Maxwell arranged much of Epstein's life, with the hedge fund manager describing her as his "best friend."
Thursday's bombshell indictment follows years of accusations against Maxwell, who has so far denied all wrongdoing.
In a 2015 defamation lawsuit, Virginia Giuffre accused Maxwell of recruiting her as a teenager then working as an attendant at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Florida estate as Epstein's masseuse.
Giuffre also alleges she was trafficked for underage sex with friends of Epstein, including Prince Andrew.
That lawsuit was settled just before it was due to go to trial in 2017.
Maxwell was arrested Thursday in Bradford, New Hampshire, where the FBI said it had been surveilling her whereabouts.
In announcing the charges William Sweeney, Assistant Director-in-Charge of New York's FBI branch, dubbed her a "villain”.
"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,” he said.
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