Jurisprudence

With a Grim Piece of Evidence, Prosecutors Summon Jeffrey Epstein’s Ghost at the Ghislaine Maxwell Trial

A sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell in court.
Ghislaine Maxwell in court. Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

Last week, in the final hour of Friday’s court session at the Ghislaine Maxwell trial, the prosecution unveiled an unusual piece of physical evidence: a massage table that was seized during a 2005 police raid of Jeffrey Epstein’s house in Palm Beach. A marshal lugged the table in through the double doors and unfolded it in the middle of the courtroom. It had wooden legs and a padded, teal-green top.

This table’s appearance at the trial—all set up, ready for action, a few feet away from where Maxwell sat—almost seemed to conjure Epstein’s ghost. (He died by suicide not long after his arrest in 2019.) The empty space atop the table was an eerie void, left to be filled by observers’ imaginations. But on Monday morning, the government called a witness who spoke about what it was like when Epstein was on the table.

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“Kate” testified in court under a pseudonym. She said that when she was 17, she met Maxwell at a party in Paris, and that Maxwell quickly befriended her and asked for her phone number. Kate said that when both were back in London, Maxwell, in her 30s at the time, called Kate and said she wanted the British teen to meet a man who “was a philanthropist” and who “liked to help young people.”

Kate said that she was soon invited to Maxwell’s posh townhome in London’s Belgravia neighborhood. There, Kate was introduced to Jeffrey Epstein, who was dressed in sweatpants and a hoodie. The three chatted for a while, until, Kate testified, Maxwell suggested that Kate should give Epstein’s foot “a little squeeze.” Kate complied. Maxwell raved about how “strong” Kate’s hands were. Then, Maxwell urged her to rub Epstein’s shoulders. At that point, they were interrupted by a phone call for Epstein. Kate was ushered out of the house.

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Another day not long after, Kate said, Maxwell called her to tell her that Epstein’s massage therapist had canceled at the last minute, and asked if Kate would come over to fill in because she had “such strong hands.” The 17-year-old weighed 95 pounds and had no training as a masseuse but, again, she agreed. Upon arrival at Maxwell’s house, Kate said she was led upstairs by Maxwell to a room in which Epstein was standing next to a massage table. Epstein took off his robe and revealed that he was nude beneath it. Maxwell walked out and closed the door behind her, at which point, Kate testified today, Epstein “initiated sexual contact” and “engaged in a sex act.”

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According to Kate, this general sequence repeated several times. Maxwell would often debrief Kate after these “massage” sessions, asking if Kate had enjoyed them. Kate testified that Maxwell “made everything seem like a fun, silly joke” and made Kate feel “special.” For Kate’s 18th birthday, she received a Prada bag with a note saying it was a gift from Maxwell and Epstein.

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Eventually, Kate started being flown to visit Epstein’s homes in Palm Beach, New York City, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. During one stay in Palm Beach, Kate walked into her guest room and saw a “schoolgirl” outfit—pleated skirt, white socks, and white underwear—laid out on the bed. Kate asked Maxwell what the outfit was for. Maxwell told Kate to put it on and go see Epstein. Kate complied, whereupon Epstein once again, Kate alleges, “initiated sexual contact” and “engaged in a sex act.”

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These two phrases, which are somehow at once both precise and vague, got repeated multiple times in the courtroom. It wasn’t clear to me how these words were arrived at or who exactly had negotiated them, but it seemed obvious they were carefully lawyered to suit the circumstances of Kate’s allegations. While Kate’s testimony today was chilling, and the manner in which she delivered it—calm, but very evidently struggling to suppress her emotions—made it all the more wrenching, Kate was legally an adult at the time of all these incidents she described. She was above the age of consent in Britain during the London episodes, and she’d turned 18 by the time she first visited Epstein in the United States. Thus, she was describing “sex acts” that were, no matter how exploitative, engaged in by two legal adults, and the judge instructed the jury that Kate should not be considered a victim in the case.

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On cross examination, defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim tried to discredit Kate in all the usual ways (bringing up Kate’s drug use, her relationships with other men, and the money she received from a fund established for Epstein’s victims). Sternheim elicited the fact that Kate kept in contact with Epstein well into Kate’s 30s. Kate said she was afraid to disengage from Epstein because she was “fearful,” and also that she’d been unable “to admit what had happened to me.”

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I didn’t find Sternheim’s efforts to drag Kate through the mud particularly convincing, and Kate managed for the most part to maintain her composure. To me, the central issue with Kate’s testimony wasn’t veracity, it was relevance: None of Kate’s claims relate directly to the crimes Maxwell is charged with, which all involve behavior victimizing minors. The prosecution is no doubt hoping that the jury will view Kate’s tale as evidence that Maxwell avidly engaged in the pursuit of young women for Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with—whether those women were technically of age or not.

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When Kate left the stand, the government called a J.P. Morgan executive who walked the jury through transactions that occurred in Maxwell’s financial accounts between 1999 and 2007. Among them were three cash transfers from Epstein to Maxwell: $18.3 million in 1999, $5 million in 2002, and $7.4 million in 2007. This last transaction was followed one day later by a $7.36 million transfer from Maxwell (using an account labeled “Ghislaine Air, Inc.”) to the Sikorsky Aircraft company. That transaction was designated at the time as being for the purchase of a green Sikorsky model S76C helicopter.

It won’t be surprising if Maxwell’s defense team, when it presents its version of the case, attempts to argue that Maxwell was herself a victim of Jeffrey Epstein—that Maxwell was intimidated and manipulated into doing Epstein’s bidding. But these financial records suggest that, whatever else happened, she profited from this relationship in quite tangible ways. Coming on the heels of Kate’s testimony, the contrast was striking: Kate got a Prada handbag; Ghislaine got $23.5 million and a helicopter.

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At the end of the day, an FBI agent involved in the 2019 search of Epstein’s New York townhome took the stand. Some eye-popping tidbits got dangled during her testimony: The prosecution showed photos of a huge trove of computer discs and hard drives taken from Epstein’s mansion, some of them from a large safe the FBI had forced open. It’s hard to know how much of this material will be presented at the trial. But after the jury left for the day, the lawyers argued fiercely about whether it was fair to display to the jury one particular item that was among Epstein’s seized possessions: a photograph of Kate.

Earlier in the trial

Day one: Ghislaine Maxwell’s Trial Opens With Her Lawyer Diving Straight Into the Muck

Day two: Why Is Ghislaine Maxwell’s Defense So Intent on Talking About Jeffrey Epstein’s Famous Friends?

Day three: How Ghislaine Maxwell’s Lawyers Are Attempting to Discredit Her Accusers

Day four: Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book Makes Its Courtroom Debut

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