Ghislaine Maxwell should be released on bail while awaiting trial for her alleged involvement in Jeffrey Epstein’s child sex trafficking ring because of “the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on detained defendants”, the British socialite’s lawyers argued in Manhattan federal court papers filed on Friday.
Maxwell, 58, was arrested on 2 July at her Bradford, New Hampshire, home. She faces up to 35 years in federal prison if convicted.
Her lawyers insisted that Maxwell is not a flight risk, and said she was trying to keep a low profile amid unrelenting “carnival-like” media scrutiny.
“As this court has noted, the Covid-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented health risk to incarcerated individuals, and Covid-19-related restrictions on attorney communications with pre-trial detainees significantly impair a defendant’s ability to prepare her defense,” Maxwell’s lawyers claimed in their bail argument.
“Simply put, under these circumstances, if Ms Maxwell continues to be detained, her health will be at serious risk and she will not be able to receive a fair trial.”
Maxwell’s legal team proposed several bail conditions, including a $5m personal recognizance bond co-signed by six financially responsible people, backed by property in the UK worth over $3.75m. They also proposed limiting her travel to the New York City area, turning in all her travel documents, imposing home confinement in New York City with GPS monitoring, and restricting visitors to her immediate family, close friends and lawyers.
Maxwell is due to appear in court Tuesday for bail arguments and her arraignment.
Law enforcement officials in Manhattan have accused Maxwell of “slithering away” into hiding following Epstein’s arrest last July and repeatedly lying about her alleged involvement in his abuse of underage girls.
On Friday, Maxwell’s lawyers claimed that rather than hide, she contacted federal prosecutors through her lawyers shortly after Epstein’s arrest, and they “maintained regular contact” with them. Maxwell would have also been willing to turn herself in authorities advised them of her impending arrest, they said.
In arguing that Maxwell isn’t a flight risk, her legal team insisted that she “has never once attempted to ‘hide; from the government or her accusers, and has never shown any intent to leave the country.”
Prosecutors said Epstein, a convicted sex offender, and Maxwell had a “personal and professional” relationship, as well as an “intimate relationship” from about 1994 to 1997. Epstein killed himself in jail last August.
“Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse,” Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York, said at a press conference several hours after the arrest. “In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse.
“She set the trap. She pretended to be a woman they [alleged victims] could trust.”
The 17-page Manhattan federal court indictment against Maxwell charges her with crimes such as 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 perjury.
Many women have alleged that Maxwell lured them into Epstein’s orbit, recruiting them to give him massages, where they were then pressured into sexual activity. Until Maxwell’s indictment, she had never faced criminal charges for these allegations.
Maxwell has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in relation to Epstein or women linked to him.
“Ever since Epstein’s arrest, Ms Maxwell has been at the center of a crushing onslaught of press articles, television specials and social media posts painting her in the most damning light possible and prejudging her guilt. The sheer volume of media reporting mentioning Ms Maxwell is staggering,” her lawyers argued in the court papers.
“The ‘open season’ declared on Ms Maxwell after Epstein’s death has come with an even darker cost – she has been the target of alarming physical threats, even death threats, and has had to hire security guards to ensure her safety. The media feeding frenzy, which has only intensified in recent months, has also deeply affected her family and friends,” they said.
They said later that “Ms Maxwell will be at significant risk of contracting Covid-19 if she is detained, and she will not be able to meaningfully participate in the preparation of her defense due to the restrictions that have been placed on attorney visits and phone calls in light of the pandemic.”
Maxwell’s legal team also contended that after Epstein died, “the media focus quickly shifted to our client — wrongly.”
“But sometimes the simplest point is the most critical one: Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein,” they wrote.