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Prosecutor tells jury Ghislaine Maxwell groomed minors for Epstein’s sexual abuse

The much-anticipated trial of Ghislaine Maxwell got underway Monday in New York City with a prosecutor and defense attorney painting conflicting portraits of the accused enabler of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

Assistant United States Attorney Lara Pomerantz, who gave the federal prosecutors’ opening statement, said Maxwell identified and targeted vulnerable young women and then “served them up” to Epstein.

“She put them at ease and made them feel safe, all so that they could be sexually abused by a middle-aged man,” Pomerantz said. “There were times when she was in the room when it happened.”

Maxwell was no mere Epstein employee, Pomerantz said. She was “the lady of the house” who made sure that what happened behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors. And she and Epstein “had a playbook.”

“First they got access to young girls,” the prosecutor said. “Then they gained their trust.”

Pomerantz said the next stage involved getting the girls comfortable with sexual contact with Epstein.

 “The defendant massaged Epstein in front of the girls and then encouraged them to massage Epstein,” the prosecutor said. “What was happening in those massage rooms was not a massage. It was sexual abuse.”

Maxwell attorney Bobbi Sternheim, in her opening statement, said prosecutors were going after Maxwell because they can’t try Epstein, who hanged himself in prison two years ago.

“Ever since Eve has been blamed for tempting Adam with an apple, women have been blamed for things men have done,” Sternheim said. “She is not Jeffrey Epstein. She is not anything like Jeffrey Epstein.”

“Ghislaine Maxwell is on trial as a scapegoat for Epstein.”

Sternheim also appeared to downplay the depravity of Epstein, saying “he had many positive traits.”

“In many regards he was like a 21st century James Bond,” the defense lawyer said.

Sternheim said much of the government’s case rests on the memories of the four accusers. She said their incentive for coming forward is “personal monetary gain.”

“There will be no eyewitnesses to their accounts,” she said.

Maxwell, who insists she is innocent, is on trial for allegedly helping Epstein recruit and abuse four underage girls, mostly in the 1990s.

The 59-year-old British socialite was brought to the courtroom in Lower Manhattan from a lockup in Brooklyn where she has been held without bail.

Wearing a cream-colored, long-sleeve top and black pants, Maxwell could be seen chatting with her lawyers before the proceedings got underway. And like everybody else in the courtroom, including the 12 jurors, she was wearing a mask against Covid-19.

While Maxwell and Epstein are suspected of having preyed on dozens of young women, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan of the Southern District of New York has limited prosecutors’ scope to just these four women, all of whom will be identified publicly by just their initials, prosecutors said.

All four are expected to take the stand and testify against Maxwell at some point, prosecutors have said. The trial is expected to last six weeks.

Epstein, a multimillionaire financier who was friendly with powerful and wealthy men like former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, and Ohio billionaire Leslie Wexner, was found dead in August 2019 in a Manhattan jail while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. His death was ruled a suicide.

Before the prosecution and defense begin their opening statements, another of Maxwell’s and Epstein’s accusers arrived at the courtroom.

Sarah Ransome is not one of the four women who are expected to testify at this long-awaited trial. And while NBC News generally does not identify sex abuse victims by name, Ransome has spoken openly about Epstein and Maxwell and has a memoir coming out, “Silenced No More: Surviving My Journey to Hell and Back.”

“We all know he did not act alone,” Ransome said of Epstein during a 2019 hearing before a different federal judge, weeks after Epstein hanged himself.

At this trial, Maxwell faces six counts tied to alleged efforts to entice minors to travel and engage in illegal sex acts; conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and sex trafficking conspiracy.

Cameras are barred from federal courtrooms, so there will be no video or recordings of the Maxwell trial.

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