MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It's been almost a year since disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in a New York prison. He never went to trial on federal sex trafficking charges. Well, today federal agents arrested his close longtime companion. Ghislaine Maxwell now faces sexual exploitation charges in New York in connection with the criminal case against Epstein. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is covering this.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello there.
KELLY: Tell us a little bit more about Maxwell and about these charges she is now facing.
LUCAS: Maxwell is a British socialite. Her father was a media baron in the U.K.
KELLY: Yeah, Robert Maxwell. Yeah.
LUCAS: Right. And for many, many years, she was a close confidante, as you said, of Jeffrey Epstein's. They had a personal and professional relationship. Epstein was charged last year in New York by federal prosecutors with sexual trafficking, and he killed himself a month after those charges were unveiled. But at that time, prosecutors said that their investigation was continuing into Epstein's possible co-conspirators, and Maxwell was viewed back then as a likely target for investigators. And then this morning FBI agents arrested her in New Hampshire. The FBI says it had been keeping tabs on her whereabouts during the course of this investigation.
Now, as for the indictment, Maxwell faces six counts. That includes conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts and conspiracy to transport minors to engage in criminal sexual activity. She also faces perjury charges for allegedly lying about her purported role in helping Epstein in this abuse.
KELLY: I mean, what exactly do prosecutors allege she was doing? What was her role?
LUCAS: According to the indictment, between 1994 and 1997, Maxwell helped Epstein recruit, groom and abuse young girls, some of whom were as young as 14. Prosecutors say that Maxwell and Epstein typically befriended these underage girls by asking them about their family life, about their school life. They would take them to movies. They would take them out shopping. And prosecutors say that Maxwell would encourage the victims to let Epstein pay for their travel, pay for their education - all of which prosecutors allege was designed to make these young girls feel indebted to Epstein.
Now, the indictment says Maxwell would then try to normalize the sexual abuse that ended up happening by undressing in front of the minor or being present when the underage girl was being abused by Epstein. Maxwell is accused of helping shuttle victims to Epstein's residences in New York City and Florida and his ranch in New Mexico, where this alleged abuse took place. The acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss summed up Maxwell's role this way.
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AUDREY STRAUSS: Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them. She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while, she was setting them up to be sexually abused by Epstein and, in some cases, by Maxwell herself.
KELLY: Ryan, it's so disturbing to listen to the allegations on so many levels. I do want to ask where this indictment against Ghislaine Maxwell might leave the broader case against Epstein because there some prominent figures whose names have been tied to him. I'm thinking Prince Andrew in Britain.
LUCAS: Right. The acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan there, Audrey Strauss, said today that this investigation is still ongoing, that investigators are committed to holding to account anyone who participated in or enabled Epstein's alleged sexual abuse of minors. They appealed to anyone with information to come forward. A lot of attention has focused on Prince Andrew, as you mentioned. One of Epstein's accusers says that when she was underage, she had a sexual encounter with Prince Andrew. He has denied, for his part, any wrongdoing. Prosecutors in New York have repeatedly said publicly that they would like to speak to Prince Andrew about Epstein. They reiterated that message today.
LUCAS: But Maxwell being charged here is a big deal. She was close to Epstein. She might have information about associates. For now, prosecutors are seeking her detention. They say she poses an extreme flight risk.
KELLY: Okey-doke - NPR's Ryan Lucas reporting there. Thank you, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.