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Arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell yields another twist for saga of Jeffrey Epstein

The child sex abuse case against disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein has taken a new turn with the arrest of his longtime companion and confidante, Ghislaine Maxwell. Epstein killed himself in jail in August 2019. Now, survivors of his abuse may be able to face Maxwell, charged with recruiting and grooming underage girls, in court instead. John Yang talks to the Miami Herald’s Ben Wieder.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The child sex abuse case against disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein took a new turn today with the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell, his longtime confidant, companion, and now accused accomplice.

    As John Yang reports, survivors of abuse by Epstein, who killed himself in jail last year, may now be able to face her in court.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, Maxwell was arrested early this morning in Southern New Hampshire.

    Recently, a federal grand jury in New York returned a sealed indictment charging her with recruiting underage girls for Epstein, some of them as young as 14.

    Acting New York U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss detailed the indictment.

  • 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.

  • John Yang:

    Late this afternoon, a federal magistrate in New Hampshire ordered Maxwell into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service to be taken to New York.

    There, prosecutors are expected to ask a court to hold her without bail. They say she is an extreme flight risk.

    Ben Wieder is an investigative reporter with McClatchy Newspapers' Washington, D.C., bureau. He has worked on The Miami Herald's award-winning investigation of Epstein.

    Ben, thanks so much for joining us.

    It has been a while since this story has been in the headlines, so help people remember. Remind people who Ghislaine Maxwell is and who she was in Jeffrey Epstein's life.

  • Ben Wieder:

    Ghislaine Maxwell was Jeffrey Epstein's partner in both a personal way and effectively sort of a business way, depending on how you look at it.

    She was by his side for decades. And the public face they presented was, you know, two people in the up — the highest reaches of society mingling with, you know, members of the British royal family, with the current president, with former presidents, with prominent people all across society.

    But, at the same time, what we have learned is that she also held a role as, effectively, Epstein's madam, helping procure young girls to satisfy Epstein's sexual desires and, as some of those girls have later alleged, directing some of those girls to actually have sex with some of the prominent friends that Epstein had in his circle.

  • John Yang:

    And we heard Audrey Strauss sort of give sort of the broad brush of the charges. What specifically is the — does the indictment say that Maxwell did?

  • Ben Wieder:

    The indictment says that Maxwell, basically — the term they use is groomed, that she sort of cozied herself up to young girls, sought them out, cozied herself up to them, and sort of had a process of normalizing them to the idea of sexual activity.

    That might mean, you know, getting undressed in front of them, basically taking them from conversations about benign issues such as, you know, what was going on in their life, how they were doing at school, to then getting them comfortable with the idea of sexual activity, ultimately to deliver them to Epstein.

    And in one of the three victims that are mentioned in the charges today, Maxwell is actually accused of participating in the sexual activity herself.

  • John Yang:

    And Audrey Strauss, the U.S. — acting U.S. attorney in New York, had the intriguing tidbit that this case is being led by the public corruption unit in her office.

    What do you make of that?

  • Ben Wieder:

    There's, you know, any number of things to speculate.

    One of the things we have heard from legal experts is, it raises questions about whether they are pursuing the prosecutors who originally gave Epstein his sort of sweetheart deal more than a decade ago that led to a very unusually lenient sentence against Epstein for the crimes he was accused of committing to — committing at the time.

    The U.S. attorney in Southern Florida who led that was Alex Acosta, the former labor secretary, who resigned soon after reports came out raising questions about the deal that he had OKed.

    So, there has been speculation, is he someone who they are targeting? But, also, we know that any number of prominent people were in Epstein's circle and have been alleged to have participated in the activities that he was ultimately charged with and Ms. Maxwell has also been charged with.

  • John Yang:

    Publicly, there has been a lot of sort of speculation about Maxwell's whereabouts during this period, during the investigation, after Epstein committed suicide in a New York jail.

    What has the FBI been saying about how they were keeping tabs on her?

  • Ben Wieder:

    So, they said they discreetly were watching her. They were keeping an eye on her.

    She would pop up here and there, at one point, attracted a lot of attention when she popped up at a location of the popular California burger chain In-N-Out Burger in a very intriguing photo.

    And the term they used today was that they learned that she had slithered away to this property in New Hampshire, where she was ultimately apprehended. And at some point after she had done that, so — which they later said was in December, they ultimately decided to go in and actually arrest her and bring her in.

  • John Yang:

    Epstein's suicide, of course, denied the survivors of this abuse of confronting him in court. But what is going on now with the civil suits against Epstein's estate?

  • Ben Wieder:

    So, the civil suits are proceeding. And there is a victims fund that is being overseen to give some degree of compensation to victims for the suffering they faced.

    There's a number of ongoing suits at this time. And I think what we heard from attorneys representing victims today is that they were very relieved to see the charges brought against Maxwell and, in some cases, are hoping that Maxwell is not the last person who faces charges for these alleged activities.

  • John Yang:

    Ben Wieder of McClatchy Newspapers' D.C. bureau, thanks so much.

  • Ben Wieder:

    Thank you.

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