© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ghislaine Maxwell listens as defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim gives her opening statement at the start of Maxwell’s trial on charges of sex trafficking, in a courtroom sketch in New York City, U.S., November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
(Note strong language in paragraph 10)
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A woman who says she was sexually abused by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein at 14 years old told jurors on Tuesday at Ghislaine Maxwell’s criminal trial that the British socialite facilitated and participated in some sexual encounters.
The woman, known by the pseudonym Jane, took the stand for the government on the second day of Maxwell’s sex abuse trial in Manhattan federal court.
During cross-examination, a lawyer for Maxwell questioned Jane, now in her early 40s, about how she did not report the alleged abuse until decades after it occurred.
Maxwell, 59, faces sex trafficking and other charges. Prosecutors say she recruited and groomed Jane and three other underage girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004. Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
Maxwell has pleaded not guilty, and her lawyers have said she is being scapegoated because Epstein is no longer alive.
They have said Jane and the other alleged victims, who are also expected to testify at the trial, have faulty memories and financial incentives to accuse Maxwell.
During three hours of explicit and emotional testimony, Jane said Maxwell and Epstein first approached her and a group of friends when they were eating ice cream at an arts summer camp in Michigan in the summer of 1994.
Jane, a singer, said her family was struggling financially after her father’s death the prior year. She said Epstein and Maxwell told her that they were benefactors of her camp and awarded many student scholarships.
They remained in touch after Jane returned home to Palm Beach, Florida, where Epstein also had a home, Jane testified. She said Maxwell sometimes took her to the movies or spent time with her by Epstein’s pool. She said they talked about school, including whether Jane had a boyfriend.
Jane testified that she said she did not, and that Maxwell then told her: “‘Once you fuck them, you can always fuck them again because they’re grandfathered in.’
“I giggled because I didn’t understand what grandfathered meant,” Jane testified.
Prosecutors said in a 2021 indictment against Maxwell that behavior like buying girls gifts and discussing sexual topics amounted to “grooming” them for abuse.
As Jane spoke, Maxwell occasionally put on a pair of glasses, leaned forward and took notes on Post-its, which she passed to her attorneys.
‘I FELT ASHAMED’
Jane said she had a sexual encounter with Epstein in the pool room of his Palm Beach house while still 14.
“He pulled me on top of himself and proceeded to masturbate on me,” Jane said. “I was terrified and felt gross and I felt ashamed.”
On other occasions, also at age 14, Jane said Maxwell and Epstein would take her to a massage table in his Palm Beach house and demonstrate how Epstein liked to be massaged. The massages transitioned into sexual activity, and Maxwell sometimes touched her breasts, Jane said.
Jane described Maxwell’s demeanor as “very casual” during these interactions.
Maxwell’s lawyers have said Jane and other accusers received payouts from a fund set up by Epstein’s estate to compensate victims. The fund started up in mid-2020 and ended its claims process in August of 2021 after giving more than $121 million to about 138 people.
In his opening statement on Monday, Maxwell attorney Bobbi Sternheim said accusers could “enhance” their rewards by cooperating with prosecutors.
Sternheim called Jane a “very successful actress” who never accused Maxwell of wrongdoing before Epstein’s death.
“She is a pro at playing roles and as her scripts and characters change, so has the story that you will hear,” Sternheim said.
During cross-examination, Jane confirmed she did not report the alleged incidents to law enforcement until 2019.
When Maxwell attorney Laura Menninger asked whether she told family members and close friends about Maxwell’s alleged role, Jane said, “I don’t know.”
“I was very reluctant to give details,” Jane said. “I didn’t want to share it with them in the first place.”
Jane said in testimony that she had been employed as an actor for 22 years and was awarded $5 million by the compensation fund. She is expected to return for further cross-examination on Wednesday.