NEW YORK (Reuters) — British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell pleaded not guilty on Friday to federal sex trafficking charges in the U.S. case accusing her of helping the late financier Jeffrey Epstein recruit and sexually abuse girls.
Maxwell, 59, entered her plea through her attorney before U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan. The charges had been included in an eight-count indictment unveiled on March 29.
Prosecutors have accused Maxwell of grooming and paying a girl who, starting at age 14, gave Epstein nude massages and engaged in sex acts with him from 2001 to 2004, and that the girl recruited others to offer erotic massages.
They previously had charged Maxwell with helping Epstein recruit and groom three other girls for him to sexually abuse from 1994 to 1997.
Maxwell had pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges, which included two perjury counts.
Her trial is scheduled to begin on July 12, provided a courtroom is available and the judge rejects Maxwell’s request for a months-long delay. The perjury counts would be handled separately in a second trial.
Friday’s hearing marked the first time Maxwell has publicly appeared in person since her arrest last July at her home in New Hampshire, where prosecutors said she had been hiding out. She has been jailed in Brooklyn since her arrest.
Maxwell wore a loose-fitting, blue short-sleeve shirt and white face mask, with her dark hair reaching below her shoulders. She had appeared by video in her prior arraignment.
Lawyers for Maxwell have complained that she has suffered from weight and hair loss in jail, which prosecutors have denied.
Maxwell faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Judge Alison Nathan has denied bail three times, calling Maxwell a substantial flight risk. On Monday, Maxwell’s lawyers are expected to argue before the federal appeals court in Manhattan that the third bail denial should be overturned.
Epstein, 66, killed himself in a Manhattan jail in August 2019, one month after being arrested on sex trafficking charges.
Maxwell’s lawyers have long complained about her inability to prepare effectively for a July 12 trial.
They have cited the need to review “voluminous” amounts of evidence, blamed prosecutors for being too slow to turn over materials, and said jail restrictions have impeded Maxwell from adequately preparing her defense.
The lawyers have also repeatedly cast doubt on whether Maxwell can get a fair trial, in particular faulting the media for treating her as a “monster” because of the “Epstein effect.”
Prosecutors have opposed any delay, and pledged to make “significant efforts” to ensure that Maxwell was prepared for a July trial.
They said a delay would also harm the four alleged victims, saying two have reported significant stress from the case and expressed a desire to go to trial.
Even if no delay were granted, a July 12 start is not assured.
Only seven courtrooms in the Manhattan courthouse have been reconfigured for the COVID-19 pandemic to accommodate jury trials, according to a court spokesman.
Jailed defendants in criminal cases get higher priority for jury trials, but some defendants are ahead of Maxwell.
Nathan said that if the trial is not delayed, she wants jury selection to begin as close as possible to July 12.
© 2021 Thomson Reuters.