Now that the British former socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has been convicted in her sex-trafficking trial, speculation is growing that she may try to cut a deal and become a government witness in any broader investigation into the elite social circle of her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell would be aiming for a reduced sentence by naming powerful names when it comes to others who may be involved in Epstein’s crimes.
But defense lawyers and sexual-crimes prosecutors have cast doubt on the government’s appetite to strike a bargain. They question whether Maxwell has any vital information the government does not already have, and whether it represents a strategy Maxwell has previously attempted that has failed.
“It all depends on who is she would be cooperating against, and what she has to offer,” said Jeffrey Lichtman, the defense attorney who represented the Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán at trial two years ago. “I would not be surprised if she had already tried to cooperate and it had failed.”
Maxwell, who is expected to appeal her conviction, was found guilty on five of six charges for her involvement in Epstein’s sexual abuse of teenage girls. Prosecutors said Maxwell “preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up to be sexually abused”. She is expected to receive a significant prison term.
According to Lichtman, there are defendants who, in the eyes of the government, are so bad that it does not want to strike a deal in exchange for testimony. “They don’t want to take the hand of someone involved a criminal operation and let them cooperate against people who are well below them.”
“That may be the case here – they just feel that she’s so bad they won’t allow her to cooperate,” Lichtman said.
But that does not preclude Maxwell and her lawyers from making an offer. “There’s a tremendous amount of information she has on some very important people. Now that she’s been convicted she may be more eager to discuss. She certainly should, in my mind, because a lot of people skated here, while she bore the brunt of the government’s full wrath,” Lichtman said.
Former federal and state prosecutor Elie Honig said on Twitter: “Maxwell’s cooperation is not particularly likely, but it is possible. You’d need (1) Maxwell to be willing and fully on board, (2) SDNY to be fully convinced of her truthfulness, and (3) a realistic plan to use her information versus others.”
One obstacle to any state prosecution based on Maxwell’s cooperation would be the statute of limitations on criminal and civil sexual crime complaints. The civil case bought by Virginia Giuffre against Britain’s Prince Andrew only exists because of a briefly opened window under the New York Child Victims Act, which allowed accusers to sue beyond the statute of limitations.
But there is also pressure for high-profile visitors to Epstein’s properties in New York, Palm Beach and the the US Virgin Islands to be held accountable for any potential crimes, particularly as the government’s case against Maxwell appeared to avoid reference to broader aspects of the conspiracy.
“Of all the people supposedly involved with Epstein, 99% of them never made it into the government’s evidence,” said Lichtman. “Perhaps they were trying to avoid any frolic by the jury – that they’d get distracted by the bold-face names – but many people didn’t get prosecuted here when it seems like they could have,” he added.
According to Wendy Murphy, a former federal sex crimes prosecutor who now teaches at Boston Law, the relative absence of Epstein from Maxwell’s conspiracy trial was part of the government’s strategy. “They didn’t need more to prove conspiracy,” she said. “They didn’t need to overdo it. There was some weakness in the victims testimony but it was more than offset by other evidence.”
The next chapter of the Epstein case, Murphy said, is likely to come through the civil action against Prince Andrew.
“Prince Andrew may be the next shoe to drop, and it may be the only shoe,” she said. The windows have closed on lawsuits for the most part, and I don’t know of another lawsuit with the potential to expose information.”
But if more investigations do happen, Murphy said Maxwell could get time off her sentence if the government wants important information she has.
“I’m not sure the feds are asking and I’m not sure she’s willing to give. She’s probably not going to say anything, and they don’t need her to, because they already have a lot of information. If they don’t need anything, they’re not going to give her a discount.”
Ultimately, said Bennett Gershman, professor of law at Pace University in New York, much depends on whether the government feels there is political mileage in continuing the investigation and identifying high-profile people who may have been part of the scheme.
“It’s hard to say what the government is interested in further on. We can’t answer that. Are the victims and people who really care about this case satisfied now Maxwell has been convicted or do they want to see other people in the larger network investigated?”
He added: “They have limited resources and personnel, so does this case cry out for further investigation and prosecution? That’s a political decision by the US department of justice and the US attorney’s office.”