British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, accused of helping procure underage girls for disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse, returns to court Monday to face charges that could bring up to 80 years in prison.
Maxwell, 59, has spent the last 16 months awaiting trial in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Last week she was denied bail for the fourth time, despite claims from her lawyers that she has been subjected to physical and emotional abuse by jail guards, unsanitary living conditions and inedible meals.
Prosecutors dismissed the claims as “rhetoric and anecdotes better suited to tabloids than briefs. Where legal arguments can be found, they are cursory and unpersuasive.”
Maxwell pressed her claims further in an interview with the Daily Mail published Saturday.
“I have been assaulted and abused for almost a year and a half,” she told the British tabloid. “They feed me rotten food. One apple had maggots in it.”
She described a “friendly rat” that routinely sat next to her on an open sewer as she went to the toilet.
“I told the guards, but nothing was done until the rat popped out and charged a guard, who screamed in terror,” Maxwell said. “Finally, the sewer drain was covered.”
Kristie Breshears, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, told USA TODAY that for privacy, safety and security reasons she could not discuss conditions of confinement for a particular inmate. But she wrote in an email that the bureau “takes allegations of staff misconduct seriously.”
“Incidents of potential criminal activity or misconduct inside BOP facilities are thoroughly investigated for potential administrative discipline or criminal prosecution,” Breshears wrote.
Maxwell also told the Daily Mail she was “terrified the overwhelmingly negative coverage will poison my jury pool” and result in a guilty verdict despite evidence she said proved her innocence.
“I look forward to having my day in court to prove I played no part in Epstein’s crimes,” she said. “I am innocent.”
Epstein, 66, was indicted in July 2019, accused of sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of underage girls at his mansions in Manhattan, Palm Beach, Florida, and elsewhere from the 1990s to 2005. The charges, including sex trafficking and conspiracy, could have landed Epstein in prison for decades. But he killed himself in his Manhattan prison cell a month later.
Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 on charges that include transporting a minor for the purposes of criminal sexual activity and conspiring to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts. Maxwell, who denies the accusations, has been in custody ever since.
“Maxwell was among Epstein’s closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old,” said Audrey Strauss, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, at the time.
Jury selection in her case begins in earnest this week in a Manhattan federal courtroom, with opening statements tentatively set for Nov. 29. Judge Alison Nathan has repeatedly rejected a proposed $28.5 million bail package, saying Maxwell was a flight risk.
The Epstein-Maxwell saga has reached into British royalty. Police announced last month, however, that they will not take action against Prince Andrew after a review prompted by an Epstein accuser who claims the prince sexually assaulted her.
Virginia Giuffre claims she was trafficked by Epstein to have sex with Andrew in London in 2001, when she was 17 and a minor under U.S. law. She is suing the prince, who has denied the claim.
The Maxwell family has long been headline news in Britain. Maxwell’s father, Czech-born British media baron Robert Maxwell, fell to his death from a yacht in November 1991. Weeks later it came to light that he had raided his company pension funds to prop up his sagging financial empire.
Two of Ghislaine Maxwell’s brothers, Ian and Kevin, were later acquitted of fraud charges for their alleged roles in their father’s companies.
Contributing: The Associated Press