When Jeffrey Epstein traveled on one of his private jets, the cockpit door was always closed during flight, one of his longtime pilots testified Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, making it impossible to see what was going on in the passenger area.
Larry Visoski, who worked for Mr. Epstein for nearly 30 years, was the first witness called by prosecutors in the sex-trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, Mr. Epstein’s longtime companion.
Federal prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office used Mr. Visoski’s testimony, which began late Monday afternoon, to introduce photographs and descriptions of Mr. Epstein’s many residences and his private planes. The planes have long been a source of public fascination and lore, as Mr. Epstein was known to travel with prominent politicians and Hollywood celebrities as well as young women — and girls, some accusers have said — to entertain guests on board.
The names of some high-profile passengers came out under cross-examination on Tuesday, as a lawyer for Ms. Maxwell, Christian Everdell, asked Mr. Visoski if he remembered flying “pretty important people,” naming Bill Clinton, Donald J. Trump, Prince Andrew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the actor Kevin Spacey. Mr. Visoski said that he remembered traveling with all but Mr. Kennedy and that he did not recall whether he ever flew the family of Mr. Trump, who traveled on the plane before his presidency.
When Mr. Visoski first came to work for Mr. Epstein, in 1991, the financier had a Gulfstream plane, he testified, outfitted with leather chairs and a burgundy carpet. The cockpit was separated by a door that was always closed, Mr. Visoski said.
In around 2001, Mr. Epstein bought a Boeing 727, a larger aircraft whose interior, Mr. Visoski said, had multiple compartments, including a full kitchen and what he called “the Round Room,” which had a doughnut-shaped couch.
There, too, the cockpit door was always closed, Mr. Visoski said.
Mr. Epstein sometimes introduced him to guests as they boarded the plane. That included a young woman, a singer identified in court as Jane, whom Mr. Epstein brought into the cockpit. Mr. Visoski described her as “a mature woman, with piercing, powder blue eyes.”
Prosecutors have introduced Jane as one of Mr. Maxwell’s underage accusers. She is likely to testify at the trial, and jurors were shown a copy of her birth certificate.
Under cross-examination by Mr. Everdell, Mr. Visoski confirmed that he could watch the passengers boarding the planes. He said that sometimes, they included young girls traveling with their families, but that he did not see any unaccompanied young women who looked younger than 20.
Mr. Visoski told Mr. Everdell that he “never saw any sexual activity” on the flights. Asked if he ever saw sex acts with underage girls, Mr. Visoski said, “I certainly did not.”
He also said that Mr. Epstein did not mandate that the cockpit door be closed, and that he had invited them to walk to the back of the aircraft if, for example, they had to use the restroom.
“Like right now,” Mr. Visoski said, drawing laughs from the courtroom.
During his cross-examination, Mr. Visoski was asked what kind of advance notice he might have about Mr. Epstein’s passengers, particularly if they had privacy and security concerns. Mr. Everdell asked specifically about Mr. Clinton. “If he were going to be on the flight, you might be told that information in advance,” Mr. Everdell said. “You’d want to make sure the plane looked nice.”
“Yes,” Mr. Visoski said.
More than two years after Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in a jail cell a month after his arrest on sex-trafficking charges, Ghislaine Maxwell — the woman who prosecutors say helped him to recruit, groom and abuse young girls — went on trial on Monday in Manhattan.
Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein were “partners in crime,” a federal prosecutor, Lara Pomerantz, told the jury. Ms. Maxwell sexually exploited young girls by developing their trust, helped to normalize abusive sexual conduct and then “served them up” to Mr. Epstein in a decade-long scheme, the prosecutor said.
“The defendant and Epstein made young girls believe that their dreams could come true,” Ms. Pomerantz said in Federal District Court. “They made them feel special, but that was a cover.”
“Behind closed doors,” Ms. Pomerantz said, “the defendant and Epstein were committing heinous crimes. They were sexually abusing teenage girls.”
The trial of Ms. Maxwell, 59, the daughter of a British media mogul and a longtime fixture on the New York social scene, has been widely seen as the courtroom reckoning that Mr. Epstein avoided when he took his own life in prison.
Mr. Epstein was arrested in July 2019 on charges that he recruited dozens of girls to engage in sex acts with him at his estate in Palm Beach, Fla., and his mansion in Manhattan, paying them hundreds of dollars in cash after each encounter, a federal indictment said. He died the following month.
Ms. Maxwell, who was arrested in July 2020, faces charges that include sex trafficking of a minor, enticing and transporting minors to engage in illegal sex acts and three conspiracy counts. She could face up to 70 years in prison if convicted of all counts.
She has steadfastly maintained her innocence, and her lawyer, Bobbi C. Sternheim, told the jury that the evidence would not support the charges against her client. She suggested the memories of the Ms. Maxwell’s accusers were unreliable and tainted by “constant media reports.”
She also described Ms. Maxwell as a “scapegoat” for Mr. Epstein’s actions, adding, “Ever since Eve was accused of tempting Adam with the apple, women have been blamed for the bad behavior of men.”
The sex-trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s former romantic partner and employee, got underway in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday with opening statements and testimony from one of the pilots who flew Mr. Epstein’s private planes.
In the coming weeks, jurors are expected to hear testimony from four women who prosecutors said were abused as teenagers by Mr. Epstein.
Ms. Maxwell, the daughter of a British media mogul, faces six counts, stemming from what prosecutors say was her role in the sexual exploitation of the women. The charges include enticing a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity and transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Here are some takeaways from the first day of the trial:
The jury will hear the story of Jane, who was 14 when she met Mr. Epstein.
In describing how evidence would show that Ms. Maxwell helped Mr. Epstein traffic and sexually abuse teenage girls, a prosecutor sketched out the story of one accuser referred to only by a first name, Jane.
Jane met Mr. Epstein and Ms. Maxwell in 1994, the prosecutor, Lara Pomerantz, told jurors: a seemingly innocent encounter that began at a picnic table with the realization that the two adults and the teenage girl all lived in Palm Beach, Fla. It ended with Jane providing her phone number.
That was the “beginning of a nightmare that would last for years,” Ms. Pomerantz said. She said that Ms. Maxwell helped win Jane’s trust with shopping trips and “helped normalize abusive sexual conduct” at the hands of Mr. Epstein.
The jury would hear directly from Jane and from three other women who had similar experiences as teenage girls, the prosecutor said.
The defense will try to show that the four accusers’ memories are unreliable.
A few minutes later, however, a defense lawyer, Bobbi C. Sternheim, told jurors that recollections from witnesses like Jane, who are expected to testify under oath about Mr. Epstein’s abuse, were not to be trusted.
She suggested the accusers had “unreliable and suspect” memories that could have been “corrupted” over the years or “contaminated” by “constant media reports.” She also suggested the accusers were motivated by a desire to win “a big jackpot of money” from a possible civil action against Mr. Epstein’s estate.
“Each accuser’s story is thin,” she told jurors. “They have been impacted by lawyers, by media, by things they have read and things they have heard and by money, big bucks.”
Another defense strategy will be to shift blame to Mr. Epstein.
Ms. Sternheim painted Ms. Maxwell as a “scapegoat” who is on trial only because Mr. Epstein had killed himself in a federal jail. That suicide, she told jurors, left “a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice” for many people. Ms. Maxwell is “filling that hole,” Ms. Sternheim added. “Filling that empty chair.”
“Ever since Eve was accused of tempting Adam with the apple,” she said, “women have been blamed for the bad behavior of men.”
The prosecution used one of Mr. Epstein’s pilots to set the scene for jurors.
The first witness for the prosecution was not one of the accusers but a private pilot: Lawrence Paul Visoski Jr., who had worked for Mr. Epstein from 1991 to 2019.
Mr. Visoski described, in broad strokes, the role Ms. Maxwell played in managing Mr. Epstein’s households and properties, describing their relationship as “couple-ish.” Guided by photographs presented as evidence, Mr. Visoski also described ferrying Mr. Epstein and his guests to various luxury residences in New York City; Paris; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Palm Beach, Fla.; and Santa Fe, N.M.
“Pretty much every four days we were on the road flying somewhere,” he said. Mr. Visoski said he did not always know precisely who was flying on Mr. Epstein’s planes with him.
The sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, a former girlfriend and longtime associate of Jeffrey Epstein, is set to begin Monday. Here are some of the events that led to the highly anticipated trial:
July 7, 2019
Mr. Epstein was arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
Federal prosecutors accused Mr. Epstein of engaging in criminal sex acts with minors and women, some as young as 14.
Aug. 10, 2019
Mr. Epstein killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell.
Mr. Epstein hanged himself in his jail cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center; he was not under suicide watch at the time of his death. He had just been denied bail on federal sex trafficking charges.
Ms. Maxwell sued Mr. Epstein’s estate.
Ms. Maxwell said in the lawsuit that Mr. Epstein and Darren Indyke, a longtime lawyer for Mr. Epstein and the executor of his estate, both promised to pay her legal fees, but she said they hadn’t. Her legal fees mounted as more women claimed she helped Mr. Epstein recruit them for sexual activity when they were underage.
Ms. Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire.
The indictment listed three minor victims who say they were recruited by Ms. Maxwell from 1994 to 1997 for criminal sexual activity.
Ms. Maxwell asks for release on $5 million bond.
Her lawyers asked a federal judge in Manhattan to release her from jail on $5 million bond. Judge Alison J. Nathan of the Federal District Court in Manhattan denied the request after prosecutors argued that Ms. Maxwell posed a high risk of fleeing before her trial.
Ms. Maxwell calls jail “oppressive.”
Ms. Maxwell asked again to be released, this time on $28.5 million bond, arguing that the conditions of her Brooklyn jail were “oppressive.” But once again the request was denied, after prosecutors said the probability she would flee was extremely high. Prosecutors also said the conditions in jail were reasonable, pointing to her personal shower, phone and two computers.
Ms. Maxwell is charged with sex trafficking a 14-year-old.
A new indictment accuses Ms. Maxwell of grooming an additional minor. She is charged with sex trafficking a 14-year-old girl who engaged in sexual acts with Mr. Epstein at his Palm Beach, Fla., estate.
Ms. Maxwell goes on trial.
Opening arguments are set for Monday.
Ghislaine Maxwell faces six counts in her federal trial, which relate to accusations that she facilitated the sexual exploitation of girls for her longtime companion, the disgraced financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The six counts center on the accounts of four accusers. The charges include:
One count of enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, in which Ms. Maxwell is accused of coercing one girl — identified as Minor Victim 1 in charging documents — to travel from Florida to New York, between 1994 and 1997, to engage in sex acts with Mr. Epstein.
One count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sex acts, which accuses Ms. Maxwell of bringing the same girl from Florida to New York on numerous occasions.
One count of sex trafficking of a minor, which charges that between 2001 and 2004, Ms. Maxwell recruited, enticed and transported another girl — identified in the charges as Minor Victim 4 — to engage in at least one commercial sex act with Mr. Epstein.
And three counts of conspiracy, which are related to the other counts. The conspiracy counts in the indictment are more expansive, involving all four accusers and homes in the United States and in London. These charges involve accusations that Ms. Maxwell worked with Mr. Epstein to secure underage girls for sex acts, for example, by encouraging one to give Mr. Epstein massages in London between 1994 and 1995.
Ms. Maxwell, 59, could face a lengthy prison term if convicted. Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors carries a maximum 40 year sentence; the other charges have maximum penalties of five or 10 years.
When Ms. Maxwell was arrested in July 2020, she was also charged with two counts of perjury, accusing her of lying under oath in 2016 during depositions for a lawsuit related to Mr. Epstein. In April, Judge Alison J. Nathan granted the defense’s request to sever the perjury counts, which will be tried separately.
During a pretrial conference a week before the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was set to begin in earnest, a prosecutor indicated that the government and defense still were at odds over some issues.
A defense lawyer began to respond, but Judge Alison J. Nathan cut him off.
“I don’t want a speech,” she said, directing that the parties have a “mature, reasonable discussion and come to some agreement where agreement can be had.” If good-faith disputes remained, she said, they could be put in writing, adding, “I’ll be happy to resolve it.”
The moment came and went quickly, but it underscored an observable fact about Judge Nathan, 49, now in her 10th year as a member of Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York: She has firm command of her courtroom.
“She is known for her intellect and independence,” said Daniel C. Richman, a professor of criminal law at Columbia Law School. “She has a crisp, no-nonsense attitude toward legal issues and how they get presented and resolved.”
In the Maxwell case, Judge Nathan has already dispensed with an array of pretrial disputes — some as narrow as whether prosecutors could refer to her accusers as “victims” (the judge ruled they could when describing the four women whose accounts are at the center of the indictment); and more weighty questions, like whether Ms. Maxwell, 59, should be granted bail. (The judge has repeatedly denied her requests, most recently three weeks ago.)
But when Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers complained on Nov. 1 that their client was awakened at 3:45 a.m. for a court hearing and then had to wait for hours in a cold cellblock with little food, Judge Nathan ordered that Ms. Maxwell be transported to and from the courthouse “in a way that is humane, proper and consistent with security protocols.”
Just two weeks ago, President Biden nominated Judge Nathan to the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. The White House noted at the time that she would be the second openly gay woman to serve on any federal circuit court if she was confirmed by the Senate.
In at least two cases in recent years, Judge Nathan, who was appointed in 2011 to the District Court by President Barack Obama, sharply criticized the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan after it was accused of failing to turn over potentially favorable evidence to the defense before trial.
On Nov. 17, after taking the bench before another day of questioning prospective jurors, Judge Nathan briefly acknowledged the news of her potential elevation.
“Needless to say I am honored,” she said, adding that if she were nominated, she would continue to do her “day job, which means presiding over this trial through completion and handling the literally hundreds of other civil and criminal matters on my docket.”
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