Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein's alleged 'recruiter,' now under the microscope

To those dwelling inside the social circle of Manhattan media heiress Ghislaine Maxwell, she is vivacious, highly connected, a people-pleaser and the life of the party.

Federal authorities, however, describe the socialite as something far more sinister: the "madam" and "recruiter" who supplied underage girls to alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and who's accused of engaging in assaults alongside the disgraced -- and deceased -- financier.

In the aftermath of the 66-year-old Epstein's apparent suicide in a federal detention center Saturday morning, Maxwell now finds herself under the microscope.

Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has vowed to continue the investigation into Epstein, who, at the time of his death, was in a New York facility awaiting trial on allegations he operated an underage sex trafficking ring. And even though Epstein is now firmly outside the grip of the criminal justice system, his alleged “co-conspirators” do not enjoy a similar reprieve.

Maxwell's potential liability has already been illuminated on the civil side of the legal spectrum.

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in New York City in 2005. (Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images, File)

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in New York City in 2005. (Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images, File)

Several of Epstein’s accusers have pointed to Maxwell as playing a pivotal role in enlisting his victims, according to thousands of pages of court documents unsealed on Friday -- just hours before Epstein reportedly used his bedsheet to hang himself from a prison bunk -- in relation to a 2015 defamation suit filed against Maxwell. Those who say they're victims of Epstein and other eyewitnesses to the events surrounding his alleged crimes, have testified Maxwell's role was in arranging massages and sexual favors for Epstein and a circle of his high-profile associates.

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But Maxwell allegedly played an even more direct role in the sex abuse on several occasions.

Maxwell and Epstein were accused of molesting two victims in 1996 but the claims -- allegedly reported to the FBI -- fell on deaf ears, according to an affidavit viewed by the Miami Herald.

Maxwell has not released any public statements since Epstein’s arrest in early July. No criminal charges have been brought against her and she has consistently and vehemently denied all allegations of misconduct.

Lawyers for Maxwell did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.

As questions continue to mount, the socialite’s whereabouts are not publicly known. She has addresses linked to residences in Salisbury and in London, but her flashy Manhattan townhouse – off high-end Madison Avenue – was sold for $15 million in 2016, and she is thought to have moved back to the U.K. the following year.

Her retreat from the limelight in recent years -- coinciding with the evolution of the case against Epstein -- is a far cry from the heights of public adoration she once enjoyed as one of New York’s jet-setters.

Maxwell, 57, is a dual citizen of England and France. She was born on Christmas Day to British media mogul Robert Maxwell, owner of the tabloid Daily Mirror, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1991 – falling from the yacht he named after Ghislaine, his youngest of nine children. After his death, evidence surfaced suggesting Maxwell may have been using the paper’s employee pension fund to keep the empire afloat.

A devastated Maxwell later relocated across the pond to New York, living off a $100,000-a-year trust fund and trying her hand at real estate. According to a profile of her in Britain’s Sunday Times, Maxwell met Epstein shortly after her move to New York and, in him, she found a man who “could replace the lifestyle she had” with her father. Epstein's wealth opened doors and, once inside, she possessed the power to cement crucial social connections.

“New York City high society has always been dominated by the rich and powerful, and the status and perceived wealth that comes with the Maxwell name certainly helped Ghislaine make connections in the city,” noted Ronn Torossian, crisis communications expert and CEO of the Manhattan-based firm 5WPR. “Even after her father’s death in 1991, Ghislaine had already made a name for herself and was cemented as a high-profile member of the New York City society.”

From an initial romantic fling with Epstein, the relationship developed into more of a tight-knit, “best friend” companionship, and it was the publishing heiress who reportedly connected Epstein with two of his most high-profile friends -- the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, and former President Bill Clinton.

In time, the duo reportedly morphed into a money-mad world of billionaires and bikinis, private planes and posh parties, and it was Maxwell who sought to satisfy the whims of the rich and powerful who operated at her periphery.

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For years, Maxwell has had an "in" at the hottest tickets in town. In 2000, she donned gold trousers, a midriff top and a brash blond wig – alongside Prince Andrew – to attend supermodel Heidi Klum’s “Hookers and Pimps”-themed Halloween party in Manhattan.

Then there were the Vanity Fair Oscar bashes, fashion week soirees and high-rolling charity benefits; in 2010 she was one of 500 elite guests at the upstate New York wedding ceremony of Chelsea Clinton and investment banker Marc Mezvinsky.

In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to two counts of solicitation of prostitution, including one with a minor, and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. But under a highly controversial plea deal, he was allowed to leave for work five days a week and was released five months early.

And while Epstein was convicted in a Florida state court, he was given a pass from federal prosecution under a deal that also ensured four unnamed co-conspirators and "any potential co-conspirators" received immunity from all criminal charges.

Despite the public blemish, Maxwell’s profile on the social and philanthropic scenes gained in luster over the ensuing years.

Her private passions have been devoted to “cleaning up the seas.” Once an aspiring marine biologist, Maxwell went on in her adult life to earn licenses to pilot submarines, helicopters, ROVs and AUVs – which she described in interviews as “remote and tethered vehicles off the back of boats for doing underwater exploration.” Maxwell was also known to have become a qualified emergency medical technician and was fluent in several languages. She no longer holds an FAA certification despite once being listed as a licensed pilot.

She wrote columns for National Geographic in 2015 urging Americans to sign the “I Love the Ocean Pledge” to have the U.N. take up ocean issues as part of its Sustainable Development Goals. A year earlier, she gave a TED talk and spoke at the University of Texas, Dallas on ocean protection matters.

Seven years ago, Maxwell founded the TerraMar Project, an environmentalist nonprofit devoted to marine protection and positioned herself as something of a leader in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. It was abruptly shuttered less than a week after Epstein was taken into federal custody in July and sex trafficking charges were brought against him by New York federal prosecutors.

“I’ve started and incubated and sold lots of small businesses. I have some that I’m incubating now,” she told the wealth management and business magazine Spears in 2015. “For example, I’ve helped patent a new medical device, inbuilt scrubs that you wear on your person to reduce the rate of infection in hospitals. I don’t think I’m employable per se. Also, I love the freedom of being an entrepreneur.”

Maxwell never had children of her own, and she never married. After Epstein, she was romantically tied in reports to tech billionaire Ted Waitt, who also advocates for ocean conservation through his Waitt Foundation.

Although registered to vote in Florida – with no declared political affiliation and no voting activity for more than a decade – Maxwell’s primary residence was in the heart of Manhattan. According to The Washington Post, Maxwell depicted herself as “unemployed” and donated the maximum $2,300 toward Hillary Clinton’s 2008 election campaign.

It’s not yet clear if Maxwell will now cooperate with authorities, or to what degree, if any, she might be under federal investigation. But according to Melissa L. Jampol, a former sex crimes assistant at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, it's highly likely at this point she is facing a criminal probe.

“Now that Epstein is deceased, prosecutors and victims will want to focus on anyone else who is culpable. One of the counts filed against Epstein was a conspiracy count,” said Jampol. “The bottom line is that anything you say can and will be used against you. So at this point, her silence is protecting her to the extent that it can.”

Defense attorney Doug Richards concurred that Maxwell’s lay-low tactic on the topic has worked to date, but can only work for so long.

“Ghislaine Maxwell has managed to avoid scrutiny since the 2008 plea agreement largely by keeping a low public profile and refraining from public statements about Epstein’s new charges and his death," he said. "That’s a smart strategy from a criminal defense standpoint, but the questions swirling around his death make it increasingly likely that she and other co-conspirators will now be in the government’s sights.

"From both a civil and criminal standpoint, Epstein’s death does her no favors. Victims are rightly unsatisfied with the way that this case was handled, and his death rekindles the demand for someone to be held accountable and for justice to be done, and she’s next in line.”

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But regardless of what comes from the Epstein scandal – convictions or otherwise – some already say Maxwell’s socialite days are done.

“Ghislaine is irreversibly tied to Jeffrey Epstein and his public image. Ms. Maxwell can never erase the stain of being seen as the enabler of Jeffrey Epstein. No matter what happens in the court of law, she is thought of as guilty in the court of public opinion,” Torossian added. “I don’t believe there is a reputable public relations agency in the United States that will work with Ghislaine Maxwell. She won’t redeem her name in this city.”

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