As we head into week two of the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, I am more confused than ever as to the government’s strategy. Friday morning saw Maxwell’s defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca destroy the credibility of Epstein’s “butler,” Juan Alessi, who, it emerged, had previously stated under oath in 2009 that he had burgled Jeffrey Epstein’s home twice back in 2003. However, on Thursday at the Maxwell trial, also under oath, Alessi said he had only committed one burglary. I saw at least one juror shake his head at the obvious inconsistency, which undermined the powerful testimony he’d given the day before: that he’d seen two underage girls with Epstein and Maxwell at Epstein’s home in Palm Beach. Alessi’s 2009 testimony had also given different accounts and, crucially, dates about the times he’d seen the girls around than what he testified in court this week.
I found one detail of Alessi’s testimony, under cross, particularly striking: Epstein sometimes had women other than Maxwell to stay, and, when he did that, he instructed Alessi to remove all the photographs of Maxwell in the house. You can see where the defense is headed with that one: Epstein was a brilliant manipulator who “compartmentalized,” as Maxwell lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said in her opening argument, suggesting that they will argue Maxwell did not know everything about his life.
Ghislaine Maxwell in court for her trial on charges of sex trafficking, in New York City, on December 3, 2021. || JANE ROSENBERG / Getty
Hours were spent looking at a video of Epstein’s home, which is notable for its ugliness, if you ask me: outdated, shabby décor and art you could pick up in a junk shop. But I am guessing the government is laying a foundation. Epstein’s green massage table was produced in court; it looked like any old massage table. A photograph of a sex toy called the “Twin Torpedos” was also produced. (Accuser Number One, “Jane,” had said that Epstein had used sex toys on her during his abuse of her.) Jurors also saw images that the public did not see, which purportedly contained a minute or so of graphic images.
While all salacious, does this evidence put Maxwell (as opposed to Epstein) at the heart of sexual abuse and trafficking of minors?
Looking forward, week two will likely include the testimony of Accuser Number Two, Annie Farmer, whom I know and first spoke to back in 2002.
Annie Farmer, who is now 41 and a psychotherapist, is remarkable in that her public allegations about what happened to her when she was 16 on Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico have never deviated in even one detail from what she said to me all those years ago, when she was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. She was extraordinarily composed back then, and, when I saw her again two summers ago, I noticed she still has that calm, unflappable manner, without being aloof.
My gut tells me it will be much harder for Maxwell’s defense to find inconsistencies in Annie’s story than it was for them to poke holes in Jane’s. What I suspect they will argue is that 16 was the age of consent in New Mexico when Farmer was there and that “what happened in New Mexico is not illegal conduct,” as defense lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim said in her opening statement.
In 2002, Farmer went to Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico because Esptein was offering to pay for a trip abroad to help her beef up her resume for college and said he wanted to get to know her better. She told me that, when she was invited, she’d been told there’d be many other people at the ranch; when she arrived, however, there were not. She told me that she and Ghislaine massaged Epstein’s feet which, she told me, was “weird;” Maxwell then massaged her, which was “great” until Farmer turned on her back and Maxwell began massaging her naked chest until Farmer pulled up the sheet. Then she told me that one morning during her visit, a fully-clothed Epstein got into bed with her “to cuddle,” which, obviously, was deeply unwelcome.
As I’ve reported in my podcast and documentary series “Chasing Ghislaine,” Maxwell denied she’d given Annie Farmer a massage in 2002. I knew Maxwell slightly from social situations in New York, and I had not expected at the outset of my reporting to be talking to her about anything to do with Jeffrey Epstein, and certainly not allegations about a topless massage.
It was the one and only conversation I had with Maxwell on the topic of Annie Farmer and her older sister Maria, the latter of whom had claimed to me that Maxwell was “asleep” or “pretending to be asleep”—yet holding her hand—while Epstein had groped her while she staying at his estate in Ohio when she was in her twenties. Shortly after my interview with the Farmer sisters, Epstein paid a visit to Graydon Carter at the Vanity Fair offices, and then the Farmers’ allegations were cut from my article—to my eternal regret. (Carter has said I didn’t have sufficient reporting. I disagree.) I don’t know why Vanity Fair decided not to include the Farmer sisters’ allegations in that 2003 story. As a journalist, I am trained to report what credible people tell me or what other evidence supports, and that’s just what I had done. I don’t know what happened behind closed doors, so I can’t say that anything untoward happened there. I just know what didn’t happen: the allegations never ran.
I tried again to write about the Farmers in 2011, but their allegations were removed and my words completely altered, to drastically affect their meaning. Then, in 2015, after I’d left Vanity Fair, I finally got to publish the allegations, with Annie’s help, in the Daily Beast.
After the piece was published and I appeared on MSNBC to discuss what the Farmers had told me, Farmer wrote to me afterwards, catching me up with her professional life, which I couldn’t help but notice had a direct connection to what she’d experienced in New Mexico.
She told me she was in her final year of a doctorate in Counseling Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin. She said she’d been working mainly with veterans with PTSD and that she was currently doing a rotation of an all-women’s unit, and she was hearing from many survivors of military sexual trauma. She said she found it extremely interesting because it provided her with many opportunities to hear stories of how men take advantage of positions of power. She concluded: “Unfortunately, that seems an all to [sic] common occurrence.”
Farmer is the only accuser in the Maxwell trial to publish her real name, which speaks to her extraordinary courage but also perhaps to the fact that she really understands, from an academic perspective, how sexual predation works and thus may be unphased by attacks in the courtroom on perceived vulnerabilities, such as needing money from Epstein.
In one way, this trial may be looked at as the culmination of a remark she made to me nearly 20 years ago, when I tried—and failed—to find other victims besides her and her sister: “I bet there are others,” she had said with surprising vehemence.
Well, she was most certainly right about that. If only I had been able to find them.