Prosecutors Stumble As They Near End of Case

  • Prosecutors are almost done presenting their child-sex-trafficking case against Ghislaine Maxwell.
  • Thursday was supposed to be the day the state rested its case, but it went terribly for them.
  • The testimony of a star witness was delayed because a lawyer was sick, and FedEx records helped the defense.

On Thursday, prosecutors in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial were supposed to put one of their star witnesses on the stand.

Annie Farmer, one of four accusers cited in the indictment against Maxwell, was expected to close out the prosecution’s case with a bang. Unlike the three accusers who’ve already testified, Annie wasn’t planning to testify anonymously, and her story has been widely publicized.

In April 1996, a then-16-year-old Farmer flew from her home in Arizona to now-dead pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s New Mexico ranch. Farmer has said in interviews that at the ranch, Maxwell directed her to take off her top and gave her a sexualized massage.

According to Farmer, the trip included numerous instances of physical contact from Maxwell and Epstein that she found inappropriate. (Annie’s sister, Maria Farmer, has leveled more serious allegations against Epstein and his former client Leslie Wexner, which the Victoria’s Secret mogul denies, but she is not a party in Maxwell’s criminal trial.)

Prosecutors were expected to rest their case not long after presenting Farmer’s testimony to the jury in Manhattan federal court. They also planned to call an FBI agent to testify about certain pieces of evidence in order to advance their argument that Maxwell trafficked girls to Epstein for sex, and in some cases sexually abused them herself.

But Annie Farmer didn’t testify Thursday, and none of that happened.

Instead, US District Judge Alison Nathan, who oversees the case, adjourned the trial at 10:34 a.m.

One of the attorneys involved in the case required medical attention, Nathan announced, and the jury was told to go home early. Journalists in the room noticed that Lara Pomerantz, an assistant US attorney leading the case, was absent from the prosecution’s table when Nathan made the announcement. Nathan assured people in the courtroom that the medical issue wasn’t COVID-related.

It was a bad day for the prosecution. Rescheduling a witness isn’t the end of the world, but the two hours of argument and witness testimony that Nathan squeezed in before sending the jury home went poorly for the lawyers trying to put Maxwell behind bars.

Prosecutors haven’t shown clear evidence that Maxwell sent accusers lingerie

Before Farmer’s anticipated testimony, prosecutors called Tracy Chapell, a FedEx paralegal, who testified about Epstein’s invoices.

Prosecutors have accused Maxwell of trafficking girls for Epstein to sexually abuse. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and her defense attorneys have argued that the Justice Department went after her as a proxy for Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on similar charges.

Chapell seemed to prove the defense attorneys’ point, and it was head-scratching that prosecutors presented her as a witness.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors have repeatedly referenced these FedEx records. In opening statements last week, Pomerantz told jurors that the records would prove “Epstein sent a gift to one victim when she was just 15 years old.” And in testimony on Tuesday, an accuser who went by her first name, Carolyn, said she remembers receiving Victoria’s Secret lingerie in the mail while living in West Palm Beach, Florida. It stuck in her mind, she said, because the package was sent from New York, where she grew up. Prosecutors even hauled in her ex-boyfriend, Shawn, as a witness on Wednesday. He also talked about the FedEx packages.

ghislaine maxwell carolyn

 

Ghislaine Maxwell listens as witness “Carolyn” answers question from prosecutor Maurene Comey.

REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

But Epstein is dead, as Maxwell’s attorneys’ noted. If prosecutors wanted to prove to jurors that Maxwell facilitated Epstein’s sexual abuse of Carolyn through those packages, they failed to do so.

Chapell testified that she dug up hundreds of pages of Epstein’s FedEx invoices out of storage boxes kept in a warehouse, pursuant to subpoenas from prosecutors and Maxwell’s lawyers.

She reviewed some of those pages, and indicated that packages were sent from Epstein’s office at 457 Madison Avenue in New York to a person named “Carolyn” — though partially redacted copies shown to the public showed her name was often misspelled — in West Palm Beach in late 2002. The Carolyn who testified earlier this week said Epstein began sexually abusing her that year.

None of those packages were sent by Maxwell, according to the records. The records demonstrated that all the packages were sent by Epstein himself, a person named Cecilia Steen, or Sarah Kellen, another of the financier’s assistants who several other Epstein accusers have also accused of misconduct.

tracy chapman fedex ghislaine maxwell trial

 

This courtroom sketch shows Tracy Chapell, a Federal Express employee, testifying on the witness stand during the Ghislaine Maxwell sex abuse trial, Thursday Dec. 9, 2021, in New York.

Elizabeth Williams via AP

Things got worse for the prosecution when Maxwell’s attorney, Christian Everdell, best known as a former prosecutor who helped bring down drug kingpin El Chapo, presented dozens more pages of FedEx records from the same time period.

The records showed that Maxwell did send FedEx packages from the very same Madison Avenue office on the very same days that Epstein’s other employees sent packages to Carolyn. According to the FedEx records, Maxwell sent packages to investment banker Ron Burkle, to artificial intelligence scientist Danny Hillis, and to her sister Isabelle, who was in court Thursday morning and gave Maxwell a glance when her name was read aloud.

But Maxwell was not listed as a sender to Carolyn, nor “Caroline,” “Cardine,” nor any of the other possible misspellings for the West Palm Beach resident.

Everdell also pointed to a package that appeared to be sent to “Jane” — the pseudonym for another accuser in the trial — and indicated that Epstein, not Maxwell, was listed as the sender on the package.

At the end of Chapell’s testimony, Everdell entered around 50 more pages of FedEx records into evidence for the jury to review. Presumably, those records don’t show that Maxwell sent accusers any packages that would indicate she facilitated sexual abuse.

Prosecutors are planning to close up shop early

The snafus with Annie Farmer and the FedEx records might have been easy for the jury to gloss over if prosecutors continued to pile on evidence against Maxwell. Before the trial began, they told Nathan that they would need around three weeks to present their case.

On Tuesday, prosecutors told Nathan that they expected to rest by Thursday or Friday, cutting their case down by a full week.

The timeline adjustment is understandable in some respects: One witness, a brother of “Jane,” broke court rules by talking to Jane after her own testimony, so prosecutors elected not to call him to the witness stand to corroborate parts of her story.

A tight case isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Focusing on the charges in the indictment against Maxwell, without diving deeply into the many rabbit holes of Epstein’s high-flying life and powerful connections, can make it easier for the jury to process the most relevant evidence.

Maurene Comey

 

Prosecutors in the Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell investigation.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

But in curtailing their case prosecutors have left lingering questions for the jury.

Why not indict Sarah Kellen as a co-defendant, or call her to testify? (A representative for Kellen couldn’t be reached for comment, but she has denied wrongdoing in response to civil lawsuits against her over her work for Epstein.)

And what’s going on with Virginia Giuffre, the Epstein and Maxwell accuser whose name has come up several times in the trial? (Giuffre is involved in separate civil litigation against Maxwell that formed the basis for perjury charges against the socialite, but the jury doesn’t know that.)

The prosecutors in Maxwell’s case, who are all much younger than her defense attorneys, also appeared to be outfoxed on another legal issue Thursday. Before Chapell’s testimony began, Assistant US Attorney Andrew Rohrbach told the judge about anticipated testimony from Michael Buscemi, an FBI agent. Rohrbach wanted Buscemi to go through several handwritten message pads found in Epstein’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, to show the jury that Carolyn often made calls there.

But as Maxwell’s lawyer, Jeffrey Pagliuca, pointed out, Buscemi wasn’t one of the agents who got the message pads from Epstein’s home. If prosecutors wanted to have a witness read through the messages, the proper procedure would have been to do it through one of Epstein’s household staffers, who testified earlier in the trial.

Nathan sided with Maxwell’s lawyers. If prosecutors wanted to point out the details in the message pads, she said, then they’d have to wait until the end of the trial.

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