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Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyers claim Jeffrey Epstein's 15-year-old Florida plea deal should undo her sex-trafficking conviction

Jacob Shamsian   

Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyers claim Jeffrey Epstein's 15-year-old Florida plea deal should undo her sex-trafficking conviction
  • Ghislaine Maxwell is appealing her criminal conviction and 20-year prison sentence.
  • Her lawyers argue Jeffrey Epstein's infamous 2007 non-prosecution agreement should also protect her.

Ghislaine Maxwell has appealed the conviction and 20-year prison sentence she received for trafficking girls to Jeffrey Epstein for sex, with her lawyers arguing that a 15-year-old agreement between Epstein and Florida prosecutors should have protected her.

In the 113-page appeal filed late Tuesday, Maxwell's lawyers also repeated a defense that came up often in her trial: She argues she was "a proxy" for Epstein, the notorious and well-connected pedophile who died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial for his own set of sex-trafficking charges.

"In its zeal to pin the blame for its own incompetence and for Epstein's crimes on Maxwell, the Government breached its promise not to prosecute Maxwell, charged her with time-barred offenses [and] resurrected and recast decades-old allegations for conduct previously ascribed to Epstein and other named assistants," the lawyers wrote in the filing.

Jurors in Manhattan federal court convicted Maxwell of five sex-trafficking charges in December 2021. Prosecutors alleged she groomed girls to have sex with Epstein and sexually abused some of them herself.

US District Judge Alison Nathan, who oversaw her trial, sentenced her to 20 years in prison plus additional probation time and fines. She's currently serving her sentence in a low-security prison in Tallahassee, Florida.

A rogue juror nearly derailed Maxwell's guilty verdict

Maxwell's conviction was thrown into doubt, however, after one of the jurors gave media interviews disclosing that he was personally a victim of sexual abuse as a child. The juror — identified as Juror 50 in court documents and Scotty David, his first and middle name, in the interviews — failed to disclose his experience in juror forms and wasn't asked about it during the judge's voir dire interview ahead of the trial.

Maxwell's lawyers asked Nathan to vacate her conviction and grant a new trial. Nathan held a highly unusual hearing where she questioned the juror, who said he "flew through" the questionnaire because he was bored during the selection process and said he no longer considered himself a "victim."

Nathan ultimately allowed the verdict to stand, ruling the juror didn't deliberately lie and that he "would not have been stricken for cause even if he had answered each question on the questionnaire accurately."

The episode with Juror 50 featured prominently in Maxwell's appeal. Her attorneys complained that Nathan didn't give them the opportunity to cross-examine the juror, didn't allow questions about whether his experience was similar to Maxwell's accusers', and claimed he "gave a patently absurd explanation for his failure to give truthful answers to multiple questions on the juror questionnaire."

Maxwell's appellate lawyers — Arthur Aidala, Diana Fabi Samson, and John M. Leventhal — also argued that prosecutors filed the charges against her too late according to the relevant criminal statutes, that Nathan failed to fix a perceived misunderstanding the jury had on one of the charges, and that the judge gave her too high a sentence based on her crimes.

Epstein's notorious plea deal protected Maxwell, the lawyers say

Maxwell's lawyers spent the bulk of the appeal arguing that Maxwell should have been barred from prosecution based on a 2007 agreement between Epstein and federal prosecutors in Florida.

The non-prosecution agreement, negotiated by Epstein's high-powered attorneys, came after law enforcement concluded that he had sexually coerced and abused dozens of young women.

Instead of bringing federal sex-trafficking charges, then-US Attorney Alexander Acosta allowed Epstein to serve a brief and lenient sentence in Palm Beach County jail in Florida on prostitution solicitation charges. The document also said that "the United States" would not bring criminal charges against four specific women as well as "potential co-conspirators."

Nathan previously ruled that the agreement's language bound only the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida, which Acosta led, and not the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted Maxwell.

"Courts cannot infer intent to depart from this ordinary practice from an agreement's use of phrases like 'the government' or 'the United States.' Those are common shorthand," Nathan wrote. "A plea agreement need not painstakingly spell out 'the Office of the United States Attorney for Such- and-Such District' in every instance to make clear that it applies only in the district where signed."

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigated Acosta's conduct and admonished him for the agreement, dug up volumes of emails and other communication regarding the agreement. But nowhere in all of that negotiation history, Nathan said, could Maxwell's lawyers find any evidence that Epstein's co-conspirators would have unlimited protection across the country.

In Tuesday's appeal, Maxwell's lawyers argued that Nathan read the agreement too narrowly. Epstein wanted a broad agreement, they said.

Her lawyers pointed to Leslie Groff, one of the people explicitly named as a potential co-conspirator, who worked for Epstein out of his office in New York. US Attorneys in Manhattan decided not to seek charges against Groff, Insider previously reported.

"Epstein's objective in negotiating the NPA was to obtain a global resolution that would, among other things, provide maximum protection for any alleged co-conspirators," Maxwell's lawyers wrote.

In any case, the judge should have held a hearing to figure out the non-prosecution agreement's true meaning before concluding it didn't apply to Maxwell, the lawyers argued.