BY JULIE K. BROWN AND BEN WIEDER
Ghislaine Maxwell, in an artist’s rendering, on day one of her sex trafficking trial. NEW YORK Jeffrey Epstein’s longtime private pilot takes the witness stand Tuesday in the New York trial of accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite charged with recruiting girls and young women and trafficking them to have sex with the late financier Jeffrey Epstein. Lawrence “Larry” Visoski worked for the deceased financier for nearly 20 years, from 1991 until Epstein’s arrest in 2019. Visoski piloted Epstein’s various jets, which Epstein used to transport young women.
Several victims have said that at least one of his planes was fitted with cushioned floors so that it could be used for sex. At least one girl said they were directed to dress as candy stripers and in other provocative dress for the benefit of Epstein, Maxwell and other powerful people who flew on his plane over the years.
Visoski, however, has previously testified in civil suits that he was not privy to what went on outside the cockpit, and that he was unaware of any minors who were on the plane. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey questioned Visoski briefly on the witness stand Monday, asking him how and when he met Epstein and Maxwell — and whether he kept track of the people he flew on Epstein’s planes.
“It wasn’t a priority,” Visoski said of keeping records of passengers, later saying that the private jets gave Epstein and other passengers a lot of freedom because they aren’t monitored.
“Flying private, security is much less,” he said. “You don’t have TSA, you don’t have x-rays, you come and go as you please, pretty much. Some airports even let you drive your car directly onto the ramp next to the aircraft and unload.” Comey appeared to be trying to show that Maxwell was involved in scheduling some of the flights as well as some of the passengers. Visoski was so close to Epstein that Epstein sold him a piece of land adjacent to the financier’s Stanley, New Mexico, ranch, where the pilot built a lavish vacation home. He said he considered Maxwell someone who managed Epstein’s households, not as a girlfriend. “I never witnessed them kiss or hold hands,” he said.
In opening arguments Monday — the first day of trial — prosecutors said Epstein and Maxwell were “partners in crime,” targeting vulnerable minors they lured with promises of helping them realize their education or career goals through scholarships, financial assistance and connections in the fashion and entertainment worlds. However, defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim insisted that Maxwell is being used as a “stand-in” for Epstein, who died in 2019, leaving prosecutors without a culprit to blame for the elaborate sex-trafficking scheme he operated for nearly two decades in Palm Beach, New York, New Mexico and on his private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
While prosecutors portrayed Maxwell as Epstein’s right-hand lieutenant, Sternheim suggested that she, too, fell into Epstein’s web. She described Epstein as a charming “21st century James Bond” who had “many positive traits” and gave portions of his fortune generously to worthy causes. “This case is about three things: Memory, manipulation and money,” Sternheim told the jury. “These are memories from over a quarter of a century ago, and these are women who were manipulated by their desire for a jackpot of money.”
“The defendant was Epstein’s closest associate and second in command. She was involved in every detail of Epstein’s life,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz. “During the 10 years that the defendant and Epstein committed these crimes together, the defendant was the lady of the house.” Pomerantz said Maxwell demanded that employees of Epstein never speak about the girls and young women. “Employees were to see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. There was a culture of silence,” she said. “That was by design, the defendant’s design, because behind closed doors, the defendant and Epstein were committing heinous crimes.”
Maxwell, dressed in a cream-colored turtleneck and dark slacks, appeared engaged in the proceedings as she whispered to her team of attorneys and, at one point, waved to her sister, Isabel, who was seated in the front row. At least four other courtrooms were set aside for the crowd overflow, and all of them were full. “I can’t believe this day has come,” said Sarah Ransome, a South African woman who successfully sued Maxwell and Epstein in 2017 for trafficking her when she was 22. “I’m here to support the victims.” Sarah Ransome, who says she was sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein as an adult, appeared at the trial of the late financier’s associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Manhattan. ‘I never thought this day would come,’ she said.
Ransome, who is not testifying in the case, said she had a restless night on the eve of the trial and has been anxious about the proceeding ever since Maxwell was first arrested in July 2020 at a 156-acre estate in New Hampshire, where Maxwell had been living under the radar. “Everyone’s been scratching their heads this last year,” Ransome said. “I’ve been very nervous.” Epstein was arrested in July 2019 on federal sex-trafficking charges but died in his cell a month after his arrest. Authorities ruled his death a suicide by hanging.
Maxwell’s lawyers maintain that she is being tried in his place, and that the evidence against her is thin. There are no eyewitnesses and no documentation to support the allegations, Sternheim told jurors. “You are not here to judge whether Epstein committed crimes; you are here to determine whether the government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ghislaine Maxwell committed the crimes charged,’’ she said.
Epstein had negotiated an extraordinary plea deal with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida in 2008 when his crimes first came to light. The federal deal was the subject of the Miami Herald’s 2018 “Perversion of Justice” series. The series’ renewed attention to the case led federal prosecutors in New York to reexamine it, bringing new charges against the financier in July 2019.
Alexander Acosta, the federal prosecutor who had signed off on Epstein’s 2008 plea, resigned from his position as U.S. labor secretary in response to the backlash. Maxwell has been held in federal custody since her July 2020 arrest, deemed a flight risk and denied release on bail four separate times. Her lawyers have argued about conditions in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, which include constant monitoring and what they have described as inedible food and undrinkable water.
At one point, one of her attorneys compared her accommodations to those of the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter as portrayed in the film “The Silence of the Lambs.” In the weeks leading up to trial, Maxwell’s legal team and federal prosecutors fought to define the boundaries of what could be discussed before the jury. Maxwell’s team won partial victories in limiting the testimony of two of the four accusers but lost their bid to block prosecutors from referring to the accusers as “victims.”
This story was originally published November 30, 2021 8:38 AM.