Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend and alleged groomer was finally located and arrested by federal authorities nearly a year to the day that Epstein himself was caught last summer.
While Maxwell was apprehended by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) early Thursday in the small town of Bradford, New Hampshire, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) is handling the inquiry. As the result of a brief hearing on Thursday afternoon between Maxwell and the government, the SDNY will have unopposed jurisdiction.
That result was hardly a surprise. But the specific SDNY unit taking charge of the Maxwell case immediately raised some eyebrows.
During a press conference, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss noted that the SDNY’s Public Corruption Unit would—like the Epstein case before—be tasked with overseeing the prosecution.
“I worked at SDNY and did sex trafficking cases,” noted former federal and state prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst Elie Honig via Twitter. “They do NOT run out of Public Corruption – unless there is some potential angle against a public official.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) describes the unit on its website:
The Public Corruption Unit works, in close partnership with the FBI and other federal, state and city investigative agencies to maintain and protect the integrity of all levels of government. The unit oversees the investigation and prosecution of corruption crimes committed by elected and appointed officials, government employees, and individuals and companies doing business with the city, state, and federal government. Corruption crimes investigated by the unit include bribery, embezzlement, and frauds committed against local, state, and federal government agencies.
“A case like this ordinarily would not be staffed out of Public Corruption,” Honig told Law&Crime. “It would ordinarily be staffed out of what’s now known as the Violent and Organized Crime Unit.”
The Violent and Organized Crime Unit is where the SDNY’s human and sex trafficking coordinators are located.
“The fact that it is staffed out of Public Corruption tells me that a public official–past or present–is involved in at least some capacity,” Honig continued. “Could mean a potential target, witness, or a potential co-conspirator. It could mean a lot of different things.”
The Maxwell case is necessarily rife with speculation as part of the general Epstein story about a mysteriously wealthy entrepreneur who allegedly ran a global child sex trafficking enterprise for years. Generally untouched by law enforcement, Epstein—when finally caught—was given a sweetheart plea deal where he admitted to charges of soliciting prostitution from a minor. During his sentence, he was allowed to work from home and entertain female guests while many of his unnamed co-conspirators were gifted an unprecedented and highly criticized non-prosecution agreement.
The U.S. Attorney who ran that initial investigation and widely believed sham of a prosecution later threw up his hands–complaining that he couldn’t really punish Epstein because of the serial sex offender’s apparent cachet with an unnamed “intelligence” agency. All the while, Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Donald Trump, Ehud Barak, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Prince Andrew and other global elites were known associates of Epstein and/or Maxwell–or at least appeared with them in photographs—many maintaining their relationships with the duo even after Epstein’s 2009 sentencing.
The involvement of the SDNY’s Public Corruption Unit may suggest that some of the more high-profile government figures associated with Epstein and Maxwell may somehow be involved with the case. Or, it may have something to do with the original deal Epstein received in Florida.
“The Public Corruption Unit was the unit that brought the original Epstein charges and thus these additional Maxwell charges, likely because of the involvement of public officials in Florida in giving Epstein the sweetheart plea deal a number of years ago,” noted former SDNY deputy chief and current CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers. “My educated guess is that part of this investigation has involved whether any of those officials had done anything wrong (like accepting bribes) in connection with that matter.”
In an email to Law&Crime, Rodgers said the new charges were “potentially bad news for anyone who may have been involved” but said it was unclear whether or not Maxwell herself would actually cooperate with the prosecution.
“[I]f she did presumably she would have information to share about other participants,” Rodgers said.
“[T]he Public Corruption Unit is the right home for this case (even though a straight-up sex trafficking case would be handled out of the Organized and Violent Crimes unit), but whether we will see any public officials charged remains to be seen,” she added.
Mimi Rocah, another former SDNY prosecutor and current Democratic nominee for Westchester County District Attorney, acknowledged the strange circumstances but cautioned not to read too much into the situation based on the facts available at present.
“I agree that it’s very unusual to have a human trafficking case in [the] PC Unit,” she said in an email. “But once the case was there originally they wouldn’t switch it now even if there are not public figure targets. So I don’t know that we can read that much into it standing alone.”
[image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images]