As British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell fights for a new criminal trial in New York, she’s also battling the estate of Jeffrey Epstein to pay her legal bills.
Maxwell filed a lawsuit seeking money from Epstein’s estate for attorneys’ fees and security costs in March 2020, months before the FBI arrested her for grooming and abusing underage girls for the financier’s teenage sex ring. The 60-year-old socialite, who was convicted of sex-trafficking last December and is thus far the only Epstein associate to face charges, has maintained her innocence.
On March 9, attorneys for Maxwell and the estate joined a court conference in the U.S. Virgin Islands to discuss next steps for the civil case—which estate lawyers argue should be dismissed because, among other things, Maxwell cannot be indemnified for “intentional wrongdoing, including criminal conduct” as a matter of public policy.
Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks ordered both sides to submit briefings on the issue by Aug. 1, after Maxwell’s lawyer Kyle Waldner requested they wait until “we are certain of the outcome of the SDNY proceedings.” Waldner was referring to Maxwell’s recent conviction, which the socialite is seeking to overturn in light of a juror failing to disclose his history of childhood sexual abuse during jury selection.
“We understand that there are some unique issues going on right now and we have no objection to that,” said estate lawyer Christopher Kroblin, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Manhattan federal prosecutors and Maxwell’s defense team filed pleadings last week over her bid for a retrial. It’s unclear when Judge Alison Nathan will rule on Maxwell’s request.
But the outcome of the criminal matter could impact the socialite’s fight to get money from Epstein’s estate, which was worth more than $650 million when the financier died and is now valued at less than $190 million.
“She has an uphill battle but, if they did contemplate an indemnification agreement, it is likely Epstein intended to cover legal fees for criminal acts.”
Two years ago, Maxwell sued Epstein’s estate to indemnify her and advance her money for attorneys’ fees, security costs, finding safe housing, and other expenses that she claims to have incurred because of her past employment with Epstein.
“Maxwell receives regular threats to her life and safety which have required her to hire personal security services and find safe accommodation,” the complaint alleged.
“During the course of their relationship, including while Maxwell was in Epstein’s employ, Epstein promised Maxwell that he would support her financially,” the filing stated, adding that around 2004, Epstein sent her a typewritten letter pledging to do so. Such documentation, however, wasn’t attached to her lawsuit.
Maxwell’s suit also claimed Epstein’s longtime personal attorney Darren Indyke, as the executor of the multimillionaire sex offender’s estate, “also made assurances” that her legal fees “would be reimbursed by Epstein and the Estate.”
“Indyke told Maxwell that her legal fees would be paid because she would not have incurred any legal expenses but for Epstein’s alleged misconduct, and that Epstein’s promises would be honored,” the filing continued.
In a motion to dismiss filed before Maxwell’s arrest, Kroblin wrote, “Maxwell does not allege that any lawsuits for which she seeks indemnification are related to her performance of legitimate, employment-related duties for Mr. Epstein or his affiliated businesses.”
“To the contrary, the claims asserted against Maxwell to date relate to her own misconduct including that she sexually abused young women and, in one case, threatened a potential witness’ life,” Kroblin wrote.
He pointed out that Maxwell was facing a lawsuit from Annie Farmer, who accused her of sexual abuse and claimed she threatened her sister, Maria. Farmer would later be one of four victims to testify against Maxwell at her criminal trial in New York.
After Maxwell was indicted, Kroblin submitted a filing arguing that, “As a matter of public policy, Maxwell cannot be indemnified for intentional wrongdoing, including criminal conduct.” A footnote in the September 2020 document added, “Courts across the country—including in New York, where the underlying actions against Maxwell are pending—hold that indemnification for intentional wrongdoing is against public policy because it would promote illegality and allow a wrongdoer to cause intentional injury with impunity.”
Daniel Weiner, a lawyer for the estate, told The Daily Beast that it has “consistently declined Ms. Maxwell’s requests for indemnification” and “formally moved in May 2020 to have the USVI Superior Court dismiss that lawsuit.”
“One of the arguments in the Estate’s motion rests on established law that it would violate public policy to indemnify someone for their own criminal acts,” Weiner said in an email. “Because Ms. Maxwell’s criminal conviction occurred after completion of the briefing on the Estate’s motion to dismiss, the Court recently asked both sides to submit additional briefing on that single issue.”
Weiner argues that regardless of Maxwell’s conviction status, the estate’s position is that she is “legally ineligible for contractual or common-law indemnity.”
“If her conviction were vacated, that would not constitute exoneration nor would it entitle her to indemnification—rather, we’d be in the same position as in May 2020, when the Estate moved to dismiss her indemnification claim in its entirety,” Weiner added. “And, as you know, the Government may seek to retry her on the same or similar criminal charges in front of a different jury.”
“She subpoenaed Epstein’s banks, employees, women in his orbit, and friends including billionaires Leon Black and Glenn Dubin.”
Rachel Fiset, managing partner of Zweiback, Fiset & Coleman in Los Angeles and who isn’t involved in the Maxwell case, said that if Maxwell “is to be indemnified by his estate, she will likely need to produce a writing stating the terms of her indemnification, convince a jury that they had an oral contract that indemnified her for all actions, or argue successfully that under the common law definition she should be indemnified because their business was a criminal enterprise and she was simply, passively, acting at his direction in committing the crimes for which she has been convicted.”
“She has an uphill battle,” Fiset told The Daily Beast, “but, if they did contemplate an indemnification agreement, it is likely Epstein intended to cover legal fees for criminal acts.”
According to Fiset, if Maxwell did indeed have Epstein’s promise to support her economically in writing, the document “should clearly lay out the terms under which the estate would be responsible for her legal fees.”
“If the contract does not specifically include that there is no indemnity for intentional or criminal acts, she has a strong case against the estate particularly given the ‘business’ relationship upon which any indemnity would be based,” Fiset said. “The relationship between Maxwell and Epstein was built on potentially criminal acts—and the foreseeable legal costs for which she would require indemnity would relate to those crimes.
“Accordingly, unless criminal acts are specifically drafted out of an agreement between them, she has a strong argument in favor of her fees.”
Meanwhile, the government of the U.S. Virgin Islands has asked to intervene in Maxwell’s case against the estate, claiming the litigation could impact its own civil racketeering suit against Epstein’s companies and henchmen. The suit, filed by Attorney General Denise George, accused Epstein and his firm, the Southern Trust Company, of misleading the government to “fraudulently obtain” more than $80 million in tax breaks. The complaint also accused the late sex offender and his businesses of human trafficking, forced labor, sexual servitude, and even forcing victims into arranged marriages.
As part of the litigation, George placed criminal activity liens on Epstein’s Virgin Islands assets and properties, freezing the estate’s bank accounts and requiring the estate to ask her to release funds to pay certain expenses and claims from the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program. And she subpoenaed Epstein’s banks, employees, women in his orbit like Sarah Kellen, and friends including billionaires Leon Black and Glenn Dubin, Harvard professor Martin Nowak, and now-deceased French modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel.
In a July 2020 motion, filed days after Maxwell’s arrest in New Hampshire, the Caribbean territory indicated that it was also investigating her “participation” in Epstein’s sex ring and had attempted to serve her with a subpoena for months but her lawyers refused to accept service or disclose her location.
Assistant Attorney General Ariel Smith wrote that “if Maxwell succeeds on her undocumented and otherwise suspect claim against the Epstein Estate for indemnification and ‘advancement’ of legal expenses, this will diminish the Estate’s available funds to satisfy the judgment the Government seeks against it” in the civil racketeering action.
Smith also suggested that Maxwell and the Epstein estate “are not truly adversarial.” In response, Waldner called such claims by the government “unsupported innuendos.”
Still, the government’s suit against Epstein’s estate could soon reach a settlement. Daniel Ruzumna, an attorney for co-executor Richard Kahn, said at a March 9 hearing that the parties were “extraordinarily close to a resolution” save for a few “sticky” issues.
Another of Kahn’s lawyers, Gordon Rhea, chimed in: “We’ve been having intense negotiations and talks for settlement. We are very, very, very close and I think one more push perhaps with the involvement of the mediator and we can be at the finish line.”
Chief Deputy Attorney General Carol Thomas-Jacobs did not seem as optimistic, saying they’d held “numerous settlement discussions” and tried meditation but failed to resolve the case.
In response, Judge Willocks said, “Well, I think the parties, especially the Government, need to be concerned about exactly, you know, the true victim in this matter.
“I’m not saying that the V.I. Government is not,” Willocks added. “I think that the resolution of this matter as quickly as it can would truly benefit those who have been subjected to the degradation and everything else from Mr. Epstein.”
Willocks gave both sides 90 days to resolve the case, followed by 30 days of mediation if they can’t come to an agreement.
“The estate also requested $212,000 in operating expenses for Epstein’s New Mexico ranch and $52,000 for the storage of fine art.”
The judge then asked Thomas-Jacobs about the estate’s March 4 emergency motion requesting more than $1.7 million for unpaid bills. In that filing, estate lawyer Shari D’Andrade alleged: “The Government, once again and without justification, is impeding the lawful administration of the Estate and jeopardizing the value of the Estate’s assets by sitting on an Estate request for a release of funds to pay expenses for three months.”
“Vendors are now charging the Estate late fees, service providers are refusing to perform work or deliver critical supplies, and legal fees are now six months old,” D’Andrade wrote.
D’Andrade also claimed that the government refuses to lift liens on Epstein’s two private islands, Little St. James and Great Saint James, preventing their sale and forcing the estate to “spend considerable” funds to maintain them. “In the past year alone, the Estate has spent over $750,000.00 to maintain those properties,” D’Andrade stated. “We expect to file another motion regarding the pendency of these two property liens in the near future.”
Thomas-Jacobs told the court that the government had recently released $360,000 to the estate and another $50,000 for the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program but was “very concerned about the dissipation of the assets.” The attorney general, Thomas-Jacobs said, had so far released more than $140 million to pay women as part of the Epstein victims’ fund and $15 million to pay the estate’s attorneys’ fees.
Willocks, who appeared skeptical of the liens, told Thomas-Jacobs, “I have some issues with how the government is handling this case to be quite honest with you, you know.”
Marc Weinstein, an attorney for Indyke, argued that the estate still needed funds to pay outstanding legal fees. “I will note that the attorneys’ fees that we are seeking in this motion which are back from October, November, the large majority of that is for estate’s counsel to mediate 28 separate mediations in a two-month span in which they ultimately settled by the end of the year 25 cases for 25 claimants,” Weinstein told the court.
“That’s the money that the government will not let us pay the lawyers for,” he added.
Thomas-Jacobs reiterated that she was worried about “the precipitous dissipation” of Epstein’s assets. “When this case started out when the probate started, we’re talking about an estate worth over $650 million dollars. Now we’re talking about an estate that’s worth under some $190 million dollars. A lot of this estate is gone.”
She added that “some of these expenses are just outrageous” and that she feared “in the end there will be no monies left for the People of the Virgin Islands.”
Willocks asked Thomas-Jacobs why the government hadn’t articulated what it is specifically seeking from the estate, to which she replied, “The defendants know exactly what we want. They are very much aware of it. It’s just, you know, the issue here is trying to come up with an agreement that I guess everybody can live with.”
Weinstein said the estate spent $175 million on taxes and $150 million on the victims’ fund. “That’s $325 million dollars just for taxes and victims,” he said. “I assume nobody on the government’s side is saying we shouldn’t pay the taxes and we shouldn’t pay out to the victims.”
Willocks scheduled a hearing on the emergency motion for May 6.
Exhibits filed in court revealed that in December, Weinstein requested $1.28 million to cover legal fees for the previous two months and more than $76,000 for “third-party indemnification of legal fees,” apparently for other Epstein employees.
The estate also requested $212,000 in operating expenses for Epstein’s New Mexico ranch and $52,000 for the storage of fine art. Weinstein revealed in an email to the attorney general that the estate sold a “certain Prytanee artwork in Paris” for about $160,000, which he said would be enough to cover expenses for Epstein’s lair in France.