British socialiste Ghislaine Maxwell is seeking a release from jail as she awaits trial, her lawyers said on Friday, citing concerns about coronavirus outbreaks in federal prisons.
The socialite is a former associate of Jeffrey Epstein and was charged in the United States with facilitating his alleged exploitation and sexual abuse of underage girls.
The acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, said last week that the 58-year-old woman had played a "critical role" in befriending and grooming the victims - and in some cases took part in the abuse herself.
Her lawyers are now seeking she be released on bail of $5 million (€4.4 million) under conditions including home confinement in the New York City area and electronic monitoring.
She would also have to surrender her travel documents: she carries British, French and U.S. passports.
The defence lawyers cited coronavirus risks for Maxwell stating that if "she continues to be detained, her health will be at serious risk and she will not be able to receive a fair trial."
Epstein killed himself last year in jail while facing sex trafficking charges, and now Maxwell's lawyers argue she is a scapegoat for the disgraced financier.
After Epstein's death, “the media focus quickly shifted to our client - wrongly trying to substitute her for Epstein - even though she’d had no contact with Epstein for more than a decade, had never been charged with a crime or been found liable in any civil litigation and has always denied any allegations of claimed misconduct,” the lawyers wrote in a preview of their defence, according to AP.
“Ghislaine Maxwell,” they added, “is not Jeffrey Epstein.”
But prosecutors allege that Maxwell had "enticed minor girls" as young as 14 and had normalised the abuse by undressing in front of them or being present as it took place. The incidents are said to have taken place between 1994 and 1997.