Claim: Sex crimes by dozens of public officials are connected to Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of Jeffrey Epstein.
Ghislaine Maxwell — charged July 2 for allegedly helping financier Jeffrey Epstein recruit and sexually exploit young girls — has been a popular target for conspiracy theorists.
Last year, Epstein killed himself in a New York jail, official autopsy results show, but conspiracy theories allege he was killed because he had damaging information about other powerful people.
That link helped fuel an array of theories around Maxwell, including debunked claims that she is connected to Wayfair (which another debunked theory ties to sex trafficking) and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Most recently Maxwell was in the headlines amid a court battle over documents from a 2015 civil defamation lawsuit Virginia Roberts Giuffre filed against her. Giuffre accused Epstein of abusing her and keeping her as a “sex slave” with assistance from Maxwell. A trove of those documents was released by a judge’s order on July 30, documents the Wall Street Journal described as primarily “civil depositions, affidavits and motions from years past.” But naturally other claims about those documents proliferated online.
One particularly widespread post — shared hundreds of thousands of times — starts out referencing Maxwell documents that were “unsealed some time yesterday.” It continues, “Here's what happened while y'all were distracted by bull (expletive).”
Many versions of the post include a wrong first name for Maxwell, or reference being distracted by COVID-19. But all go on to list nearly 100 high-profile people accused of sex crimes against children. Each is labeled with a party affiliation.
So the assertion is that these people were all connected to Maxwell and revealed by the latest cache of court documents.
But that’s nonsense.
Cases are real, but link isn't
The lengthy list includes all manner of offenders accused or convicted of sex crimes involving children.
It includes high-profile names like Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner and Epstein. It includes a host of local politicians like former Racine, Wis., Mayor Gary Becker — convicted in 2009 of sexual assault and child enticement — and former Stillwater, N.Y., Mayor Ricky Nelson, convicted for possessing child pornography in 2017. And it details a number of people labeled as Republicans or Democrats who don’t work directly in politics, including pastors, activists, donors and a radio host.
We spot-checked a number of the names and offenses listed and found the cases cited were real, though in some cases the list didn't get the details exactly right.
But there’s no link between this list and Maxwell.
For one, our review revealed a host of logical impossibilities.
The lawsuit was filed in 2015, but some of the incidents occurred after that date.
Many of the crimes cited involved online solicitation or child pornography but no in-person offense, so there’s no reason Maxwell would have played a role.
Many of the victims involved were children, stepchildren or others familiar to the offender, so there’s no reason a third party like Maxwell would have been involved.
In addition, elements of this list predate the Maxwell lawsuit by at least a decade.
Versions of this list have been circulating online for years, generally used to decry corruption in politics. We found several as far back as 2006 that included descriptions matching the latest Facebook posts word for word. They’ve appeared on Reddit, community and music message boards and all manner of obscure online hangouts.
PolitiFact rated this post False after reviewing the 638 pages of documents recently released in the Maxwell case. The website also compiled a list of the actual news accounts that match the descriptions on the list.
USA TODAY reached out to the man behind one oft-shared version of the post and did not receive a reply.
Our ruling: Partly False
We rate this claim PARTLY FALSE based on our research. While the names and offenses we researched on the list were generally accurate, connecting the list to Maxwell is not. The nature of many of the crimes cited make the involvement of a third-party like Maxwell unlikely or impossible, and some of the incidents even occurred after the lawsuit that supposedly revealed them. But most notably, elements of this list have been circulating online since at least 2006.
Our fact-check sources
Facebook post, July 31, 2020
The Guardian, "Ghislaine Maxwell: court unseals documents related to dealings with Epstein," July 30, 2020
Wall Street Journal, "Court Unseals Documents in Ghislaine Maxwell Lawsuit Related to Jeffrey Epstein," July 31, 2020
Scribd, "Jeffrey Epstein Documents - Unsealed Thursday, July 30, Uploaded by Law&Crime," July 30, 2020
PolitiFact, No, a list of sex cases on Facebook is not from unsealed Ghislaine Maxwell records, Aug. 6, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Racine mayor charged with five felony counts, July 15, 2009
Spectrum News, Former Stillwater mayor sentenced for child porn possession, June 19, 2018
Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Ghislaine Maxwell, public officials' sex crimes not linked