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As pressure mounts on Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein's longtime associate and alleged madam, so has public speculation over why she hasn't yet been criminally charged.
Former federal prosecutors told INSIDER that after Epstein's death on August 10, Maxwell is effectively the new "kingpin" of an alleged sex trafficking conspiracy that prosecutors will try to take down.
But amid public outrage over allegations that Maxwell recruited and groomed young girls for Epstein, experts warn that investigators have a mountain of evidence still to go through.
Prosecutors likely won't bring charges unless they have the case buttoned up and ready to be brought to trial, the former prosecutors said.
When Jeffrey Epstein died by an apparent suicide in his Manhattan jail cell on August 10, he effectively dismantled a sweeping sex trafficking and conspiracy case against him that summed up years' worth of allegations that he preyed on young girls.
Members of Epstein's inner circle, whom victims have accused of facilitating Epstein's abuse, previously stood a chance at leveraging information and testimony against Epstein to win a deal with prosecutors. Now, that leverage is gone, legal experts said.
"To use financial terminology, with Mr. Epstein's suicide the currency they had has been devalued substantially," Jacob Frenkel, a former federal criminal prosecutor, told INSIDER.
Perhaps no one has lost out more than Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's longtime associate and alleged madam whom victims have claimed groomed and recruited them. Maxwell has denied the accusations.
"His death makes her the top of the food chain in terms of who you're going after. Because if she was the right-hand person who was the most involved in this, then everyone else was working under the two of them," David Weinstein, a former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told INSIDER. "She gets now put in the kingpin position."
As pressure mounts on Maxwell, so has public speculation over why she hasn't yet been criminally charged or why she's apparently been so difficult to track down.
In recent days, rumors have swirled that Maxwell was hiding out in a Massachusetts mansion, or lying low in France. In fact, she was photographed on Monday at a Los Angeles In-N-Out burger reading a book about the CIA, according to The New York Post.
Prosecutors won't make a move until their case is airtight
But experts warned against expecting a swift outcome, or for prosecutors to lay charges, no matter how easy she is to find.
"This is not a television show where you see a crime in the first minute and an arrest in the 10th," Frenkel said. "These cases take time, and prosecutors do not want to file charges until they are ready to go to trial."
For instance, investigators are still actively gathering evidence in the case — it was only on Tuesday that the FBI raided Epstein's Virgin Island home and seized his computers there. Just last month, agents raided Epstein's Manhattan mansion and came away with a trove of photographs of nude or partially nude girls or women and other documents.
AP Photo/Gianfranco Gaglione
Beyond that, authorities are also likely examining bank records, flight records, and other materials they may have subpoenaed, Weinstein said.
"The US Attorney's Office wants to have everything buttoned down in terms of who they're talking to," he said, adding that there are likely many behind-the-scenes conversations with co-conspirators over possible testimony they could provide.
"They're trying to decide are we going to use their testimony against Maxwell? Do we need their testimony? Are they going to accept the deal that we're willing to offer them to testify against Maxwell?" Weinstein said.
And though Maxwell has previously been accused in multiple lawsuits, affidavits, and court filings of recruiting and even sexually abusing victims, prosecutors will need corroboration like other witnesses or physical evidence to prove their accusations.
"They're going to have to prove that she was a knowing, intentional participant in a conspiracy to traffic underage minors as sex slaves. Mere presence isn't going to be enough," Weinstein said.
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An additional wrench in the investigation into Maxwell could be the widely criticized 2007 non-prosecution agreement that protected Epstein and other co-conspirators against criminal charges.
Though the plea deal did not mention Maxwell by name, it vowed that federal prosecutors "will not institute any criminal charges against any potential co-conspirators of Epstein, including but not limited to Sarah Kellen, Adriana Ross, Lesley Groff, or Nadia Marcinkova."
"If I'm representing Maxwell, I'm gonna focus on that phrase, 'including but not limited to,'" Weinstein said. "But [prosecutors] certainly are going to disagree that that gives her immunity, and they're going to pursue their investigation … It's going to be an issue for the judge to determine: was that immunity applicable to her?"