UPDATE: FBI arrests close friend of Jeffrey Epstein in sex trafficking probe

Feds call Ghislaine Maxwell ‘one of the villains of this investigation’

The FBI has arrested the longtime girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced billionaire money manager and convicted sex offender who was found dead in his New York jail cell last summer after he was arrested for sex trafficking underage girls. 

Watch the news conference here:

Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite, heiress and Epstein confidante, was taken into custody around 8:30 Thursday morning in Bedford, New Hampshire, as part of the ongoing federal investigation into his alleged crimes, according to reports citing federal officials.

She was expected to appear in Manhattan federal court later Thursday to answer to a 16-count indictment that accuses her of being an accomplice to Epstein and conspiring with him to recruit young girls for sex as far back as 1994. The charges include two counts of perjury, and some charges stem from alleged crimes committed in London, according to reports.

"In some instances, Maxwell was present for and participated in the sexual abuse of minor victims," the indictment states, according to a report by NBC4 New York.

FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney called Maxwell “one of the villains of this investigation.”

Before now, Maxwell had only been implicated in the convoluted series of civil lawsuits against Epstein, who was her close companion for decades.

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the search for other alleged co-conspirators “remains ongoing,” then added that her office was interested in interviewing another old friend of Epstein’s. “We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk to us,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

Credit: Chris Ison

Credit: Chris Ison

The daughter of late British media mogul Robert Maxwell has been under suspicion in the case for some time but now becomes the first to face criminal charges stemming from the accusations leveled against Epstein. He faced at least 18 civil matters altogether, all related to the sexual abuse of minors. Maxwell is mentioned by name in five of those cases as a co-defendant.

In court documents from 2015, one young victim accused Maxwell of helping Epstein groom teenage girls for liaisons with his wealthy and powerful cronies.

A year later, in a 2016 federal appeals court deposition, Epstein refused to say whether Maxwell ever participated in any of the abuses.

She previously has denied wrongdoing and called the claims against her “absolute rubbish,” the AP reported.

Epstein was convicted in Florida in 2008 of two counts of soliciting prostitution with an underage girl. Epstein avoided significant jail time, although he did serve 13 months of “work release” in a controversial deal that was overseen by then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta. Epstein also had to register as a sex offender.

At the time, federal investigators identified at least 36 underage girls whom Epstein had allegedly abused.

Subsequent investigations into those cases led to his arrest on July 6, 2019, in New York as the financier stepped off his luxury private jet, which he allegedly used to transport girls between his various homes across the country.

His last days

Epstein, 66, had been awaiting trial on federal charges for the sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York when he was found hanged in his jail cell on Aug. 10.

The medical examiner later ruled Epstein’s death a suicide.

In the aftermath, a judge dismissed all criminal charges against Epstein on Aug. 29, and two guards on duty when Epstein died were charged with felonies for failing to monitor him properly.

Jeffrey Epstein statue appears

Maxwell's arrest came one day after a life-sized mannequin that resembled a bronze statue of Epstein appeared mysteriously outside the Albuquerque, New Mexico, City Hall on Wednesday morning, according to KOAT News 7.

Credit: Social media photo

Credit: Social media photo

Below the effigy was a plaque that read in part: “He had a home in New Mexico, Zorro Ranch. He was also a rapist who died in prison,” followed by a list of 18 court cases involving Epstein dating back to 2008. Maxwell’s name also appears five times as a defendant.

Credit: Social media photo

Credit: Social media photo

One week ago, a fund that was set up to compensate Epstein’s victims opened for claims, enabling dozens of women attacked by the financier when they were as young as 14 to seek a cut of his $630 million estate.

— This is a developing story. Please stay with AJC.com for the latest updates.