NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The highly-anticipated sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell began with opening statements Monday in a Manhattan courtroom, not far from where her longtime partner, Jeffrey Epstein, died by an apparent suicide.

Epstein’s former girlfriend is charged with sex trafficking and working with Epstein to transport girls under 17 across state lines to be sexually abused, CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported.

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Prosecutors say Maxwell, 59, was Epstein’s “best friend and right hand,” calling her the “lady of the house,” who ran his properties and staff. They allege the two were “trafficking kids for sex” from about 1994 to 2004.

Maxwell’s role, they told the jury, was to recruit and groom girls as young as 14. She allegedly lured the teens by paying them hundreds of dollars to massage Epstein, who then sexually abused them. Prosecutors said Maxwell was sometimes in the room, helping to normalize the behavior and sometimes also touched the girls.

Maxwell and Epstein allegedly targeted young teens with single mothers and promised them scholarships, money, gifts and modeling jobs, among others.

The defense claims Maxwell is the “scapegoat,” arguing women are always blamed for the bad behavior of men. They told the jury Epstein’s death left a gap that Maxwell is filling.

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The defense likened Epstein to a mysterious “21st century James Bond,” with no wife, no children and no boss — a man who didn’t share all aspects of his life. They claimed many people of all ages used his private jets like a “Hampton Jitney in the air” to go to places other than his properties.

At trial, the jury is expected to hear from four alleged victims, their relatives, staff from Epstein’s properties, his pilots, and law enforcement witnesses to searches. The defense said they plan to show the accusers’ memories were corrupted and manipulated by “lawyers, media and money.”

Maxwell was seen whispering to her lawyers and taking and passing notes. It’s unclear if she will testify, CBS2’s Christina Fan reported.

Maxwell, who could spend the rest of her life in prison, pleaded not guilty and has been in a Brooklyn jail since her arrest in July 2020.

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CBS2’s Christina Fan contributed to this report.

Alice Gainer