In a video hearing on Tuesday, prosecutor Alison Moe told Manhattan federal judge Alison Nathan that accused Jeffrey Epstein accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell has a spouse "whose identity she declined to provide to Pretrial Services."
Wait, she's married? And won't tell anybody to whom?
Town & Country reached out to a former prosecutor, James Zirin—a former assistant United States attorney, author, and television host—and a family law expert, Frederic J. Siegel— partner at the Connecticut-based family law firm Siegel & Kaufman—to see if this might all be part of a legal strategy.
What reasons could Ghislaine Maxwell have for not revealing the identity of her spouse?
Zirin: The most obvious and benign is that she's trying to shield the spouse from press inquiry and notoriety. Other reasons, however, could include that he may have knowledge of where her assets are and of crimes that she may have committed.
Can prosecutors force him or her to talk?
Zirin: There are two spousal privileges [in legal cases]. The first is that a spouse cannot be compelled to testify against the other spouse unless he or she wants to. That privilege is owned by the person who's being asked to testify. However, if Maxwell is estranged from her husband, or if it was kind of a joke marriage, he may be willing to testify against her.
The second privilege is of spousal communications, which says you can't be compelled to disclose something that your spouse told you in the course of the marital relationship. That's a privilege that's owned by the other spouse.
In other words, even if Maxwell’s secret spouse wanted to testify about something incriminating she said during the course of their marriage, she can prevent it.
Zirin: It's like attorney–client privilege. She owns that right.
Would prosecutors put him or her on the stand anyway?
Zirin: It’s somewhat unusual to bring a husband or wife into a case unless prosecutors have knowledge that the spouse has some complicity or some material evidence that could possibly escape spousal privilege and could be introduced.
If it was a complete surprise to investigators and prosecutors that Maxwell had a husband, I suppose they’d want to go into when they married and are they legally married. They could ask [in court], "Do you live with your wife? And how long have you been living with your wife? Where have you been with her?" There might be evidence that they traveled all over the world or to secret places, so that would bear on whether she's a flight risk.
Could Maxwell’s spouse protect her money?
Siegel: There may be reasons for a person to keep the identity of a spouse hidden if they’re facing a criminal financial penalty or civil lawsuit. For example, people who get sued a lot—either because it's something that commonly happens in their profession or because they engage in shady activity—often put their assets into their spouse’s name so they are protected.
People of means also put money into offshore accounts and create trusts. If it’s not in your name, it’s harder to attack. However, in divorce cases, for example, if someone started dumping funds into friends’ accounts right before [the filing], they could be accused of making fraudulent conveyances in anticipation of divorce.
What should Maxwell’s spouse do now?
Siegel: When I have a client whose spouse has been indicted for a serious crime [that my client didn’t know about], I usually recommend that they immediately file for divorce. Especially if they want to avoid the appearance that they have been involved in the criminal activity.
Is money another factor?
Siegel: When the person [who has been charged] is vulnerable and worrying about bigger things than the marriage, you might be able to get a much bigger settlement. Right now, all this [case against Maxwell] is is an indictment. She hasn’t been found guilty of anything. Better to grab the money now when you can because it all could be gone.”
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