Fact Check: Does a Court Document List 'Ghislaine Maxwell's Coconspirators'?

The Ghislaine Maxwell trial, which is set to begin November 29 in New York City, has fueled speculation and unproven narratives about prominent individuals that conspiracy theorists believe could become entangled in the case.

The Claim

An official U.S. government court document has been shared on social media by accounts purporting that the nearly 40 defendants, including large companies, celebrities and public figures, are co-conspirators of Ghislaine Maxwell. Maxwell is a British socialite accused of grooming and trafficking underage girls to be abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein between 1994 and 2004. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

A copy of a Southern District of New York court filing was posted on Twitter and other social media platforms, both as a PDF file and a series of screengrabs, featuring a list of "defendants" that include, among others, Ghislaine Maxwell, Harvey Weinstein, Beyoncé Knowles and the Walt Disney company. Users posted the document alongside captions purporting that it shows the list of "Ghislaine Maxwell's coconspirators" in the sex trafficking case.

Some of the accounts also shared a link to the full filing on a U.S. government archive. The tweets received thousands of interactions over the past two days, while the image has also been shared extensively on Facebook, though engagement with those posts was more limited. Some of the users re-shared the images despite having doubts about their authenticity.

The Facts

This is an example of "false context" content—a type of disinformation that involves a deliberate misrepresentation of a genuine piece of information to drive a false or misleading narrative.

While the headline image is lacking the court case number, the full document linked to in some of the posts is labeled "Case 1:20-cv-07102-UA." Using PacerMonitor it is then possible to track down the original civil case, Latham et al v. The 1953 Trust et al.

The civil complaint dates back to August 2020, when it was filed by plaintiff Charlene Latham, and does indeed list the 38 individuals from the tweets, including Maxwell, as "defendants." The records state that the case was "dismissed as frivolous" by a judge on September 24, 2020. As the news media previously reported, Latham's suit was one of several dozen filed against the Epstein estate in various states over the past two years.

The lawsuit is unrelated to the criminal charges filed by the New York district court against Maxwell in June 2020, case number 1:20-cr-00330. Prosecutors in her case reportedly informed the defense that they will argue Maxwell had three co-conspirators: Epstein, and two people whose names have been redacted.

The Epstein case and Maxwell's upcoming trial have fueled numerous conspiracy theories, including QAnon-linked narratives about child sex trafficking rings in Hollywood and the U.S. political circles.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

The claim that the 38 individuals are listed as defendants in the Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking case is false. The list was in fact taken from court filings on an earlier unrelated lawsuit, which was dismissed as frivolous by a judge.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

Acting US Attorney for SDNY Audrey Strauss
A claim that the 38 individuals are listed as defendants in the Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking case is false. Above, in July 2020, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, announced charges against Maxwell, the former girlfriend of late financier Jeffrey Epstein. JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images