NEW YORK — A lawyer for Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime companion of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, revealed swaths of Maxwell’s defense strategy Monday at the start of her sex-trafficking trial, saying she would try to cast doubt on the credibility of alleged victims and their motive for testifying.

Defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim suggested that the young women who will take the stand stepped forward in part for financial gain. She told jurors they received millions in compensation from an Epstein victims’ compensation fund and were eligible for more payments if they cooperated with law enforcement.

“You will hear that the accusers themselves were manipulated by those around them,” Sternheim said during opening arguments in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, including by civil lawyers, “who saw Epstein and [Maxwell] as easy targets.”

More than two years after Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in jail, the sex-trafficking trial of his longtime partner, Ghislaine Maxwell opened on Nov. 29. (Reuters)

In an effort to undermine the alleged victims’ recollections, Sternheim said the defense team will present testimony on “how false memories can be created through suggestive activities, information and influence.”

Epstein’s history as a predator of underage girls has been widely covered in news media, documentaries and books. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz on Monday cited that history as she detailed the allegations against Maxwell, saying the former socialite peddled children to the wealthy investor between 1994 and 2004 so that she could continue to enjoy her own lavish lifestyle.

“While this horrific abuse was going on behind closed doors, [Maxwell] was jet-setting in private planes and living a life of extraordinary luxury,” Pomerantz said.

Maxwell, whose father was Britain-based media mogul Robert Maxwell, is accused of luring girls as young as 14 to give sexualized massages to Epstein at his villa in Palm Beach, Fla., his mansion in New York and other homes in his real estate portfolio.

Her charges include sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy as well as counts related to facilitating the travel of minors for illegal sex acts. If convicted on all counts, she would face up to 70 years in prison.

The trial is expected to last about six weeks.

Maxwell appeared in court on Monday wearing a cream-colored sweater and black dress pants. Per courthouse pandemic measures, people were masked. Attorneys only removed their face coverings when speaking. The witness box was outfitted with a plexiglass barricade.

Pomerantz told the jury that one of the four alleged victims who will testify during the trial was just 14 when she was approached by Maxwell and Epstein at her summer camp. The girl, whose real name will not be used in court, and her mother were lured into Epstein’s and Maxwell’s world with promises that the well-heeled pair would help her pursue her dreams.

Epstein’s victims were “not professional masseuses,” Pomerantz told jurors. “They were being sexually exploited and abused . . . a way for the defendant to ensure that Epstein, who demanded constant sexual gratification from young girls, remained satisfied.”

Sternheim, one of several lawyers defending Maxwell, referred to Epstein as “the elephant” in the courtroom and argued that Maxwell is wrongly being connected to the late sex offender’s misdeeds.

She said Maxwell was taking the heat for Epstein, whose death in Bureau of Prisons custody while awaiting trial in 2019 was ruled a suicide. “Ghislaine Maxwell is on trial because of her association with Jeffrey Epstein,” Sternheim argued. “She is a scapegoat for a man who behaved badly.”

Epstein’s arrest in 2019 was a key second chance for authorities to hold him accountable after a controversial plea deal a decade earlier.

He pleaded guilty to Florida state charges of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution and served about a year in a local jail, with significant time spent outside of the facility in a work-release program.

Maxwell was arrested about a year after Epstein died by suicide in his New York jail cell. She has been held without bond ever since.

During the trial, her defense lawyers are expected to call a psychologist who will discuss “false memories” and how memory can morph over time.

Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus also testified at producer Harvey Weinstein’s rape and sexual assault trial in New York last year in an effort by the defense to discredit the testimony of several women. Weinstein was convicted, however, and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

On Monday, Sternheim tried to raise doubts about the credibility of the accuser who prosecutors say was 14 when she was first abused by Epstein. The young woman is now a successful actress. She received $5 million in a settlement from a victim’s compensation fund set up to pay Epstein’s accusers from his estate.

Other women who will testify during the trial received between $1.5 million and $3.5 million from the fund, Sternheim said. She also told jurors that not all of the women were underage when they were allegedly recruited.