One December evening in 2011, Silicon Valley power players appeared for an exclusive holiday party at a California country club. The annual fête was hosted by the Kleiner Perkins venture capital firm at the Menlo Circus Club, an elegant Atherton escape known for polo matches, horse shows and weddings of the well-heeled.
That night, guests clutched glasses from the open bar and mingled under wreathed chandeliers, a few of them angling for photos with former Vice President Al Gore. Some crashed the event, noshing canapés and hoping to network, while others made the rounds on behalf of companies in the Kleiner portfolio. At the entrance, visitors grabbed name tags from a long table. One guest told The Daily Beast that Kleiner was rumored to collect the badges when the party was over; if yours was still there, you were axed from next year’s festivities. “I saw at least one person who was picking up someone else’s name tag as a favor to keep them from getting 86’d,” the party-goer recalled.
Among the swarm of investors and entrepreneurs, one notorious visitor slipped into this members-only soiree seemingly unnoticed—Ghislaine Maxwell, accused madam to convicted sex predator Jeffrey Epstein. “I was shocked when I saw her there,” another eagle-eyed guest said of the disgraced socialite, who in 2011 was accused of recruiting underage girls for Epstein and is now facing criminal charges.
Maxwell had been invited by Juliet de Baubigny, a former Kleiner Perkins partner and British venture capitalist known to be friendly with Gwyneth Paltrow and Rupert Murdoch.
Still, de Baubigny wasn’t Maxwell’s only connection to the high-technology scene. After Epstein’s 2008 plea deal, the 58-year-old heiress name-dropped Silicon Valley contacts to lure people to her oceans charity and waded into TEDx talks and other events, including a conference at Google in Mountain View, California.
Epstein and Maxwell ran in the same circles as tech titans including Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos and ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt—and in recent years, Maxwell was reportedly shacking up Scott Borgerson, a Boston-area tech entrepreneur. (Schmidt invested in Borgerson’s company, though a source says the funding had nothing to do with Maxwell.)
Indeed, the perverted pair appeared to make Silicon Valley their new target after Epstein was released from jail in Palm Beach.
Acquaintances drawn to Maxwell’s former charity, the TerraMar Project, told The Daily Beast that she often boasted about her supposed friendships with Bezos and Schmidt, especially when trying to court donors and supporters. (None of the tech bigwigs have been implicated in Epstein’s sex ring.)
As Maxwell worked to reinvent herself as an environmental activist, she rubbed elbows with Bezos, Schmidt and Tesla chief Elon Musk at events, and gave speeches before the United Nations, an assembly in Iceland, and even a Texas university.
The lecture circuit wasn’t enough to diminish her decades-long ties to Epstein and accusations from victims that she took part in the sexual abuse herself.
After Maxwell’s indictment earlier this month for grooming and enticing girls, tech investor Ellen Pao took to Twitter to criticize Kleiner Perkins, her former employer, for allowing the disgraced heiress to attend their annual holiday bash.
“She was at the Kleiner holiday party in 2011, but I had no desire to meet her much less have a photo taken with her,” Pao fumed in one post. “We knew about her supplying underage girls for sex, but I guess that was fine with the ‘cool’ people who managed the tightly controlled guest list.”
Pao followed up with a clarification: “To be clear, the press had described her as supplying underage girls for sex, but she had not been charged so I guess it would be more accurate to say we ‘suspected’ v ‘knew.’”
Sources say de Baubigny had agreed to place Maxwell, an acquaintance with whom she shares mutual friends, on the guest list.
“She was a name-dropper… She had an incredible list of connections that was very impressive to hear of.”
De Baubigny could not be reached for comment. But a source with knowledge of the situation told The Daily Beast that de Baubigny met Maxwell at an X Prize Foundation dinner around 2010 and saw her at other events, initially knowing her as Gateway co-founder Ted Waitt’s girlfriend who helmed a climate change project.
The day of the Kleiner Perkins party—then described by Business Insider as “super exclusive,” with guests including Gore, Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy and former Hulu CTO Eric Feng—Maxwell allegedly phoned de Baubigny and asked if she could attend. De Baubigny, who’d invited dozens of people, agreed to let her in. Maxwell, the source said, dropped in briefly before moving to other events on her itinerary.
One Kleiner Perkins insider told The Daily Beast they were stunned to see Maxwell at the festivities, especially because one senior person at the firm was against Maxwell’s invitation to the event. (The firm declined to comment.)
Yet Maxwell was a social chameleon, adept at blending into elite circles and assuming the right personas. In the last decade, she presented herself not as Epstein’s major-domo, but as a deep-sea diver, submarine pilot, helicopter pilot and emergency medical technician. During a Texas university presentation, Maxwell was introduced as “president of the global consulting firm, Ellmax, where she has led a number of private equity deals.”
A TerraMar slideshow obtained by The Daily Beast claims Maxwell “has a successful background in venture capital and currently runs a head-hunting firm which places board members and chairmen.”
“She was a name-dropper,” said one researcher who attended a 2013 salon dinner at Maxwell’s Manhattan home, where he glimpsed photos of Maxwell with former President Clinton and Pope John Paul II. “She had an incredible list of connections that was very impressive to hear of. Some of them were legitimized by other key people in the ocean science world or the philanthropic world.”
Schmidt, the researcher added, was mentioned by Maxwell “in relation to the TerraMar Project and his interest in it.” (Another name invoked by Maxwell was Virgin entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who denied involvement with her charity. His name, photo and a supportive quote, however, are featured on an archived version of TerraMar’s website.)
“She was always trying to pitch the TerraMar Project,” the researcher said. “Some of us were trying to raise money and quickly discovered she was trying to raise money too. It became obvious to a lot of us that she had limited resources or didn’t want to use those resources. It was about what we could do for her, rather than what she could do for us.”
The researcher, who asked to remain anonymous, said he distanced himself from Maxwell after the dinner, where “it was mentioned to me that she was trying to overcome a PR problem and that her focus on oceans was a way of reintroducing her to New York and to the U.S. political establishment.”
Schmidt declined to comment to The Daily Beast. But a source close to him said the ex-Google titan met Maxwell a handful of times over the years, but that was the extent of their interactions; he never donated to her charity. Schmidt met Maxwell through Waitt, whom she was dating at the time, at an event linked to the Clinton Global Initiative, the source added.
Meanwhile, Schmidt was an investor in CargoMetrics, the company launched by Borgerson, Maxwell’s boyfriend and rumored secret “husband.” (The source connected to Schmidt said the technology executive made a small, one-time investment in Borgerson’s firm, and that Borgerson independently approached Schmidt. Maxwell, the source said, played no role in the funding request.)
“She was trying to overcome a PR problem and that her focus on oceans was a way of reintroducing her to New York and to the U.S. political establishment.”
According to a 2016 Financial Times report, Schmidt and “a clutch of billionaires” backed the Boston-based CargoMetrics, a data-analytics firm that monitors the global maritime trade. Borgerson’s company raised about $20 million at the time.
Maxwell and Schmidt also attended the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík in October 2013, as did Borgerson—who would leave his wife for Maxwell the following year, according to reports in the Daily Mail and The Sun.
“She was good friends with Eric Schmidt,” one New York society regular told The Daily Beast of Maxwell, adding that when the pair was spotted together around 2012 and 2013, they seemed “thick as thieves.” The source added, “I saw them together at events … I almost thought they had a romantic relationship going on.”
Maxwell name-dropped Bezos often, too, according to one acquaintance who once worked with the TerraMar Project and visited her Manhattan abode.
“She was good friends with Eric Schmidt … I saw them together at events … I almost thought they had a romantic relationship going on.”
During a 2016 meeting at Maxwell’s apartment, the acquaintance met other guests including the former president of Iceland (Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, who runs the Arctic Circle Assembly she’s twice attended). “She bragged about knowing Jeff Bezos well a few times as I remember,” the onetime friend said. “All I remember is that she knew Bezos well. I guess it registered with me because I admire Bezos and his work.”
Yet Maxwell apparently wasn’t just name-checking. According to one Vice report, she and Borgerson attended Bezos’ ultra-exclusive book retreat in 2018. The annual event, known as Campfire, is held for a weekend each fall in Santa Fe, New Mexico (not far from Epstein’s nightmarish “baby ranch” in Stanley, where Maxwell and Epstein allegedly raped an underage girl, molested another girl, and where they welcomed visitors such as Prince Andrew and the Clinton family). One insider told Vice that Maxwell attended two other Campfire weekends before the 2018 event.
Bezos has not commented on his alleged ties to Maxwell. Representatives of Amazon and his space company, Blue Origin, did not return messages left by The Daily Beast.
Borgerson also didn’t return messages.
Last summer, he made headlines as Maxwell’s alleged lover, after Epstein killed himself in jail and the media focused on Maxwell’s whereabouts.
The Daily Mail reported the socialite was holed up with Borgerson, 14 years her junior, in his mansion in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts—where, according to the tabloid, neighbors “ostracized” the couple in early 2019 and sued them over shared paths and beach privileges once they discovered Maxwell’s identity.
Maxwell would later purchase a luxurious hideaway of her own in Bradford, New Hampshire, reportedly with help from Borgerson. A woman believed to be Maxwell, and a man posing as her spouse, introduced themselves as “Scott and Janet Marshall” before purchasing the nearly $1 million property through an LLC. Prosecutors said Scott told the real estate agent he “was retired from the British military and was currently working on a book,” while Janet “described herself as a journalist.”
“She bragged about knowing Jeff Bezos well a few times, as I remember.”
Since launching the TerraMar Project in 2012, Maxwell had traveled the country collecting boldfaced names to garner support for her effort.
She introduced herself to artist Shepard Fairey and his wife at one society event, asking him to design TerraMar’s flag and logo. Asked about his involvement with the group, Fairey said, “I am a fierce defender of our planet in the face of climate change. I work with many organizations, and many years ago, I was asked to help the TerraMar Project, which at the time I was excited about. My design agency got to work and created something we were all proud of. Years later, we have learned about the heinous crimes of the organization’s founder Ghislaine Maxwell.”
In summer of 2013, Maxwell held a press event at the United Nations on sustainable development before jetting off that winter to the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík, where she spoke about climate change.
The following April, Maxwell spoke at Ocean Agenda, a two-day conference at the Google West Campus in Mountain View. The event was organized by Jenifer Austin Foulkes, who ran the Google Ocean Program until leaving the company in 2018. (Foulkes, who didn’t return messages, participated in a Google Hangout hosted by TerraMar and was listed on the group’s now-defunct website as a supporter. She also participated in a plenary session with Schmidt at the 2013 Arctic Circle event.)
A video of Maxwell’s speech at Google reveals she told attendees TerraMar was partnering with a nonprofit that provides STEM curriculum for K-12 students. “I’m speaking to the state of Texas,” Maxwell claimed, adding, “We’re coming up with a curriculum based on the ocean and on the global commons.”
Maxwell was also featured at a TEDx conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, to discuss the TerraMar Project (the video of this speech was removed from YouTube). Days later, the British heiress gave a “Seminar for LifeLong Learners” at the University of Texas at Dallas, where her sister, Christine Malina-Maxwell, works.
Around the same time, Epstein tried to ingratiate himself with tech VIPs.
In March of 2011, he dined with entrepreneurs including Bezos and Musk at the Edge Foundation’s “billionaires’ dinner,” held at a swanky Italian restaurant in Long Beach, California, according to one BuzzFeed report.
The conversation also included Google cofounder Sergey Brin, then-Google executive Marissa Mayer and former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, who reportedly palled around with Epstein and visited his various mansions.
Three months later, Epstein attended a second Edge event at a California winery, where he hobnobbed with scientists, ex-Facebook president Sean Parker, and venture capitalist Nicholas Pritzker, whose firm invested in Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla. Pritzker’s name and photo were featured on a 2017 version of TerraMar’s website, with a supportive quote: “The future of healthy life on Earth depends on the health of the seas. I will be happy to carry my TerraMar passport,” referring to the nonprofit’s effort to have people become “citizens” of the high seas. Pritzker did not return messages left by The Daily Beast.
Epstein also mingled with tech moguls at exclusive Edge dinners years before. One 2004 “billionaires’ dinner” included Epstein, Bezos, Schmidt, Brin and fellow Google co-founder Larry Page.
At the 2002 annual Edge dinner, Bezos was photographed with Kelly Bovino, who is listed in Epstein’s Little Black Book and identified by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a survivor of Epstein’s sex-trafficking ring, as an employee and alleged procurer for Epstein.
For his part, Musk was quick to downplay any links to Epstein and Maxwell.
The Tesla CEO defended himself after Twitter users slammed him for smiling for a photograph with Maxwell at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party: “Don’t know Ghislaine at all. She photobombed me once at a Vanity Fair party several years ago. Real question is why VF invited her in the first place.”
Musk replied to a second Twitter critic, this time journalist Leigh Alexander, with similar verbiage. “I was at that Vanity Fair party with @TalulahRiley,” Musk tweeted. “Don’t know Ghislaine. Real question is why did VF invite her?”
His ex-wife, Talulah Riley, chimed in with a Twitter statement of her own. “To my knowledge, I have never met Ghislaine Maxwell,” she wrote, apparently in response to rumors that the British socialite procured her as a bride for Musk.
But Riley did say she and Musk visited Epstein’s New York mansion “once as part of an itinerary of appointments.”
“I can’t even date it to a year—we used to travel constantly for work and the situation was always pretty similar in any city/country: back-to-back meetings, a car with CPO drivers, and often a contact/minder/guide,” Riley wrote. “This trip was no different. There was a man taking us round the city and introducing us to various people.”
Weeks after Epstein’s arrest in 2019, Vanity Fair reported Epstein and Musk had been guests at a Palo Alto dinner hosted by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman a few years prior. Musk reportedly introduced Epstein to Facebook magnate Mark Zuckerberg.
Musk denied this accusation, stating in an email to Vanity Fair: “I don’t recall introducing Epstein to anyone, as I don’t know the guy well enough to do so, Epstein is obviously a creep and Zuckerberg is not a friend of mine.”
“Several years ago,” Musk continued, “I was at his house in Manhattan for about 30 minutes in the middle of the afternoon with Talulah [Riley], as she was curious about meeting this strange person for a novel she was writing. We did not see anything inappropriate at all, apart from weird art. He tried repeatedly to get me to visit his island. I declined.”
Last year New York Times scribe James Stewart mentioned Musk in a column about an August 2018 meeting at Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse.
“I’d never met Mr. Epstein before,” Stewart wrote. “I had contacted him because my colleagues and I had heard a rumor that he was advising Tesla’s embattled chief executive, Elon Musk, who was in trouble after announcing on Twitter that he had lined up the funding to take Tesla private.”
According to Stewart, the Securities and Exchange Commission probed Musk’s statements, and some called for Musk to resign as Tesla’s chairman. Stewart said he heard Musk enlisted Epstein to assemble potential replacements—a claim both Musk and Tesla denied, and of which Epstein failed to provide documentation.
Meanwhile, Business Insider reported Epstein toured Musk’s SpaceX facilities in 2012, thanks to the CEO’s brother, Kimbal Musk.
The report alleged Epstein and Kimbal Musk were friendly because Kimbal was dating a woman in Epstein’s orbit. That woman lived in an Upper East Side building owned by Epstein’s brother, Mark, and which was used to house models, young women and employees within the financier’s network.
“It almost seemed a little more transactional,” a source who knew the couple told Business Insider. “The rumor has always been that Epstein facilitated introductions to beautiful women, looking for deal flow or access to capital.”