by Maggy DONALDSON
A friend to British royalty who romanced billionaires and dazzled elites, Ghislaine Maxwell was once the toast of the jet-set party circuit, a knows-everybody socialite with an aura of mystique.
But now she will spend 20 years in prison.
A New York jury in December 2021 found the daughter of the late British newspaper baron Robert Maxwell guilty of conspiring to run a sex crimes ring with financier Jeffrey Epstein, whose shock death while awaiting trial on similar charges was ruled a suicide.
It was a tawdry fall for the fixture of society, who was arrested in July 2020 in a tiny New Hampshire town after seemingly vanishing following the death of Epstein, 66, her lover-turned-close friend.
During the high-profile and often grim trial, accusers described the French-born, Oxford-educated Maxwell as Epstein’s shadowy right-hand confidante and accomplice, who beginning in the 1990s acted at his behest as both paramour and madam.
Prosecutors detailed how she and Epstein crafted a scheme to procure young girls for the registered sex offender, whose death in prison left many reeling over the fact that he would never face his own trial.
Two of the accusers who testified said they were as young as 14 when Maxwell began grooming them, taking them under her wing before later cajoling them into offering Epstein nude massages and sex acts.
Witnesses said Maxwell facilitated and sometimes participated in the abuse, taking advantage of the victims after making them feel “special.”
– Gilded it-girl –
Maxwell’s name was thrust into the spotlight in 1991 when her father — a British media tycoon who also spent six years as a member of parliament — went overboard off his yacht, which he had christened “Lady Ghislaine” after his youngest daughter.
Rumors swirled following the apparent accidental drowning of the Czechoslovakian-born businessman, alongside details of his financial misdeeds at Mirror Group Newspapers that tarnished the family name.
But it didn’t stop Maxwell’s life of opulence: She revamped her image in Manhattan and became a regular on the glitterati’s party circuit.
Her circle included Britain’s Prince Andrew, former US president and real estate baron Donald Trump and the Clinton family.
Maxwell was an avid scuba diver and pilot, founding a now-dissolved environmental charity, the TerraMar Project.
It’s unclear how exactly she met Epstein, whom she reportedly dated for a time in the 1990s before forming a close friendship.
But court testimony made clear that for years the multimillionaire Epstein funded her luxurious lifestyle, even once transferring her the cash to purchase a helicopter.
– ‘Sophisticated predator’ –
A holder of multiple passports, Maxwell had been deemed by authorities as a flight risk and was repeatedly denied bail.
She has lodged persistent complaints about the conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, including with United Nations human rights officials.
Donning a collection of turtlenecks paired with black slacks, Maxwell cut a relatively relaxed figure over the course of the trial, doodling, hugging her lawyers or chatting with siblings who sat in support throughout the proceedings.
But the federal trial against Maxwell followed years of accusations against her, with prosecutors branding her “the key” to Epstein’s criminal scheming during closing arguments, “a sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing.”
Maxwell declined to take the stand — as is routine in such cases — but not before telling the judge “the government has not proven its case beyond reasonable doubt so there is no need for me to testify.”
Her defense team insisted on a “lack of evidence,” and focused on discrediting the women who delivered lurid testimony to the court — but it was not enough to escape her charges.
She was convicted on five of six counts, including the most serious charge of sex trafficking of a minor.
In a last-ditch effort her lawyers pleaded for a lenient sentence, citing Maxwell’s own emotional wounds, traumatic childhood and vulnerability to Epstein.
But it didn’t sway Judge Alison Nathan. Maxwell now will spend much of the rest of her life in a cramped cell, a bleak final chapter to a debauched life. — Agence France-Presse