“Her Life Has Been Ruined”: Ghislaine Maxwell Asks for Leniency

As the case against Ghislaine Maxwell comes to a close, her lawyers have turned to the tenor of the discussions leading up to it.

“The media coverage was relentless and voluminous,” the British socialite’s attorneys wrote in a sentencing memorandum on Wednesday. “Dozens of broadcast documentaries, tens of streamed videos and podcasts, and publication of some 50 books and thousands of superficially written articles.”

In December a federal jury convicted Maxwell of facilitating the late financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of minors. The Southern District of New York’s probation office has called for a 20-year sentence; on Wednesday, Maxwell’s counsel asked for four to five years. Prosecutors are scheduled to file their own sentencing memorandum next week, and Maxwell is set to be sentenced by a Manhattan federal judge on June 28.

The publishing heiress’s plea for leniency extended some of the arguments her lawyers made at trial. Over three weeks of proceedings in November and December, Maxwell’s team pushed to differentiate her from Epstein, with her lead attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, going so far in her opening remarks as to portray Maxwell as the Eve to Epstein’s Adam⁠—a woman blamed for the crimes of a man. 

“Had Ghislaine Maxwell never had the profound misfortune of meeting Jeffrey Epstein over 30 years ago,” her lawyers wrote on Wednesday, “she would not be here.” They pointed to the public appetite for Epstein to be held to account after the notoriously friendly plea deal he was offered in Florida in 2008: “Epstein was undercharged and under punished, Epstein never faced his accusers, and his accusers were denied justice.”

In the eyes of Maxwell’s lawyers, that dynamic has also led to the conditions of her treatment at a Brooklyn federal jail, where she has been held without bail for nearly the entire period since she was arrested in New Hampshire in July 2020.

Authorities ruled Epstein’s August 2019 death at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center a suicide. “In the face of strong media and public uproar following Epstein’s death,” Maxwell’s lawyers wrote, “the government faced an urgency to appease the renewed distress of Epstein’s accusers and to repair the tarnished reputations of the [Department of Justice] and [Bureau of Prisons] in whose custody Epstein died.”

Maxwell “has already experienced hard time during detention under conditions far more onerous and punitive than any experienced by a typical pretrial detainee, and she is preparing to spend significantly more time behind bars,” they went on. “Her life has been ruined.”

In a new story of Maxwell’s detention, her attorneys claimed that a female inmate in her housing unit at the Metropolitan Detention Center told at least three other inmates that she had been offered money to murder Maxwell and that she intended to strangle her in her sleep. “This incident reflects the brutal reality that there are numerous prison inmates who would not hesitate to kill Ms. Maxwell,” the memo said, “whether for money, fame, or simple ‘street cred.’” The Bureau of Prisons, which administers the MDC and other federal jails, didn’t immediately return a request for comment on the new allegation.

Maxwell’s attorneys also introduced some biographical notes that have loomed large in her broader public story but remained mostly absent from the legal process. They reported a partial biography to add to all the ones that they claim have shaped the narrative around the daughter of Robert Maxwell, the publishing magnate who died under still-contested circumstances in 1991 and was later revealed to have used some of his employees’ pensions to fund one of his fraudulent schemes.

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