It all seems so long ago.
Far from gliding into a gilded future that has been her destiny, Maxwell is now firmly fixed in a tabloid rogues’ gallery, as she stands accused of procuring and grooming underage girls to satisfy the boundless sexual appetite of her onetime lover, the billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein.
For the past eight months, Maxwell, 59, has been imprisoned at a federal detention center in Brooklyn, twice denied bail as a flight risk while she awaits a trial scheduled to begin in July on charges of perjury and conspiracy to entice three minors in the 1990s to have sex with Epstein, who committed suicide in jail in 2019. Maxwell’s third attempt to persuade a judge to release her before her trial has set in motion in the past few days an effort by her family to reshape her image, aided by publicists and a family attorney.
Her brother, Ian Maxwell, has appeared on television in the United States and Britain, portraying his sister as a woman of substance and as a victim being used as a substitute for Epstein, who received an extraordinary light sentence after pleading guilty in an underage sex case in Florida in 2005 and died before facing trial in a massive sex trafficking case in New York. If Maxwell succeeds in altering public opinion of his sister — even a little — he’ll have accomplished a monumental public relations feat.
In a video interview with The Washington Post over the weekend from London, Ian Maxwell compared his sister’s situation to that of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been accused by numerous women of sexual harassment and bullying.
“I see that AOC has come out and said, ‘I believe these women,’ ” Ian Maxwell said, using the shorthand for Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. “Well, how does she know that? Cuomo is entitled to have an investigation of his actions, just as Ghislaine is entitled to have one of hers.”
Maxwell maintained that his sister is innocent, calling the case against her “flimsy,” and chafed about the difficulty of preparing a defense on charges involving three accusers whose names have not been publicly revealed. He is hoping to reframe the case as something bigger than the fate of one well-known daughter of privilege. Instead he’s arguing that it’s a data point in the roiling controversy over pretrial detention, which has drawn the attention of criminal justice reform advocates who argue that detainees’ constitutional rights are often violated by long jail stints before their cases go to court.
“She has an opportunity to try to use her name and her case to try and improve conditions,” Ian Maxwell said. “That’s what she definitely wants to do.”
In an effort to win release before her trial, Ghislaine Maxwell, who is a U.S. citizen, is now offering to renounce her citizenship in the country of her birth, France, and in the country where she grew up, Britain.
“This is a real wrench for Ghislaine to have to do that. Emotionally. Personally,” he said. “It’s a valuable thing to have — citizenship.” In legal filings, his sister asserts that she would lose any possibility of protection from extradition in those countries if she renounces her citizenship.
She’s also offered to put all of her assets and those of her businessman husband, Scott Borgerson, except for living expenses and money set aside for attorneys, into an account controlled by a retired U.S. district judge in northern Georgia.
Friends and family would put up a $28.5 million bond to assure her trial appearance, Maxwell said, and he is hopeful for a decision soon on his sister’s bail request. At the same time, her attorneys have flooded the court with motions seeking to have her case dismissed.
Ghislaine Maxwell’s attempts to be released pending her trial have been greeted with outrage by some of Epstein’s accusers. Gloria Allred, a California-based attorney who says she represents 20 Epstein accusers, allowed in an interview that she feels “sympathy” for Ian Maxwell “as a brother.”
“I can’t say I feel sympathy for his sister,” Allred said. “It would be so upsetting to so many victims if she was to be released and fled.”
Despite Ghislaine Maxwell’s wealth, her brother said it’s a “far-fetched idea” that she skips bail, fools authorities tracking her ankle-monitoring device, leaves family and friends responsible for her bond, “somehow spirits herself out of New York City, then somehow gets a plane, then somehow gets to France, somehow throws herself on the mercy of the French, and somehow they wouldn’t return her.”
Over the years, Ghislaine Maxwell has been labeled by accusers and the media as a “monster,” the “mastermind” of Epstein’s illicit sexual liaisons and “a traitor to her gender.” In her request for pretrial relief, Maxwell’s attorneys say “she has been depicted as a cartoon-character-villain.”
“It’s what I’ve called the ‘Epstein Effect,’ ” Maxwell family attorney David Markus said. “If you’re connected to Epstein, the mob has found you guilty.”
The seamy Epstein saga has even spilled into Britain’s royal family. A photo has appeared countless times in news reports of Ghislaine Maxwell smiling in the background as her friend, Prince Andrew, stands with his arm around one of Epstein’s most vocal accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre. (Maxwell settled a defamation suit filed against her by Giuffre for an undisclosed amount.)
Giuffre has said the prince was one of the men with whom she was forced to have sex, a charge the prince has vigorously denied. Giuffre has said that Maxwell began grooming her as a sex partner for Epstein while she was a teenager working as a towel attendant at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club in Palm Beach.
In the ongoing criminal case, Maxwell is accused of recruiting and grooming victims as young as 14 to have sex with Epstein at his New York mansion and his New Mexico ranch. In her indictment, prosecutors paint her as a skilled manipulator, alleging that she developed rapport by taking young girls shopping and to the movies, then steered them into giving massages to Epstein that sometimes ended with sexual abuse. Prosecutors also say she would encourage Epstein’s victims to accept his offers to pay for travel and education to make them feel obligated to engage in sexual activity with him.
In some instances, according to prosecutors, she attempted to “normalize” sexual activity with Epstein by undressing in front of the girls. She’s also accused of participating in sexual assaults of minors with Epstein.
But Maxwell’s family has been making much of a deposition given in a lawsuit by a police detective in Epstein’s mid-1990s Florida case, in which the officer said she was not listed as a subject of the investigation or mentioned in his reports.
The allegations that became public after her July 2020 arrest at her secluded New Hampshire estate were chilling. But Maxwell wasn’t without high-powered supporters.
Trump, then president, weighed in, telling “Axios on HBO” that “I do wish her well. I’m not looking for anything bad for her.”
Trump administration attorney general William P. Barr described Epstein’s death as a “perfect storm of screw-ups,” involving guards who failed to conduct routine checks. But Epstein’s family maintained he could have been murdered to silence him. And Trump wondered aloud whether Epstein had actually killed himself, a doubt that Ghislaine Maxwell’s brother has also sown.
“How he died we’ll never know,” Ian Maxwell said.
Ian Maxwell believes that federal authorities turned their attention to his sister because they were left without a defendant after Epstein’s death. Though she’d been labeled by accusers in news accounts and court testimony as an Epstein sex procurer, her family is emphasizing that she was never charged in his Florida case. And, in the interview, her brother placed great significance on the fact that she was not charged along with Epstein in 2019 and was not arrested until after he was dead.
“Only then do they swing into action,” Ian Maxwell said of federal authorities. “Because they need a target.”
Ghislaine Maxwell’s pretrial imprisonment differs from those of many recent high-profile defendants. Bernie Madoff was allowed to post bond before his conviction in a massive Ponzi scheme. More recently, two wealthy defendants — legendary comedian Bill Cosby and famed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein — also were allowed to remain free before their trials and subsequent sexual-assault convictions.
Ian Maxwell and prosecutors have given very different accounts of her confinement. Prosecutors have said she has her own shower and television, as well as access to a phone and computers. Her brother counters that jailers are committing “torture,” saying flashlights are shined in her face every 15 minutes while she tries to sleep. He added that she’s lost weight, that she is fed meals microwaved in plastic dishes that are “contaminating the food” and that she’s been placed on suicide watch despite not having exhibited intentions of harming herself.
According to her brother, Ghislaine Maxwell received a certification while imprisoned to help inmates who are suicide risks but has not been allowed to do so. The certification could not be independently confirmed by The Post, and a detention center spokesperson did not respond to an interview request.
Epstein and Maxwell dated for an ill-defined period of time in the 1990s but remained close for many years. Former employees have described her as overseeing his many residences.
She cut a compelling figure. She had the pedigree of wealth and the mystique of scandal. Her bon vivant father was the founder of a large British publishing firm, Pergamon Press. He died in 1991 after falling into the water off his yacht, the “Lady Ghislaine,” and not long afterward, it was discovered that he’d fraudulently raided one of his company’s pension accounts.
Ian Maxwell was briefly jailed the year after his father’s death on charges related to pension funds that had disappeared. He was eventually acquitted but said the case was so all-consuming that he spent only one evening in the company of his sister and her then-boyfriend, Epstein.
As time has passed he’s been bothered by her portrayal in the media, an image fueled by countless society page photos. He’d rather talk about her education at Oxford University’s prestigious Balliol College.
“My sister’s been painted as some flibbertigibbet socialite floating from party to party and leading a gilded life,” he said. “You couldn’t be a child of Robert Maxwell and be a flibbertigibbet socialite. That was not the way she was brought up.”
His sister was the youngest of nine children. She was born two days after her 15-year-old brother, Michael, was severely injured in a car accident that left him in a coma until his death six years later.
“Mother, to all intents and purposes, ignored her newborn baby — not because she didn’t love her but because she was enmeshed with grief,” Ian Maxwell recalled. “From the start of her life, she’s had to assert herself.”
There’s a family story, Ian Maxwell said, that dates to when his sister was 3.
As the story goes, Ghislaine Maxwell plants herself in front of her mother, hoping for attention. Then she says: “Mommy, I exist.”