Ghislaine Maxwell speaks at the Arctic Circle Forum in Reykjavik, Iceland October 2013.
The Arctic Circle via Reuters
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell is “withering” away in jail because of harsh conditions, which includes alleged physical abuse by a guard and being forced to scrub shower walls after she reported the mistreatment, her lawyer says in a new letter to a federal judge.
“It is impossible to overstate the deleterious effect of the conditions under which Ms. Maxwell is detained,” the lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, wrote to Manhattan District Court Judge Alison Nathan.
“She is withering to a shell of her former self — losing weight, losing hair, and losing her ability to concentrate,” Sternheim wrote of Maxwell, who is accused of crimes related to allegedly recruiting and grooming underage girls who later were sexually abused by eccentric investment advisor Jeffrey Epstein, and of perjury.
The lawyer says “over-management” and constant surveillance of Maxwell by guards in the Brooklyn federal jail, in an apparent effort to keep her from killing herself while locked up as Epstein did in 2019, “are impacting her stamina and effectiveness in preparing her defense and conferring with counsel.”
Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty in the case, in which she was charged in July 2020, a year after Epstein’s arrest on child sex trafficking charges.
Epstein, 66, died from what has officially been ruled a suicide by hanging a month after his arrest in federal jail in Manhattan.
Her lawyers are engaged in an effort to try to get her increased access to a laptop computer to prepare for her trial.
Sternheim’s letter, the latest in a series of complaints about Maxwell’s jail conditions, underscore the fact that her life for the past seven months has been very different than her days with Epstein, when they socialized with the likes of former Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, and Britain’s Prince Andrew.
Sternheim complained that “the vagaries and delays” in moving Maxwell 50 or so feet from an isolation cell are among the issues harming her ability to prepare adequately for trial.
The lawyer said the frequent checks by Maxwell of guards, who have physically searched her about 1,400 times since last July 6, have not turned up any contraband.
“Maxwell continues to be at the mercy of a revolving group of security officers who are used to guarding hundreds of inmates but now focus their undivided attention exclusively on one respectful, middle-aged female pretrial detainee,” Sternheim wrote.
“Recently, out of view of the security camera, Ms. Maxwell was placed in her isolation cell and physically abused during a pat down search. When she asked that the camera be used to capture the occurrence, a guard replied ‘no.’ “
“When Ms. Maxwell recoiled in pain and when she said she would report the mistreatment, she was threatened with disciplinary action,” Sternheim wrote.
“Within a week and while the same team was in charge, Ms. Maxwell was the subject of further retaliation for reporting the abuse: a guard ordered Ms. Maxwell into a shower to clean, sanitize, and scrub the walls with a broom. Ms. Maxwell’s request to have the camera record the guard alone with her in the confined space was again denied.”
Surveillance of Maxwell is so strict, Sternheim said, that “guards forbid” Maxwell from standing in certain areas of her six-foot-by-nine-foot cell, including telling her not to stand to the left or right over her toilet.
The lawyer also said that Maxwell “continues to have serious problems with the food provided to her,” including repeatedly being denied some or all parts of her meals.
“For the duration of her detention, she has never received a properly heated meal,” Sternheim wrote.
Maxwell is routinely given food in a container that is not meant for use in a microwave, but staff microwave her food anyway, the lawyer said.
“Ms. Maxwell’s food either does not defrost the food or disintegrates it and melts the plastic container, rendering the food inedible,” Sternheim wrote.
“While guards finally acknowledged serious problems with the food, they continued to microwave Ms. Maxwell’s food, rendering the food inedible and dangerous for consumption and leaving Ms. Maxwell with no meal and no replacement.”
“Late last week, guards informed Ms. Maxwell that going forward her food will be heated in a thermal oven, like that of all other inmates. While this may be an improvement, it does little to correct seven months of deprivation impacting her nutrition and detrimental to her health,” the lawyer wrote.
Sternheim also noted that prosecutors have confirmed that guards point a flashight at the ceiling of Maxwell’s cell “every 15 minutes from approximately 9:30 pm to 6:30 am.”
“It is hard to verbally convey the power of a light that bounces off a concrete ceiling in a six-by-nine-foot concrete box into Ms. Maxwell’s eyes, disrupting her sleep and ability to have any restful night.”
“The attenuating effects of sleep deprivation are well documented,” the lawyer wrote.