Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyers are trying to stop Jeffrey Epstein victims from giving statements at her sentencing

·5 min read
Sarah Ransome, Ghislaine Maxwell, and Jeffrey Epstein
Left to right: Sarah Ransome, Ghislaine Maxwell, and Jeffrey Epstein.Getty/US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York
  • Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyer is trying to bar two alleged victims from speaking at her June 28 sentencing.

  • Bobbi Sternheim argues that Sarah Ransome and Elizabeth Stein don't qualify as victims in the case.

  • Sternheim said Ransome and Stein were adults when they were allegedly victimized and Ransome's allegations were out of the timeframe of the trial.

One of Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyers is trying to bar two alleged victims from giving impact statements at the convicted sex trafficker's sentencing on June 28.

Sarah Ransome and Elizabeth Stein were not among the three official victims who testified in Maxwell's trial late last year, but sentencing hearings are often opened up to allow a larger pool of alleged victims to speak and help the judge make their sentencing determination.

Maxwell is facing up to 65 years in prison after a jury convicted her on charges of conspiracy and sex-trafficking minors. Her legal team has long argued that she is being scapegoated for the crimes of her one-time boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein, who died in prison before he could be brought to justice.

In a court filing on Tuesday, an attorney representing Ransome and Stein, Robert Lewis, requested that his clients be allowed to speak at Maxwell's sentencing in their capacity as "victims of the sex trafficking perpetrated by Jeffrey Epstein" and Maxwell.

But Bobbi Sternheim, one of Maxwell's attorneys, said that neither Ransome nor Stein qualify to speak as victims in the case, due to the timing of their allegations and their ages at the time.

ghislaine maxwell trial
Ghislaine Maxwell listens as defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim gives her opening statement at the start of Maxwell's trial on November 29, 2021.Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

Two victims were adults when they met Maxwell

In a response to Lewis' filing, Sternheim explained that Maxwell was tried specifically for sex trafficking minors between 1997 and 2004. Ransome doesn't qualify as a victim in this case because her allegations against Epstein and Maxwell focus on the years 2006-2007, when she was an adult.

Ransome has said in previous interviews that she was recruited into Epstein's sex-trafficking ring when she was 22 years old. She told CBS News in an interview in December that Epstein raped her and threatened to kill her and her family if she ever left him. She said Maxwell was the organizer of the ring.

"She orchestrated everything," Ransome told CBS.

As for Stein, Sternheim doesn't believe she qualifies as a victim either, since Stein has previously said she was 21 years old when she first met Maxwell in 1994.

Stein told the Miami Herald in December that she met Maxwell when she was a senior at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and working for a "5th Avenue retailer." She said Maxwell came into her store one day and Stein helped her shop. When she later dropped off Maxwell's purchases at a hotel, she says Maxwell introduced her to Epstein and "that evening was the first time they assaulted me."

Which victims can testify in a sentencing are defined under the Crime Victims' Rights Act, and Sternheim says Ransome and Stein don't meet the definition of a victim under the CVRA.

Sternheim explain that the CVRA describes a "crime victim" as "a person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a Federal offense or an offense in the District of Columbia." She said "direct and proximate harm" is not a "limitless" definition and "only covers victims of the conduct underlying the offenses of conviction."

"While it is appropriate for victims to be present pursuant to the CVRA, Ms. Maxwell's sentencing proceedings should not be an open forum for an alleged victim to be heard. Neither Ms. Ransome nor Ms. Stein are part of the record in this case. We are concerned about the impact statements by alleged victims who were not part of the trial or whose names are not part of the record and who otherwise do not quality as 'crime victims' under the CVRA will have on the Court's sentencing determination," Sternheim added.

Judge Alison J. Nathan has not yet ruled on whether Ransome and Stein will be allowed to speak at the sentencing next week. In a response to the two filings, she referred any victim who wished to speak at the sentencing to contact the Victim Witness Unit of the US Attorney's Office by June 22 at noon.

Lewis told Insider on Wednesday that he intends to file papers with that office explaining why his clients should be allowed to speak at the sentencing. He said he believes that the definition of a victim in this case is broad, and that his clients should have the opportunity to speak, especially since victims were largely left out of the process when Epstein cut a non-prosecution agreement in 2008, when his conduct with minors first came under scrutiny.

"In brief, the law broadly defines a 'victim' for sentencing purposes and the court has broad discretion to allow anyone with an interest in the matter to speak at sentencing," Lewis said. "Given the history of the 'Epstein' criminal proceedings here ... we believe it critical that victims be given an opportunity to speak at this sentencing."

Victims also struggled to get seats to the trial

Both Ransome and Stein also complained about not getting guaranteed seating at Maxwell's trial back in December.

Lewis told the Miami Herald that the court's victim victim/witness coordinator told him before the trial that Ransome didn't qualify as a victim in the case and wouldn't get priority seating in the courtroom. Meanwhile, Stein commuted two hours both ways from her home in Pennsylvania almost every day of the trial to stand in the cold outside the courthouse to get a seat, and didn't make the cut on at least one occasion, as detailed by the Miami Herald. 

In an interview with CBS News in December, Ransome said it was important for her to attend the trial to support the other victims who helped bring Maxwell to justice.

"These brave women gave me my day in court. That's why it was so important for me to be there in New York during the trial," Ransome said.

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