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International

Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years for helping Epstein

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By Tom Hays And Larry Neumeister in New York

NEW YORK (AP) — Ghislaine Maxwell, the jet-setting socialitewho once consorted with royals, presidents and billionaires, was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison for helping the financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse underage girls.

The stiff sentence was the punctuation mark on a trial that explored the sordid rituals of a predator power couple who courted the rich and famous as they exploited vulnerable girls as young as 14.

Prosecutors said Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial, sexually abused children hundreds of times over more than a decade, and couldn’t have done so without the help of Maxwell, his longtime companion.

A jury in December convicted Maxwell, 60, of sex trafficking, transporting a minor to participate in illegal sex acts and two conspiracy charges.

Judge Alison J. Nathan, who also imposed a $750,000 fine, noted that Maxwell never expressed remorse. The judge said she wanted the sentence to send an “unmistakable message.”

Maxwell, wearing a blue prison uniform and a white mask to conform with coronavirus rules, looked to one side as the sentence was announced, but otherwise did not react. She wore leg shackles that could be heard rattling when she walked into the courtroom.

Addressing the court earlier, Maxwell stood at a lectern and said she empathized with the survivors and hoped her punishment would bring them peace. But she did not admit culpability and laid blame for the abuse on Epstein, saying meeting him was the “greatest regret of my life.”

She called him “a manipulative, cunning and controlling man who lived a profoundly compartmentalized life.”

Annie Farmer, one of the four accusers who testified against Maxwell at trial, was briefly overcome with emotion as she addressed the judge before the sentence was pronounced.

“We will continue to live with the harm she caused us,” Farmer said.

The judge said Maxwell was being punished for her “heinous and predatory” crimes, not Epstein’s. She criticized Maxwell’s “pattern of deflection and blame.”

Four survivors at the sentencing described their sexual abuse, including Farmer, who said she and her sister tried to go public with their stories about Epstein and Maxwell two decades ago, only to be shut down by the powerful couple through threats and influence with authorities.

Inside a courtroom crowded with reporters, three of Maxwell’s siblings sat in a row behind her. Outside the courthouse, Kevin Maxwell said that his sister won’t give up on her legal battle, “and we as a family will be solidly behind her.”

Defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim promised to appeal, saying Maxwell “has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.” She said Epstein had left Maxwell “holding the whole bag.”

Earlier in court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe recounted how Maxwell and Epstein “molested these kids together.” She called Maxwell “a person who was indifferent to the suffering of other human beings.”

Epstein and Maxwell’s associations with some of the world’s most famous people were not a prominent part of the trial, but mentions of friends such as Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Britain’s Prince Andrew showed how the pair exploited their connections to impress their prey.

Over the past 17 years, scores of women have accused Epstein of abusing them, with many describing Maxwell as the madam who recruited them. The trial, though, revolved around allegations from only a handful of those women.

Four testified that they were abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s mansions in Florida, New York, New Mexico and the Virgin Islands.

Three were identified in court only by their first names or pseudonyms to protect their privacy: Jane, a television actress; Kate, an ex-model from the U.K.; and Carolyn, now a mom recovering from drug addiction. The fourth was Farmer, the sole accuser to identify herself in court by her real name, after speaking out publicly.

They described how Maxwell charmed them with conversation and gifts and promises that Epstein could use his wealth and connections to help fulfill their dreams.

Then, they testified, she led them to give massages to Epstein that turned sexual and played it off as normal.

Carolyn testified that she was one of several underprivileged teens who lived near Epstein’s Florida home in the early 2000s and took up an offer to massage him in exchange for $100 bills in what prosecutors described as “a pyramid of abuse.”

Maxwell made all the arrangements, Carolyn told the jury, even though she knew the girl was only 14 at the time.

The allegations against Epstein first surfaced publicly in 2005. He pleaded guilty to sex charges in Florida and served 13 months in prison, much of it in a work-release program as part of a deal criticized as lenient. Afterward, he was required to register as a sex offender.

In the years that followed, many women sued Epstein over alleged abuse. One, Virginia Giuffre, claimed that Epstein and Maxwell had also pressured her into sexual trysts with other powerful men, including Prince Andrew. All of those men denied the allegations, and Giuffre ultimately settled a lawsuit against Andrew out of court.

Federal prosecutors in New York revived the case against Epstein after stories by the Miami Herald in 2018 brought new attention to his crimes. He was arrested in 2019, but killed himself a month later.

Eleven months after his death, Maxwell was arrested at a New Hampshire estate. Since then, she has been jailed in a federal facility in New York City.

Her lawyers fought to have her conviction tossed out on the grounds of juror misconduct. Days after the verdict, one juror gave media interviews in which he disclosed he had been sexually abused as a child — something he hadn’t told the court during jury selection. Maxwell’s lawyers said she deserved a new trial. A judge disagreed.

At least eight women submitted letters to the judge, describing the sexual abuse they said they endured.

Anne Holve and Philip Maxwell, her eldest siblings, wrote to the court to ask for leniency and said that their sister’s relationship with Epstein began soon after the 1991 death of their father, the British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell.

Robert Maxwell, they wrote, subjected his daughter to “frequent rapid mood swings, huge rages and rejections,” which “led her to becoming very vulnerable to abusive and powerful men who would be able to take advantage of her innate good nature.”

Sarah Ransome — an accuser whose allegations weren’t included in the trial — testified about the lasting harm to her life, gazing directly at Maxwell several times.

“You broke me in unfathomable ways,” said Ransome, who twice tried to die by suicide. “But you did not break my spirit.”

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International

New Pompeii finds highlight middle-class life in doomed city

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ROME (AP) — A trunk with its lid left open. A wooden dishware closet, its shelves caved in. Three-legged accent tables topped by decorative bowls. These latest discoveries by archaeologists are enriching knowledge about middle-class lives in Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius’ furious eruption buried the ancient Roman city in volcanic debris.

Pompeii’s archaeological park, one of Italy’s top tourist attractions, announced the recent finds on Saturday. Its director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said the excavation of rooms in a “domus,” or home, first unearthed in 2018 had revealed precious details about the domestic environment of ordinary citizens of the city, which was destroyed in 79 A.D.

In past decades, excavation largely concentrated on sumptuous, elaborately frescoed villas of the Pompeii’s upper-class residents. But archaeology activity in the sprawling site, near modern-day Naples, has increasingly focused on the lives of the middle class as well as of servants and other enslaved people.

“In the Roman empire, there was an ample chunk of the population that struggled with their social status and for whom ‘daily bread,’ was anything but a given,” Zuchtriegel said. ”A vulnerable class during political crises and food shortages, but also ambitious about climbing the social ladder.”

The finds unveiled on Saturday include furnishings and household objects in the domus, which was dubbed the House of the Larario for an area of a home devoted to domestic spirits known as lares. The home unearthed in 2018 has one in the courtyard.

Zuchtriegel noted that while the courtyard also had an exceptionally well-adorned cistern, “evidently, the (financial) resources weren’t enough to decorate the five rooms of the home.” One room had unpainted walls and an earthen floor apparently used for storage.

In a bedroom, archeologists found the remains of a bed frame with a trace of fabric from the pillow. The kind of bed is identical to three, cot-like beds unearthed last year in a tiny room in another residence that archaeologists believe doubled as a storeroom and sleeping quarters for a family of enslaved inhabitants of Pompeii.

The bedroom findings announced Saturday also included the remains of a wooden trunk with an open lid. Although the weight of beams and ceiling panels that crashed down in the wake of the volcanic explosion heavily damaged the trunk, among the objects found inside was an oil lamp decorated with a bas relief depicting the ancient Greek deity Zeus being transformed into an eagle. Nearby was a small, three-legged round table, similar to the accent tables in vogue today.

Exposing the storeroom revealed a wooden closet, its backboard still intact but the shelves caved in. Archaeologists believe the closet had at least four panel doors and held cookware and dishes for the nearby kitchen. The excavators found a hinge from the enclosure.

Other objects found in the house include a large fragment of what had been a translucent, rimmed plate in brilliant hues of cobalt blue and emerald, and a well-preserved incense burner, shaped like a cradle.

Frances D’emilio, The Associated Press

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Economy

Surprise Senate vote would overturn Biden environmental rule

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By Matthew Daly in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a surprise victory for Republicans, the Senate on Thursday voted to overturn a Biden administration rule requiring rigorous environmental review of major infrastructure projects such as highways, pipelines and oil wells — an outcome aided by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin, a key player on energy and climate issues and a swing vote in the closely divided Senate, joined Republicans to support the measure, which was approved 50-47. The vote comes as Manchin has proposed a separate list of legislative measures to speed up federal permitting for major projects in return for his support of a Democratic bill to address climate change.

Republicans voted unanimously to overturn the Biden permitting rule, while Manchin was the only Democrat to support it. Three senators were absent: Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. The vote sends the measure to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is unlikely to move forward.

Still, the vote signaled strong Senate support for action to reform the often onerous federal permitting process, which can take up to eight to 10 years for highways and other major projects. Streamlining federal review is a top Manchin and GOP priority that is not shared by most Democrats.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, sponsored the measure to overturn the Biden rule, saying new regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, will further bog down the permitting process and delay critical infrastructure projects the country needs.

The Biden rule — which overturns an action by the Trump administration loosening environmental reviews — requires regulators to consider the likely impacts on climate change and nearby communities before approving major projects. The new requirement “is going to add to the red tape” that prevents major infrastructure projects from being approved in a timely manner, Sullivan said.

While President Joe Biden has called infrastructure a priority — and pushed for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year — the new NEPA rule actually “makes it harder to build infrastructure projects” in the United States, Sullivan said.

“The only people, in my view, who really like this new system are radical far-left environmental groups that don’t want to build anything … and probably the Chinese Communist Party,” he said on the Senate floor. China and other competitors likely “love the fact that it takes 9 to 10 years to permit a bridge in the U.S.A.,” Sullivan said.

The White House strongly opposed the measure and threatened a veto if Congress approves it.

“This action would slow the construction of American infrastructure, lead to the waste of taxpayer resources on poorly designed projects and result in unnecessary and costly litigation and conflict that will delay permitting,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.

Manchin countered that, “for years I’ve worked to fix our broken permitting system, and I know the (Biden) administration’s approach to permitting is dead wrong.”

Manchin called Thursday’s vote “a step in the right direction” but said the measure likely “is dead on arrival in the House. That’s why I fought so hard to secure a commitment (from Democratic leaders) on bipartisan permitting reform, which is the only way we’re going to actually fix this problem.”

The new rule, finalized this spring, restores key provisions of NEPA, a bedrock environmental law that is designed to ensure community safeguards during reviews for a wide range of federal projects, including roads, bridges and energy development such as pipelines and oil wells. The longstanding reviews were scaled back under former President Donald Trump in a bid to fast-track projects and create jobs.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality said in implementing the new rule that it should restore public confidence during environmental reviews. The change could speed development by helping to “ensure that projects get built right the first time,” said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory.

Projects approved by the Trump administration were frequently delayed or defeated by lengthy court battles from groups challenging environmental reviews as inadequate.

Manchin, who brokered a surprise deal last week on climate legislation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said he’s won promises from Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress to pursue permitting reforms in the Senate to speed approval of projects in his energy-producing state and across the country. Manchin’s wish list includes swift approval of the controversial Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in his home state and Virginia. The pipeline is nearly complete but has been delayed for years by court battles and other issues.

Manchin’s list includes a number of proposals supported by Republicans, including a two-year deadline on environmental reviews; changes to the Clean Water Act; limitations on judicial review; and prompt action on projects determined by the Energy secretary to be in the national interest.

Environmental groups have decried Manchin’s proposals as counter-productive to the climate legislation and a threat to the environment and communities where projects would be built.

Madeleine Foote, deputy legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters, dismissed the Senate vote Thursday as “nothing more than a Republican-led stunt to appease their fossil fuel-industry allies.”

Foote and other environmentalists said strong NEPA review is needed to ensure that those most affected by an energy project have a say in the projects built in their communities.

“Thorough, community-based environmental reviews are critical to helping eliminate environmental racism and making sure low-income communities and communities of color are protected from polluters who want to build dirty, toxic projects in their backyards,” Foote said.

She called on Congress to approve the Manchin-Schumer climate bill as soon as possible. Schumer said votes on the bill are likely this weekend.

Kabir Green, director of federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, another environmental group, said Americans are “seeing the effects of climate change in catastrophic detail, from the heat waves in Texas to wildfires in New Mexico to the devastating flooding in Kentucky. But the Senate is voting to prevent the federal government from considering climate change when making decisions. This makes no sense.”

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