Prince Andrew's friend, Ghislaine Maxwell, some underage girls and a very disturbing story
2007-09-23 0:00

By Wendy Leigh |

Trump, Prince Andrew & Clinton

Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are among his closest friends. He is on first name terms with the Hollywood glitterati and boasts a portfolio of mansions stretching from New Mexico to New York.

Jeffrey Epstein
There are few more glamorous or influential figures than financier Jeffrey Epstein: billionaire, polymath and noted charitable donor who makes his money managing the multi-billion dollar financial portfolios of a wealthy elite.

But the greying 54-year-old will soon be swapping his sea views and Manhattan skylines for the harsher surroundings of a US prison cell.

After two years of investigation, claim and counterclaim, Epstein is about to plead guilty to a charge of soliciting underage girls for sex and is likely to spend 15 months behind bars.

It is an astonishing fall from grace, and will be endlessly distressing to a man who prides himself on his academic brilliance and artistic taste as much as his ability to generate cash.

He is not the only one to be concerned, however; for all his love of privacy, Epstein had made it his business to spend time with many of the best-known people on the planet.

Prince Andrew
As a friend of Prince Andrew, he has stayed for a weekend party at Sandringham, the Queen's Norfolk home, and was a guest at the Queen's birthday party in 2000 in Windsor.

In 2001 he holidayed with the Prince in Thailand, when Andrew was photographed surrounded by topless women on a yacht.

As the tawdry details of Epstein's private life trickle out, his courtiers and admirers the people who are familiar with his mansions and the ceaseless parade of young women in attendance are coming under ever closer scrutiny.

And now one of those who witnessed Epstein's louche existence at first hand has revealed what life was like inside his sordid world and her story provides a disturbing portrait of sickening seduction and the power of money.

Johanna Sjoberg
Johanna Sjoberg, a church-going, all-American brunette, was recruited six years ago into Epstein's household as an occasional home help, and was induced to perform demeaning sexual services.

She has never before spoken about the bizarre five-year friendship with the financier or an episode in which she claims she was groped by Prince Andrew, fourth in line to the throne.

But with Epstein finally admitting that the sensational accusations against him are true after all, Johanna's life within the Epstein camp is returning to haunt her.

Although 21 at the time and a consenting adult, she feels she was preyed upon all the same.

"I was groomed for it," she says. "I made a pact with the devil in exchange for excitement and glamour. I was only a college student. I was hard-up and foolish."

Johanna was from a loving, church-going family in Maine, and was studying psychology at Atlantic College in Palm Beach. She hoped to become a family therapist.

She had no reason to be suspicious when a handsome brunette in sports gear approached her as she sat on a bench on campus one day. That was in February 2001 and the stranger, whom she later discovered was Ghislaine Maxwell daughter of the late, disgraced Robert Maxwell had an unusual proposition: in return for $20 an hour, she was to answer the phones and serve occasional drinks at Epstein's home.

She recalls: "I thought, what a great opportunity! It seemed pretty easy. I felt as if I had fallen into a pot of gold. All my friends were jealous of me for getting such a great job."

Johanna's first visit to Epstein's pink mansion involved nothing more than running errands for printer cartridges and science magazines, but her second trip brought a surprising question.

"Ghislaine asked me, 'Do you want to make $100 rubbing feet?' I said I would love to do that."

Impressed with Jeffrey's knowledge of psychology one of her college subjects Johanna had already warmed to her new employer, and was further impressed when he and a female friend showed her the basics of massage.

"It was fun," she says. "Really, though, I was being groomed. I really liked him, and I didn't get any sexual vibes from him. I viewed him as a great uncle who wanted me to be happy."

Johanna must have learned well, because the friendship and the opportunities grew rapidly. First, at Easter 2001, there was a trip to his seven-storey townhouse in New York, and her first brush with royalty.

She recalls: "Prince Andrew was there and Ghislaine and a couple of other girls my age. Andrew was very charming. I didn't know exactly who he was but felt that I knew him. She (Ghislaine) came down with a present for him a latex puppet of him from Spitting Image.

"The room was very large, considering it was Manhattan. It was on East 71, with four floors. It was beautiful, like a museum, with relics from thousands of years BC. There were huge paintings.

"I didn't grow up poor, but I realised there was more money there than I could ever have imagined.

"We had a picture taken. Virginia, another girl there, sat on a chair and had the puppet on her lap. Andrew sat on another chair, I sat on his lap and he put his hand on my breast. Ghislaine put the puppet's hand on Virginia's breast, then Andrew put his hand on mine. It was a great joke. Everybody laughed. Ghislaine made a lot of sexual jokes," says Johanna. "She had a very dirty sense of humour.

"There were pictures of her and Jeffrey and the Pope, and her and Jeffrey and Castro, and her and Jeffrey and Clinton."

If the groping incident was shrugged off as a joke, it was in New York that Johanna got the first indications of something more seriously amiss.

"While I was in New York, Jeffrey asked me to do the nipple thing. He asked me to touch his nipples during the massage. I was shocked. I said, 'I am not doing this. I'm done.' And I walked out of the room. He couldn't believe I refused. No one else had ever done that."

Despite her refusal, she was invited to spend time on Epstein's private island in the British Virgin Islands where, she was warned by Jeffrey, that there would be "sex stuff" going on.

Royal appointment: Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein at Sandringham in 2000
Says Johanna: "I thought I was going to the island to do massage. I thought I would probably get paid. I was doing one or two a day, mostly for him, but sometimes for Ghislaine. She wasn't very picky, but he [Epstein] kept dictating what he wanted. She would be naked under a towel during the massage. There was no suggestion from her of anything untoward during the massages."

The trip seemed like paradise to Johanna. She says: "The island was incredible, with four wheelers to drive around in and this beautiful living room area with a great projector TV screen.

"We were all watching movies together at night but not porn Jeffrey isn't into that. It felt like a fairy tale and they were great fun to be around.

"I do remember him and her jumping off the dock naked, swimming.

"I thought it was normal for them, they were very free people. I would not do it with people around, but it was normal for them."

During the break, Johanna got an idea of the kind of circles Epstein usually moved in.

"I would be massaging him and he'd be on the phone and then hang up and say, 'oh, that was Cate Blanchett,' or 'I was on a plane with Clinton.' Clinton is definitely a friend of his.

"He'd say, 'I was hanging out with Leo diCaprio and Bruce Willis'."

Blanchett, diCaprio & Willis

Then she adds: "I met one major TV personality who said, 'What's the deal with the girls going out to find other girls?'" He told Johanna that he had heard that girls were being paid $200 a time to introduce their teenage friends to Epstein.

But at the time, whether through innocence or naivety, Johanna didn't understand. Only when the police came asking questions last year did it dawn on her what the TV star might have meant. Police documents reveal that Epstein was investigated for almost a year after a 2005 complaint that a 14-year-old girl had partially stripped for Epstein and given him a massage and other services in exchange for $300.

Haley Robson
A number of young women have claimed the financier interfered with them sexually. One young woman, Haley Robson, who unwisely described herself as "like a Heidi Fleiss" (the notorious Hollywood madam) admitted helping find teenage girls for Epstein.

Details of the investigation have gripped all sections of American society.

Police arranged for dustbin men to set aside Epstein's bags for a series of "trash pulls". Searches of the Palm Beach mansion found the staircase lined with photos of naked girls. There were hidden cameras and pictures of teenage girls on a computer.

The charge against him is serious. It is understood that without a plea bargain, he would be facing sentences of ten to 15 years.

Johanna told The Mail on Sunday how Epstein paid her college fees, made the down payment on her house, and paid for her to train as a hairdresser and as a masseuse. Eventually she gave in to his demands and the massages became more sexual in nature.

Johanna was, of course, a consenting adult and, although questioned by the Florida police, insists that she had no knowledge of what took place with other girls.

As she puts it: "All the stuff that was going on with the massages, no one ever talked about it. You wouldn't know coming to the house. The police reports paint a picture that it was a big orgy all the time, but it wasn't."

Johanna has faced no charges and played no part in the prosecution of Epstein. She says the allegations against Epstein came as a surprise to her.

"When all the stories started coming out and the police questioned me whether or not I had known about any involvement with underaged girls, I said definitely not, I was never aware of that. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

"Jeffrey asked me if anybody had asked me questions about it, and I said yes. I asked Jeffrey if it was true he had had sex with underage girls. He said, 'Yes, but I didn't know about their age. They lied about it'."

But what of Ghislaine Maxwell, the woman who introduced Johanna to Epstein?

"Ghislaine was quite motherly," says Johanna.

"She called all us kids, 'my children'. She was someone I very much respected and wanted to learn from. She carried herself in a special way. She is a very big personality. Ghislaine was very interesting."

She was also and Johanna was in no doubt about this at the heart of Epstein's life.

There is no suggestion that Ghislaine was aware that some of the girls were underage, or aware of Jeffrey's sexual requests.

Johanna last saw Ghislaine in January 2006.

Inevitably, as time went on, the glamour of Epstein's world started to fade for Johanna.

She says: "There wasn't an epiphany moment. I just began to feel deceived, as if I were part of a master plan I didn't know about.

"It was when Jeffrey became more aggressive with me, trying to pressure me to do sexual things to him, that things turned sour.

"He offered me money. I got $200 for a massage, and he gave me an extra $100 to do other things.

"I felt it wasn't right, but a college kid needs money and I really liked him, I admired him and I respected him because I felt like he respected me. "I had kept the sex stuff a secret, though everyone around me thought it was kind of kinky to get a massage at nine at night.

"I just told people he's an old man - that I just massage his feet. I kept it secret. I told my parents he was like my uncle.

"He was, but I didn't want anyone to know he was a dirty old man. I knew because he would talk to me about what he wanted other girls to do to him, what he wanted me to do.

"There were many years when I really liked these people. But now I feel angry and used.

"Sure, I had a good time. But I also think it damaged me a bit."

Epstein's spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, said his client would have no comment.

A spokeswoman for Prince Andrew said: "We have no comment."

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