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Stepdaddy’s Little Girl


From left, Maggie Rizer's first cover, Vogue Italia, September 1997; Lucky, June 2003; French Elle, November 2003; and a Tommy Hilfiger campaign.

John Breen’s descent was not exactly a secret in Watertown. Partly because of Maggie, people knew who he was. They saw him at the Speak Easy, telling bartenders to run his tickets for ten games in a row. They saw him at the banks, writing counter checks every week. But Maggie’s borrowed glamour insulated him from criticism.

“I think John sat there talking to tellers,” says Maureen. “Telling them about all the places Maggie was going.”

One afternoon in January 2003, John showed up drunk at Maggie’s cottage. Julia, an older, fuller version of Maggie and now a criminal-defense attorney, was there alone. John poured himself vodka-and-Cokes and babbled on about how he had something to tell Julia, but couldn’t. He talked about how Maureen never loved him. He mentioned going to prison.

The next day Maureen made an appointment for John at an in-patient alcohol-rehab facility near Syracuse. On the way to the clinic the following day, though, he insisted they stop at his insurance office. For the first time, Maureen saw it was in total chaos—papers everywhere and several full large black garbage bags leaned up against the wall. John stomped over to his desk and immediately filled out some paperwork. “He puts it in an envelope, sticks a stamp on it, literally shoves it at me, and says, ‘If you’re not going to leave me alone, you can mail this for me. But don’t open it,’” remembers Maureen. “And that garbage, he wanted that garbage out.”

But they had an appointment at the clinic and there wasn’t time, Maureen said. The next day, she called a few friends and asked them to meet her at John’s office in the morning. After scouring John’s filing cabinets, someone suggested checking the garbage bags. “From the first thing we pulled out of the garbage, we just started going, ‘Oh, boy,’ ” says Maureen. There were forged check authorizations, retirements cashed in early, massive early-withdrawal penalties for investment accounts. Maureen had brought the envelope with her that John asked her to mail. “I finally did reach into my pocket. It was another withdrawal,” she says.

It took several weeks to figure out that the $7 million fortune Maggie had amassed was almost completely gone—even what she’d inherited from Kevin. “I remember feeling like someone took a bowling ball and knocked me in the head with it—and not in the sense that it hurt, but in the sense like, what the hell happened?” says Maggie.

In the aftermath of John’s betrayal, Maggie quickly lost her bearings, questioning everything. “I used to take people for their word,” she says. “‘You seem like a nice person. Okay, let’s be friends.’ It’s like, if you’re a bad person, you’re supposed to be ugly and scraggly and mean. It’s not just knowing that John’s not the person I thought he was, but God, what about the rest of my family?” asks Maggie. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. But what about the person next door?”

She went into a spiral of her own. She stopped exercising, living on pizza and cocktails. “I wouldn’t even look at a scale,” she remembers. “You turn around six months later and look in the mirror and you’re like, ‘Oh, I guess I can’t work with this pudgy face.’ ” She went from a size 2 to a size 6—a model’s way of committing career suicide.

Her agency—she’d moved from Ford to IMG—stopped actively promoting her and recommended therapy. “We suggested maybe it was best to take some time off,” says Ivan Bart. “We turned the faucet off a little bit.” They brought her in for jobs that weren’t “image producing” opportunities. Her fortune and now her career were disappearing as quickly as they’d come, and she was letting it happen. She could hardly get upset—had it all really belonged to her in the first place? Through all of this, she told everyone she was fine. Not everyone believed her, however.

When she was home for Easter in April 2004, she took a taxi to her sister’s house. There, Julia confronted her. “I couldn’t figure out why, when things were so bad, Maggie wasn’t angry and wasn’t dealing with it,” says Julia. “It upset me that she wasn’t kicking herself into gear.” The sisters argued, and Maggie left. “I woke my mom up because I couldn’t get into the house. She didn’t realize that I had been up all night,” says Maggie. Since they were both up anyway, Maureen offered Maggie the last thing she needed—a drink. “That was the worst,” says Maggie. “Absolutely the worst I’ve been.”

Last month, after pleading guilty to charges of grand larceny and conspiracy to defraud, John was sentenced to a term of sixteen months to four years in a minimum-security state prison. A week before his sentencing, John sat in the old house he once shared with Maureen. His adopted stray dog, Walter, lay at his feet. A weight bench sat in the next room—John had been lifting, getting in shape to prepare for prison life.

John said he felt the same about Maggie that he always had. “As far as Maggie and Julia—I’ve always loved all those kids,” he said. “A lot of times, I think this is all a dream and I’m going to wake up one day and this never happened.”

John said alcoholism and a gambling addiction had taken hold of him—a sickness from which he’s recovering. “But I dream angry,” said John. “I wake up and I’m mad at the world.”

Maureen is mad, too—she and the three children she had with John had to go on public assistance at one point. She’s baffled Maggie doesn’t feel the same.

After working out five to seven days a week at Trinity Boxing Club in the Financial District, Maggie’s back to a size 2 and says she’s in better shape than she was before. Her hair is newly red, and she has bangs again. A few weeks ago, her agents at IMG said it was time she stopped posing for obscure catalogues and reclaimed her place at the pinnacle of the fashion world.

Her agent, Ivan Bart, said he wanted to get her on talk shows and “evolve her” into a household name. She’s already shot a Dana Buchman campaign and traveled to L.A. to do a Hugo by Hugo Boss show.

Last spring, Rizer hired celebrity lawyer Ed Hayes (the basis for the Irish clotheshorse Tommy Killian in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, which is dedicated to Hayes), which might appear to be a supermodel move but in fact wasn’t—he was recommended by her real-estate broker, who happens to be Hayes’s wife. Hayes is preparing lawsuits against the Speak Easy, two other bars, and several banks. Hayes argues that the people of Watertown—specifically Mayor Graham—let Rizer down. “The people in those bars had to know he couldn’t spend all day in there drunk,” says Hayes. “The only possible source for the money had to be his stepdaughter.”

Maggie wouldn’t phrase it that way herself. Most of her closest friends are from Watertown. It’s part of her—the old self she won’t give up. And she’s remarkably forgiving, as only someone who knows how randomly the world can deliver its blessings can be.

“I think John is a good person who made way too many bad decisions, took his life down the wrong path,” she wrote to the court. “He’s honestly not a bad guy. He’s just really messed up. I’d like to see him given the opportunity to now make the most of an awful situation. I want him to value his life, I want him to actually live and understand that life is a gift.”


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