Ghislaine Maxwell, the former socialite who conspired with Jeffrey Epstein to sexually exploit underage girls, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday by a judge who said she played a pivotal role in facilitating a horrific scheme that spanned continents and years.
Ms. Maxwell, 60, the daughter of the British media magnate Robert Maxwell, was convicted on Dec. 29 of sex trafficking and other counts after a monthlong trial, at which the government presented testimony and other evidence depicting Ms. Maxwell as a sophisticated predator who groomed vulnerable young women and girls as young as 14 years old, for abuse by Mr. Epstein.
Her sentencing, which drew throngs of onlookers and journalists to a Lower Manhattan courthouse, brought a measure of resolution to a lurid case whose primary actor eluded justice by suicide.
The investigations into the behavior of Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein showed how two prominent members of society used wealth and status to exploit and abuse the vulnerable. And the case afforded a gaze into a world where the patina of glamour hid the routine infliction of intimate, life-changing cruelty.
“The damage done to these young girls was incalculable,” said Judge Alison J. Nathan of Federal District Court in Manhattan.
The sentence was shorter than the government had recommended — federal prosecutors in Manhattan had asked the judge to impose a sentence of at least 30 years. If the conviction is upheld, Ms. Maxwell, with time potentially credited for good behavior and the two years she has spent in jail, could leave prison in her 70s.
Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers had sought to discredit her accusers’ accounts and argued that the government was trying her for Mr. Epstein’s crimes.
Ms. Maxwell spoke in court on Tuesday — her first public remarks since her July 2020 arrest. Standing at the lectern in blue prison scrubs, her ankles shackled, she acknowledged “the pain and the anguish” of the victimized women who had addressed the court. But she stopped short of apologizing or accepting responsibility for her crimes.
“It is the greatest regret of my life that I ever met Jeffrey Epstein,” Ms. Maxwell said. “Jeffrey Epstein should have been here before all of you.”
Ms. Maxwell’s trial and conviction were widely seen as the legal reckoning that Mr. Epstein, 66, never had. The disgraced financier hanged himself in his Manhattan jail cell one month after his July 2019 arrest as he awaited his own trial on sex trafficking charges.
Mr. Epstein’s high-flying lifestyle, mysterious wealth, and cast of famous friends earned him notoriety, even as he was dogged by allegations of sexual abuse. He socialized with the powerful in his Manhattan townhouse, in London, Palm Beach, Fla., and — particularly after his 2008 conviction in Florida on charges of soliciting underage prostitutes on his own island in the Caribbean.
Wherever he was, Ms. Maxwell, his longtime romantic and then platonic companion, found girls who believed that caring adults were granting them access to a rarefied world. Instead, they became trapped, forced to gratify his apparently boundless sexual desires.
After Mr. Epstein’s arrest, Ms. Maxwell became the subject of intense public scrutiny.
Her lawyers, in a sentencing brief, contended that prosecutors turned their attention to Ms. Maxwell after Mr. Epstein’s death only to appease his victims and “repair the tarnished reputations” of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons, in whose custody he died.
Before imposing the sentence, Judge Nathan said that “although Epstein was central to this criminal scheme, Ms. Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein or as a proxy.”
She also noted that Ms. Maxwell, in her lawyers’ accounts and in her own statement in court, had not expressed remorse or accepted responsibility.
Judge Nathan said the sentence was limited to punishment for the crimes for which Ms. Maxwell was convicted — but as with all sentencings, the judge can consider additional factors. In contrast to the limited scope of the trial testimony, Tuesday’s hearing featured a more sweeping description of the sex-trafficking scheme.
Alison Moe, a federal prosecutor, asked Judge Nathan on Tuesday to impose a sentence of “multiple decades in prison.” Ms. Moe described Ms. Maxwell’s worldview as one in which there were two kinds of people: “The people who really mattered, and the people who were disposable.”
After the hearing, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, “This sentence sends a strong message that no one is above the law and it is never too late for justice.”
Bobbi C. Sternheim, a lawyer for Ms. Maxwell, speaking outside the courthouse, said her client had been “vilified,” “pilloried” and “tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.”
“Clever and cunning to the end,” she said, “Jeffery Epstein left Ghislaine Maxwell holding the whole bag.”
In the trial, the government offered its evidence through 24 witnesses over 10 days in a case that centered on four accusers, who are all now adults.
Two of the women addressed the court on Tuesday. One, Annie Farmer, was 16 when she was sexually abused by Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein after being lured to his ranch under the pretense of a program for high school students.
“Maxwell had many opportunities to come clean, but instead continued to make choices that caused more harm,” Ms. Farmer said.
Sarah Ransome, an accuser who did not testify at the trial, also spoke on Tuesday, recalling meeting Ms. Maxwell when she was 22 and aspiring to a career in fashion that Ms. Maxwell pledged to support, but never did.
“I became nothing better than a sex toy,” Ms. Ransome said, at times fighting back tears as she described Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein’s relentless criticism of her, and the long-term suffering she endured, leading to two suicide attempts. She described Ms. Maxwell as “the five-star general” of a decades-long sex-trafficking conspiracy.
Elizabeth Stein, another accuser who did not testify at the trial, said during the sentencing that she met Ms. Maxwell in 1991, when she was a student at a New York City fashion school and was working part-time at a luxury department store.
“Ghislaine was electrifying,” Ms. Stein said.
That night, and in years that followed, Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein sexually assaulted her, she said.
“In more ways than one, they almost killed me,” she said.
Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers have said she will appeal her conviction.
In her address to the court, Ms. Maxwell said Mr. Epstein had “fooled all of those in his orbit.” She added: “It is my sincerest hope, for all of those in the courtroom, and all those outside it, that this day brings a terrible chapter to an end.”
She gave no discernible reaction as the judge delivered her sentence, nor did her family members seated in a row in the bench behind her. Minutes later, she was led from the courtroom, her ankle shackles clanking.
The post Maxwell Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison as Epstein Case Nears Its End appeared first on New York Times.