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 during which the government presented testimony and 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 case against Ms. Maxwell showed how she and Mr. Epstein, her longtime companion, used wealth and status to exploit and abuse the vulnerable. The trial 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 before imposing the sentence on Tuesday.
The prison term was shorter than the government had recommended — federal prosecutors in Manhattan had asked the judge to impose at least 30 years. If the conviction is upheld, Ms. Maxwell, with potential credit for good behavior and the two years she has spent in jail, could leave prison in her 70s.
Throughout the trial, Ms. Maxwell’s attorneys sought to discredit her accusers’ accounts and argued that the government was trying her for Mr. Epstein’s crimes. In court on Tuesday, one of those lawyers, Bobbi C. Sternheim, described the way Ms. Maxwell’s life had been clouded by two men: her “narcissistic, brutish” father and the “controlling, demanding, manipulative” Mr. Epstein.
Ms. Maxwell herself 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 before her. 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. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to Florida state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution — the result of a deal with federal prosecutors that allowed him to avoid more criminal exposure.
Even after his plea rendered him a convicted sex offender, Mr. Epstein socialized with powerful figures in his Manhattan mansion, his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, his private island in the Caribbean and elsewhere. They included politicians like Bill Clinton and Bill Richardson and billionaires like Leon Black and Leslie Wexner. There was even a royal: Prince Andrew, known as the Duke of York. In February, he settled a lawsuit by a woman who said he, Mr. Epstein and Ms. Maxwell forced her, when she was a minor, to have sexual intercourse with him in Ms. Maxwell’s home in London; Prince Andrew has since stepped away from public life.
Wherever Mr. Epstein was, Ms. Maxwell, his longtime romantic and then platonic companion, befriended girls who believed that caring adults were granting them access to a rarefied world. Instead, they became trapped, forced to gratify Mr. Epstein’s apparently boundless sexual desires.
After Mr. Epstein’s arrest in 2019, Ms. Maxwell became the subject of intense public scrutiny, which increased after his death in custody a month later.
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 — a claim the government has roundly dismissed.
On Tuesday, 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 found Ms. Maxwell’s criminal activity extensive, and noted that Ms. Maxwell, in her lawyers’ accounts and in her own statement in court Tuesday, did not express remorse or accept responsibility.
In contrast to the limited scope of the trial testimony, Tuesday’s hearing featured a more sweeping description of the sex-trafficking scheme and of the world into which Ms. Maxwell drew her victims.
Alison Moe, a federal prosecutor, 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.” She asked Judge Nathan to impose a sentence of “multiple decades in prison.”
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.”
Ms. Sternheim, the 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, “Jeffrey Epstein left Ghislaine Maxwell holding the whole bag.”
Ms. Maxwell’s trial focused on events from 1994 to 2004, a period during which prosecutors said Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein had worked together to identify and groom their victims to be sexually abused.
During 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, three of whom said they were drawn in by Ms. Maxwell’s offers to help them professionally or with their studies. (The fourth, who testified using only her first name, Carolyn, testified that she was recruited by another young woman to work as a masseuse in Mr. Epstein’s Florida home.)
Several of the women testified at trial that Ms. Maxwell at first seemed elegant and sophisticated, that her presence made them feel comfortable as they were introduced to Mr. Epstein and his life of luxury. They described shopping trips and being lavished with presents. But Mr. Epstein’s and Ms. Maxwell’s offers of friendship and support turned swiftly to sexualized massages, with Ms. Maxwell serving as a guide and sometimes as a participant.
Two of the four accusers who had testified during the trial 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 New Mexico ranch under the pretense of attending 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, 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. She was also fined $750,000 by Judge Nathan.
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.
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