Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in jail Tuesday for helping the wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse underage girls.
U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan, who also imposed a $750,000 fine, said “a very significant sentence is necessary” and that she wanted to send an “unmistakable message” that these kinds of crimes would be punished.
Tuesday’s sentencing in New York was the culmination of a prosecution that detailed how the power couple flaunted their riches and prominent connections to lure vulnerable girls as young as 14, and then exploit them.
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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 and onetime girlfriend.
“Maxwell’s conduct was shockingly predatory. She was a calculating, sophisticated, and dangerous criminal who preyed on vulnerable young girls and groomed them for sexual abuse,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Before the ruling Tuesday, the defence calculated that the correct sentencing range for their client was roughly four to five years. The prosecution calculated the legal maximum — 30 to 55 years — and asked Nathan that Maxwell receive at least 30 years.
Nathan told the courtroom that the federal sentencing guideline is a range between 15 and 19 1/2 years in prison, roughly half of the term originally sought by federal prosecutors.
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According to The Associated Press, Maxwell entered the court for the sentencing hearing wearing a blue prison uniform and white face mask, her ankles shackled. She sat quietly as the lawyers on both sides debated the sentencing. Three of her siblings sat behind her.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe recounted how Maxwell subjected girls to “horrifying nightmares” by taking them to Epstein.
“They were partners in crime together and they molested these kids together,” she said, calling Maxwell “a person who was indifferent to the suffering of other human beings.”
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Two women who had testified against Maxwell or released statements prior to sentencing — Elizabeth Stein and Sarah Ransome — also showed up to the courthouse and spoke to reporters outside.
“Today is a day I didn’t think would ever happen, so for me it’s a blessing. It really is. And I’ve prayed for this moment so hard and for so long,” Ransome said.
“It will be very vindicating to speak my statements and have her in the room to hear it,” Stein said.
Several of the victims chose to read statements in court or had their statements read. Annie Farmer, whose voice cracked several times as she said “we will continue to live with the harm she caused us.” Farmer said her sister and herself 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.
Maxwell was quiet until it was her turn to address the court.
“Your honour, it is hard for me to address the court after listening to the pain and anguish expressed in the statements made here today. The terrible impact on the lives of so many women is difficult to hear and even more difficult to absorb, both in its scale and in its extent,” she said, according to the New York Times.
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“Jeff Epstein should have been here before all of you,” she continued. “He should have stood before you in 2005, again in 2009 and again in 2019. … All the many times he was accused, charged and prosecuted. but today it is not about Jeffrey Epstein ultimately…To you, all the victims … I am sorry for the pain that you experienced.
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“It is my sincerest wish to all those in this courtroom and to all those outside this courtroom that this day brings a terrible chapter to the end, to an end. And to those of you who spoke here today and those of you who did not, may this day help you travel from darkness into the light.”
In December, a jury convicted Maxwell of sex trafficking, transporting a minor to participate in illegal sex acts and two conspiracy charges.
Maxwell, who denies abusing anyone, said Tuesday she hoped that her conviction and her “unusual incarceration” bring some “measure of peace and finality.”
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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 like 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. Many described Maxwell as acting as a madam who recruited them to give massages to Epstein.
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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 Annie Farmer, who identified 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.”
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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 jail, 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.
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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.
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Eleven months later after his death, Maxwell was arrested at a New Hampshire estate. A U.S., British and French citizen, she has remained in a federal jail in New York City since then as her lawyers repeatedly criticize her treatment, saying she was even unjustly placed under suicide watch days before sentencing. Prosecutors say the claims about the jail are exaggerated and that Maxwell has been treated better than other prisoners.
Her lawyers also fought to have her conviction tossed 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.
— With files from The Associated Press
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