Bloomberg — Ghislaine Maxwell was ordered to spend 20 years in prison after a hearing at which victims described how their lives had been devastated by the sexual abuse they suffered at her and Jeffrey Epstein’s hands.
The prison term handed down Tuesday could be an effective life sentence for Maxwell, 60, but is less than the 30 to 55 years sought by prosecutors. The British socialite, dressed in blue prison fatigues, her ankles shackled, was impassive as US Circuit Judge Alison Nathan announced her punishment for “heinous and predatory” conduct.
“Miss Maxwell directly and repeatedly and over the course of many years participated in a horrific scheme to entice, transport and traffic underage girls, some as young as 14,” the judge said.
After the sentence was read, Maxwell put an arm around one her lawyers, Bobbi Sternheim, and shared a few words with another, Christian Everdell, before she was led away by two female deputy US marshals. Sternheim subsequently denounced the sentence outside the courthouse.
“Ghislaine will appeal this case, and we are confident that she will prevail on appeal,” she said. “We all know that the person who should have been sentenced today escaped accountability, avoiding the victims, avoided absorbing their pain, and receiving the punishment he truly deserved. Clever and cunning to the end, Jeffrey Epstein left Ghislaine Maxwell holding the whole bag.”
Lured and Groomed
A jury found Maxwell guilty in December of five counts, including sex-trafficking, after the prosecutors presented evidence and witness testimony that she lured and groomed underage girls for abuse by disgraced financier Epstein, her former boyfriend, and sometimes participated in the abuse herself.
The victims who addressed the court at her sentencing were unequivocal that she was as culpable as he. Maxwell largely stared straight ahead as her accusers spoke but occasionally stole a sideways glance at them.
“Judge Nathan, I hope when you consider the appropriate prison sentence for the role Maxwell played in this sex-trafficking operation, you take into account the ongoing suffering of the many women she abused and exploited as we will continue to live with the memories of the ways she harmed us,” said Annie Farmer, one of four women who testified about their abuse at Maxwell’s trial.
Another of those women, who took the stand under the pseudonym “Kate,” pointed out that Maxwell continued to maintain she did nothing wrong. “Maxwell’s lack of remorse and her blatant refusal to take responsibility is her final insult,” Kate said. “She is not sorry and she will do it again.”
Maxwell, who chose not to testify in her own defense, spoke on Tuesday, her ankle chains clinking as she walked to the lectern to address the court. She said it was difficult for her to speak “after listening to the pain and anguish expressed” by her accusers. Though she expressed some remorse, she also argued that she was a “victim” of Epstein as well and repeated her argument at trial that she was being scapegoated for his crimes.
Not a ‘Proxy’
“He should have stood here in 2005, in 2009 and again in 2019,” Maxwell said, “but today it is not for Jeffrey Epstein, it is for me to be sentenced.”
In her sentencing, Nathan admonished Maxwell for not taking responsibility for her crimes and explicitly rejected the claim that she was a scapegoat.
“Miss Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein nor as a proxy for Epstein,” the judge said. “Miss Maxwell is being punished for her role.”
Maxwell had asked that she be given less than six years behind bars. Her lawyers won a skirmish during the hearing on Tuesday when Nathan agreed that, because the scheme charged by prosecutors ended in 2004, she should be subject to older, more lenient sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutor Alison Moe urged the judge to use her discretion to impose a sentence above the guidelines. “A substantial sentence will send an unmistakable message that those who engage in the sexual abuse and trafficking of underage victims will be held accountable by the law,” Moe told Nathan. “The rule of law demands that whether you are rich or powerful or entirely unknown, nobody is above the law, nobody is too rich or powerful to be held accountable. We ask this court to send a message that it is never too late for justice.”
Maxwell’s prison term was slightly above the guidelines, and Nathan also sentenced her to five years of probation and a $750,000 fine.
Outside the courthouse, Farmer, who is now a therapist, expressed satisfaction with the 20-year sentence.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done on this issue, but in this fight we need to celebrate the victories,” she said. “I just hope that this sentence can be another sign that victims are coming together and saying, ‘No more. If you commit these crimes, you will be punished.’”
Though Maxwell is the only person to have been convicted for the scheme, ties to Epstein led to career downfalls for former Barclays Chief Executive Officer Jes Staley and Apollo Global Management co-founder Leon Black and have besmirched the reputations of Bill Gates, Leslie Wexner and many other prominent men. All have denied knowing about or participating in inappropriate conduct with Epstein.
Prince Andrew, a longtime friend of Maxwell’s, was forced to step down from his royal duties and stripped of honorific titles after Virginia Giuffre claimed he was one of several powerful men to whom Epstein “lent” her for sexual abuse.
Giuffre, who has been one of the most outspoken of Maxwell and Epstein’s victims, didn’t appear at the sentencing but submitted a sharply worded statement that was read in court by her lawyer, Sigrid McCawley.
“Ghislaine, you deserve to spend the rest of your life in a jail cell,” Giuffre wrote. “You deserve to be trapped in a cage forever, just like you trapped your victims.”
During Maxwell’s month-long trial, prosecutors depicted her as indispensable to Epstein’s predations. She befriended the girls, took them shopping and acted as a big sister to them before pushing them into sexual encounters with Epstein.
In exchange, Epstein paid her handsomely. Though Maxwell grew up amid great wealth, prosecutors presented evidence that she “downsized” apartments after the death of her father, who was found to have diverted hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies’ pension funds. A JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker testified that Epstein transferred nearly $31 million to her between 1999 and 2007. Kate testified that Maxwell told her that Epstein “got” her a New York townhouse.
Maxwell was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July 2020 at a sprawling New Hampshire home that Sotheby’s described as “an amazing retreat.” She’s been in federal custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center, the federal jail in Brooklyn. Nathan denied her requests for bail, saying her wealth, multiple passports and global contacts rendered her a flight risk.
The four women who took the stand against Maxwell described how they were sexually abused as teenagers from 1994 to 2004 at Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion, Palm Beach estate and New Mexico ranch, as well as Maxwell’s London townhouse, among other luxury properties.
Nathan noted that one of the women, who testified under the name “Jane,” was only 14 when Maxwell befriended her and brought her into Epstein’s world. The judge said forcing the women to speak about their experiences on the witness stand and endure “zealous cross-examination”compounded the harm.
“The damage done to these young girls was incalculable,” Nathan said.
Many more women than the four who took the stand have come forward to say they were abused by Maxwell and Epstein, much of whose estate was turned into a victims compensation fund that paid out $125 million in claims.
Sarah Ransome, an Epstein accuser who did not testify at Maxwell’s trial, was allowed to speak at her sentencing over defense objections. Ransome described the devastating impact the abuse has had on her life.
“I have attempted suicide twice since the abuse,” Ransome said, fighting back tears, adding that she never married or had children as she’d always hoped. “I shy away from meeting new people and have difficulty meeting new friends because I fear they will be associated with Epstein and Maxwell.”
The case is US v Maxwell, 20-cr-330, US District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).