NEW YORK (AP) — Ghislaine Maxwell, the jet-set socialite who once dated royals, presidents and billionaires, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday for helping financier Jeffrey Epstein abuse sexually underage girls.
The heavy sentence was a victory for a group of women who spent years fighting for justice after a previous generation of prosecutors failed to prosecute the predatory couple.
Epstein, who took his own life in 2019 while awaiting trial, sexually abused children hundreds of times for more than a decade, exploiting vulnerable girls as young as 14. Prosecutors said he couldn’t have done it without the help of Maxwell, his longtime companion.
Maxwell, dressed in a blue prison uniform and white face mask to comply with coronavirus rules, looked to one side when the sentence was announced but otherwise did not react. She wore leg irons that could be heard clicking as she entered the courtroom.
The sentence was shorter than the sentence sought by prosecutors, but Epstein’s accusers still expressed relief.
“It’s been an incredibly long road to justice for me and for many other survivors,” said Sarah Ransome, one of Epstein’s accusers. “It’s for the girls who didn’t have a say, the ones who weren’t there.”
Judge Alison J. Nathan noted that in imposing the prison sentence and a $750,000 fine, Maxwell never expressed remorse for his crimes. The judge said she wanted the sentence to send an “unequivocal message” that no one was above the law.
Addressing the court earlier, Maxwell stood at a lectern and said she sympathized with the survivors and hoped her punishment would bring them peace. But she did not admit guilt and blamed Epstein for the abuse, saying meeting him was the “biggest regret of my life”.
She called him “a manipulative, cunning and controlling man who lived a deeply compartmentalized life”.
The judge said Maxwell was being punished for her “heinous and predatory” crimes, not Epstein. She criticized Maxwell’s “hijack and blame model”.
Four survivors at sentencing described their sexual abuse, including Annie Farmer, who was briefly overwhelmed with emotion as she addressed the judge.
She said she and her sister tried to go public with their stories of abusing Epstein and Maxwell two decades ago, before being shut down by the power couple through threats and influence. authorities.
“We will continue to live with the hurt she caused us,” Farmer said.
In a crowded courtroom of reporters, three of Maxwell’s siblings sat behind her. Outside the courthouse, Kevin Maxwell said his sister would not give up her legal battle, “and we as a family will be solidly behind her.”
Defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim has promised to appeal. She said Epstein left Maxwell “holding the whole bag”.
“We all know that the person who should have been sentenced today evaded responsibility, avoided their victims, avoided absorbing their pain and receiving the punishment they truly deserved,” she said. declared.
Over the past 17 years, dozens of women have accused Epstein of abusing them, with many describing Maxwell as the madam who recruited them.
The allegations against Epstein first surfaced in 2005. The FBI and local police had, at the time, amassed evidence of sexual misconduct with numerous underage girls.
But under a deal with federal and Florida state prosecutors later criticized as lenient, Epstein pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges involving only one girl and served 13 months in prison, including a large part under a work release program. Subsequently, he had to register as a sex offender.
In the years since, numerous women have sued Epstein for alleged abuse. One, Virginia Giuffre, claimed Epstein and Maxwell also pressured her into having sex with other powerful men, including Britain’s Prince Andrew. All of these men denied the allegations, and Giuffre eventually settled a lawsuit against Andrew out of court.
Federal prosecutors in New York have revived the case against Epstein after articles in the Miami Herald in 2018 drew attention to his crimes. He was arrested in 2019, but committed suicide a month later.
Eleven months after his death, Maxwell was arrested at a New Hampshire estate. Since then, she has been imprisoned in a federal facility in New York.
Epstein and Maxwell’s associations with some of the world’s most famous people were not a major part of his trial, but mentions of friends such as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump showed how the couple exploited their relationships to impress their prey.
Four testified to being abused as teenagers in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein mansions in Florida, New York, New Mexico and the Virgin Islands.
Three were identified in court only by their first names or aliases to protect their privacy: Jane, a television actress; Kate, a former model from the UK; and Carolyn, now a mother recovering from drug addiction. The fourth was Farmer, the only accuser to identify herself in court by her real name, after speaking out publicly.
They described how Maxwell charmed them with conversations, gifts and promises that Epstein could use his wealth and connections to help them achieve their dreams.
Then, they testified, she tricked them into giving Epstein massages that turned sexual and played as usual.
Carolyn testified that she was one of many disadvantaged teenage girls who lived near Epstein’s Florida home in the early 2000s and accepted an offer to massage him in exchange for $100 bills in what prosecutors described as “a pyramid of abuse”.
Maxwell made all the arrangements, Carolyn told the jury, even though she knew the girl was only 14 at the time.
Maxwell’s attorneys fought to have his juror misconduct conviction overturned. Days after the verdict, a juror gave media interviews in which he revealed he had been sexually abused as a child – something he did not tell the court during jury selection. Maxwell’s lawyers said she deserves a new trial. A judge disagreed.
At least eight women submitted letters to the judge, describing the sexual abuse they said they endured.
Anne Holve and Philip Maxwell, her older siblings, wrote to the court asking for clemency and said their sister’s relationship with Epstein began shortly after the 1991 death of their father, British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell .
Robert Maxwell, they wrote, subjected his daughter to “rapid and frequent mood swings, tremendous rages and rejections”, which “caused her to become very vulnerable to abusive and powerful men who might take advantage of his innate good nature”.
Ransome – an accuser whose allegations were not included in the lawsuit – testified to the lasting harm done to her life, looking directly at Maxwell on several occasions.
“You broke me beyond measure,” said Ransome, who twice attempted suicide. “But you didn’t break my spirit.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.