Ghislaine Maxwell Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking - Rolling Stone
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Ghislaine Maxwell Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking

“I am sorry for the pain you’ve experienced,” Maxwell told the court — but stopped short of taking responsibility for the crimes she was convicted of

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Ghislaine Maxwell attends VIP Evening of Conversation for Women's Brain Health Initiative, Moderated by Tina Brown at Spring Studios on October 18, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Ghislaine Maxwell attends VIP Evening of Conversation for Women's Brain Health Initiative, Moderated by Tina Brown at Spring Studios on October 18, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Ghislaine Maxwell attends VIP Evening of Conversation for Women's Brain Health Initiative, Moderated by Tina Brown at Spring Studios on October 18, 2016 in New York City.

Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Ghislaine Maxwell will spend 20 years in prison for helping Jeffrey Epstein recruit, groom, and abuse girls. On Tuesday, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York handed down the sentence for counts of sex trafficking, conspiracy, and transportation of a minor with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activity, which she was convicted of last December.

Addressing the court room for the first and only time during the course of her case, Maxwell said that she “empathized deeply” with the victims and said, “I am sorry for the pain you’ve experienced.” In her sentencing, however, Judge Alison Nathan pointed out that Maxwell had stopped short of taking responsibility for her actions. Annie Farmer, who shared a victim impact statement at the hearing, told the press afterwards Maxwell’s comments felt like a hollow apology. “She did not take responsibility for the crimes that she committed,” Farmer said. “It felt like, once more, her trying to do something to benefit her and not at all about the harm that she had caused.”

In the weeks leading up to the hearing, Maxwell’s lawyers had asked for a lighter sentence than the 20 years recommended by the court’s probation department, citing a difficult upbringing and harsh conditions in jail, where Maxwell, 60, has been held without bail since her arrest on July 2, 2020. The defense also repeated an argument they’d used throughout the monthlong trial that Maxwell was nothing but a scapegoat for Epstein, who died by suicide in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial for his own sex-trafficking charges.

The prosecution countered with a request for 30 to 55 years based on the harm done to victims, a lack of remorse for her crimes, and the argument that disliking jail time isn’t a valid excuse to get out early. Far from being a patsy for Epstein, they argued, Maxwell was “instrumental” to the abuse and knew what she was doing. “She was a calculating, sophisticated, and dangerous criminal who preyed on vulnerable young girls and groomed them for sexual abuse,” the prosecution said in its submission to the judge.

On Tuesday, Maxwell entered the courtroom wearing light blue prison scrubs and ankle shackles that rattled when she walked. Four women read victim impact statements: Annie Farmer, Sarah Ransome, Elizabeth Stein, the witness who used the alias Kate, and attorney Sigrid McCawley, who spoke for Virginia Roberts Giuffre. Annie’s older sister Maria Farmer, Teresa Helm, and Juliette Bryant also submitted written statements ahead of the hearing.

“One day, when I was doing my job, I met Ghislaine Maxwell who fed me to Jeffrey Epstein,” said Maxwell accuser Elizabeth Stein.

Wearing a black dress and black hair bow, Kate invoked the recent fall of Roe v. Wade, describing “a time when women’s rights have been so carelessly discarded” and saying if we can’t stop women who have been raped from being forced to bear a child conceived from the act, then we must show “zero tolerance” to the people who groom and rape children.

Elizabeth Stein, who appeared to stand about five feet tall and wore a bright pink dress and pearls, nearly shouted as she addressed Maxwell from the podium, speaking about meeting Maxwell while working at Henri Bendel as a college student studying fashion. “One day, when I was doing my job, I met Ghislaine Maxwell who fed me to Jeffrey Epstein,” she emphasized, turning her head to face Maxwell directly. “For over two and a half decades, I felt like I was in prison. She had her life. It’s time to have mine. She needs to be in prison so her victims can all finally be free.”

Maxwell sat at the defense table and looked straight ahead during all of the impact statements. When Sarah Ransome said Maxwell used to call her a “piglet,” and told her to lose weight, Maxwell’s hand flew up to touch her forehead, briefly. Epstein and Maxwell had treated her like “nothing more than a sex toy,” Ransome said.

During the month-long trial in late 2021, Maxwell had declined to testify on her own behalf, so as she approached the podium on Tuesday and removed her mask to take her last opportunity to speak before her sentencing, visitors in the courtroom leaned forward in their seats. “Your honor, it is hard for me to address the court after listening to the pain and anguish expressed in the statements made here today,” Maxwell said, speaking softly. “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 Epstein should have faced the court in 2005, 2009, and in 2019. “I believe Jeffrey Epstein was a manipulative, cunning, controlling man who lived a profoundly compartmentalized life and fooled all of those in his orbit,” she said. She told victims she hoped her sentencing would bring the victims a measure of peace and finality. “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 an end,” she said “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.”

Due to a technicality in the timing of a conspiracy charge, Judge Nathan made a mathematical adjustment to the sentencing guidelines, which made her 20-year announcement a sentence that actually went beyond the adjusted guidelines of 15 to 19 years. Nathan additionally sentenced Maxwell to five years supervised release and ordered her to pay a $750,000 fine. Maxwell’s team requested that she serve her time in a women’s detention facility in Danbury Connecticut and that she enter the Female Integrated Treatment therapy program to address family issues and other trauma from her past.

Outside the courthouse, attorney McCawley said it was a “towering day for justice” for victims. “Today showed us that individuals can be held accountable irrespective of power and privilege,” she said, standing beside Annie Farmer.

Farmer celebrated the sentencing, and urged people to keep working to end the sexual exploitation of children and to expose more people linked to Epstein. “May this sentence demonstrate that it is never too late for the truth to come out and never too late for there to be accountability” she said. “Maxwell and Epstein were predators…and for far too long the institutions that should be protecting the public were instead protecting them and I still hope we find out more about how that was allowed to occur.”

“May this sentence demonstrate that it is never too late for the truth to come out and never too late for accountability,” said Maxwell accuser Annie Farmer.

Maxwell’s lawyer Bobbi Sternheim expressed displeasure with the sentencing and said she planned to appeal it. “Jeffrey Epstein left Ghislaine Maxwell holding the whole bag,” she said, echoing an argument the defense used several times during the trial – that Maxwell was being punished in Epstein’s place.

The sentencing of Maxwell has been a long time coming. The trial began Nov. 29, 2021 and jury deliberations bookended the Christmas holiday. Over the course of two and a half weeks, prosecutors had called 24 witnesses, including Epstein’s former household staff members and pilots of his private jet, a psychologist to speak about the effects of childhood sexual abuse, and, most memorably four accusers. The four women came from single-parent households and faced struggles in their personal lives which prosecutors said Maxwell and Epstein exploited to target them for abuse: Jane, a soap star, who testified under an alias that she’d met Maxwell and Epstein at 14 while attending summer arts camp in Michigan; Kate, also using an alias, who said at 17 she thought of Maxwell as a friend before Maxwell forced her into a sexualized massage with Epstein; Carolyn, who a friend recruited into Epstein’s ring of abuse but who said Maxwell paid her and booked her massages and at least once touched her naked body; and Farmer, who Maxwell coached in rubbing Epstein’s feet.

Throughout the trial, the defense suggested the accusers had been manipulated by outside forces — or greed — and that their memories did not serve them correctly. Cross-examinations ran for hours as lawyers for Maxwell grilled the women on details of their recollections from the 1990s and early 2000s.

Multiple speakers referred to Epstein and Maxwells additional co-conspirators, who have yet to face charges. Through tears, Ransome explained the way her life had been derailed by Epstein and Maxwell’s abuse. “I shy away from strangers and have difficulty making new friends because I fear they could be associated with Epstein, Maxwell and the enablers,” she said. Farmer suggested Maxwell had had a chance to bring some of them to justice when she was arrested. “She could admit her participation in this scheme, acknowledge the harm caused or even provide information that could have helped hold others accountable,” Farmer said. “Instead, she again chose to lie about her behavior, causing additional harm to all of those she victimized.”

June 28, 5 p.m.: This story has been updated to include details of the sentencing hearing and statements made afterwards.  

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