Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years for 'heinous crimes against children'

AFP

Ghislaine Maxwell has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for helping Jeffrey Epstein abuse teenage girls, in what a judge called a "horrific scheme" that inflicted "incalculable" harm on victims.

The British socialite, 60, was convicted in December of five charges, including trafficking a minor, for recruiting and grooming four girls for Epstein, between 1994 and 2004.

Speaking at her sentencing hearing in Manhattan federal court before learning the sentence, Maxwell called Epstein a "manipulative, cunning and controlling man" who fooled everyone in his orbit. She said she was "sorry" for the pain that his victims experienced.

"It is the greatest regret of my life that I ever met Jeffrey Epstein," Maxwell said.

Maxwell's month-long trial in late 2021 was widely seen as the reckoning that Epstein - who killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 at age 66 while awaiting his own trafficking trial - never had.

It was one of the highest-profile cases in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out about abuse, often at the hands of wealthy and powerful people. 

In imposing the sentence, US Circuit Judge Alison Nathan said Maxwell did not appear to express remorse or accept responsibility.

"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, for abuse by and with Jeffrey Epstein," Nathan said. "The damage done to these young girls was incalculable."

Bobbi Sternheim, a lawyer for Maxwell, said Maxwell would appeal, arguing the public scrutiny of the case before the trial "left little room for her to be treated fairly".

In a statement, Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said, "This sentence sends a strong message that no one is above the law and it is never too late for justice."

Nathan said Maxwell's statements showed a "pattern of deflection of blame."

"Although Epstein was of course central to this criminal scheme, Ms. Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein or as a proxy for Epstein," Nathan said. "Ms. Maxwell was instrumental in the abuse of several underage girls."

In often emotional and explicit testimony during the trial, Annie Farmer, a woman known as "Kate," and two other women testified that Maxwell, who was found guilty on five counts, was a central figure in their abuse by Epstein. Read full story

During Tuesday's hearing, Farmer, now a psychologist, said her experience being exploited by Maxwell "resulted in significant shame" that sometimes left her feeling like she wanted to "disappear".

Kate said she was proud to help hold Maxwell accountable.

"Today, I can look at Ghislaine and tell her that I became what I am today in spite of her and her efforts to make me feel powerless and insignificant, and I will cast that empowerment on my daughter," Kate said.

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