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Ghislaine Maxwell is sentenced to 20 years in prison

In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell gives her statement in federal court, in New York, on June 28, 2022.
Elizabeth Williams
/
AP
In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell gives her statement in federal court, in New York, on June 28, 2022.

Updated June 28, 2022 at 3:56 PM ET

Disgraced socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the sex-trafficking ring of young teens she helped financier Jeffrey Epstein run for a decade.

The punishment doled out by U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan on Tuesday marks the most concrete punishment yet for the years of abuse Maxwell and Epstein imposed on young girls.

Several of those girls, now adults, testified during the trial, bravely pulling the curtain back on years of abuse they suffered after Maxwell and Epstein tugged them into their orbit. The two often used the allure of wealth and their connections to powerful people such as Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

"Today's sentence holds Ghislaine Maxwell accountable for perpetrating heinous crimes against children," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement tweeted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. "This sentence sends a strong message that no one is above the law and it is never too late for justice."

The women were heard again on Tuesday. Eight women sent the court victim impact statements — unredacted, over Maxwell's objections — describing the long-lasting effects of Maxwell's crimes. Nathan ruled that six of the victims were also free to speak at the hearing if they chose to.

Prosecutors wanted Maxwell to serve up to 55 years

The U.S. Probation Department recommended a 20-year sentence for Maxwell, based on federal guidelines for crimes that were "heinous and predatory in nature." But prosecutors sought a sentence between 30 and 55 years, citing the number of victims and Maxwell's refusal to take responsibility.

Maxwell, 60, was sentenced roughly six months after a jury found her guilty of sex trafficking a minor and other serious felonies. Epstein, who was a convicted sex offender, died in August 2019 at a Manhattan correctional facility. Authorities had arrested him one month earlier. His death was ruled a suicide.

Maxwell asked for a much more lenient sentence of only around five years in prison, saying she's being punished for her longtime companion's crimes.

"Epstein was the mastermind, Epstein was the principal abuser," her attorney said in a court filing earlier this month that was notable because it was one of the few instances in which Maxwell acknowledged sexual crimes took place.

Her defense team said Maxwell has "experienced hard time" in the Metropolitan Detention Center where she's been held, adding that her life has been threatened there. But prosecutors dismissed those claims and cited Maxwell's "utter lack of remorse" for her actions.

Prosecutors also asked Nathan to impose a $750,000 fine on Maxwell — the maximum allowed for her crimes. But they stopped short of seeking financial restitution, saying the victims who participated in the case have already received money through the Epstein Victim Compensation Program and/or civil settlements.

Maxwell was compensated richly by Epstein, U.S. says

From 1994 to 2004, federal prosecutors say, Maxwell and Epstein "worked together to identify girls, groom them, and then entice them to travel and transport them to Epstein's properties." They say the pair often traveled between Epstein's mansion on Manhattan's Upper East Side, a villa in Palm Beach, a ranch in New Mexico, a private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and an apartment in Paris.

In return, they say, Maxwell enjoyed a "lavish lifestyle" in which she was waited on by personal staff.

"Maxwell also received a townhouse that Epstein bought for her in New York City, and Epstein transferred a total of approximately $23 million to Maxwell during the timeframe of the conspiracy," the sentencing memorandum states.

Prosecutors also said Maxwell "fostered a culture of silence" in Epstein's properties, instructing household staff to "see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing" unless they were asked a direct question.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York did not seek to force Maxwell to forfeit any real estate, saying the crimes in question were committed at Epstein's properties, not any that Maxwell owned.

8 survivors submitted written victim impact statements

Sarah Ransome, left, and Elizabeth Stein, right, alleged victims of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, speak to reporters outside federal court, on June 28, 2022, in New York.
John Minchillo / AP
/
AP
Sarah Ransome, left, and Elizabeth Stein, right, alleged victims of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, speak to reporters outside federal court, on June 28, 2022, in New York.

Eight women who say Maxwell manipulated and abused them for years sent victim impact statements for the court to consider in weighing Maxwell's punishment. Some of them addressed their thoughts to the judge, while others spoke directly to Maxwell.

They include Maria and Annie Farmer — sisters who first came forward in the 1990s, in an attempt to alert authorities that Epstein was a serial sex predator harming girls and young women.

They described how their futures were stolen at a vulnerable age. Several victims said their abusers undermined their faith in themselves and left deep wounds by preying on their youth and innocence.

"This toxic combination of being sexually exposed and exploited, feeling confused and naïve, blaming myself all resulted in significant shame," Annie Farmer wrote in her statement. "That sickening feeling that makes you want to disappear."

The victims spoke about locking terrible memories away for years, only to have them resurface during their adult lives. And they described the ongoing burden of fighting for justice against someone who refuses to show remorse.

Victims alleged threats followed years of abuse

Annie Farmer (left) and her lawyer Sigrid McCawley arrive at US District Court for the Southern District of New York on June 28, 2022, for the sentencing hearing of Ghislaine Maxwell.
Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Annie Farmer (left) and her lawyer Sigrid McCawley arrive at US District Court for the Southern District of New York on June 28, 2022, for the sentencing hearing of Ghislaine Maxwell.

Maria Farmer said her future as an artist was ruined by Maxwell and Epstein when she met them in 1996. She also told the judge that she suffers from PTSD from years of abuse and threats.

"She assured me that I could be killed walking down my favorite path in NYC," Farmer said. "....Her threats have never left my mind and I believe she will harm me if she ever has a way. Please keep this in mind when determining her terms of imprisonment. She is a very dangerous and devious individual."

Another survivor, Sarah Ransome, said Epstein and Maxwell threatened that her family would be killed if she ever tried to escape what she calls a "dungeon of sexual hell." Ransome, who fled to the U.K. in 2007, told the judge that she has proof Epstein tried to find her 10 years later.

She also included photos with her statement that she said showed her in the hospital, badly injured after surviving two suicide attempts.

"Simply put, Ghislaine Maxwell is a monster," another survivor, Juliette Bryant, wrote in her brief statement. As in other statements, Bryant also said she was grateful to see the crimes exposed, with the hope of justice finally found.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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