By Lauren del Valle, Mark Morales, Sonia Moghe and Eric Levenson, CNN
Updated: Tue, 28 Jun 2022 20:48:41 GMT
Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison Tuesday for carrying out a years-long scheme with her longtime confidante Jeffrey Epstein to groom and sexually abuse underage girls.
Maxwell, 60, did not testify in her defense during the trial late last year, which ended with her conviction on five counts, including sex trafficking of a minor. But on Tuesday she spoke in court to the victims shortly before the sentence was handed down.
"Jeffrey Epstein should have been here before all of you," Maxwell said at the podium, her legs shackled. "It is not about Epstein, ultimately. It is for me to be sentenced."
Maxwell, Epstein's former girlfriend, acknowledged that she had been convicted in the sex trafficking scheme but stopped short of taking responsibility.
"I am sorry for the pain that you've experienced," Maxwell said. "I hope my conviction ... brings you closure."
Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Maxwell to 30 to 55 years in prison, while the probation department recommended 20 years. Maxwell's attorneys requested a more lenient sentence of between 4.25 and 5.25 years in prison.
Judge Alison Nathan calculated that the sentencing guidelines called for about 15½ to 19½ years in prison. Yet she delivered a sentence slightly above that range, noting the victims' disturbing testimony and Maxwell's "direct and repeated participation in a horrific scheme."
"Miss Maxwell is not punished in place of Epstein," she said. "Miss Maxwell is being punished for the role that she played."
Nathan also said Maxwell failed to accept responsibility for her role in the crimes or show remorse.
"Today's sentence will attempt to acknowledge the harm that Ms. Maxwell has caused," Nathan said.
The 20-year sentence represents a pivotal moment in an international sex trafficking case that stretched over decades and exemplified the ways that the rich and powerful can avoid -- or, at least, delay -- consequences for their actions.
Maxwell was also sentenced to five years of supervised release and a $750,000 fine, which her attorney said she is unable to pay. The judge said she will be sent to a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut.
Epstein, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to state prostitution charges, was indicted on federal sex trafficking charges in July 2019 but died by suicide in prison a month later. Maxwell has been detained since her arrest in July 2020, and prosecutors said she received credit for two years of time served.
US Attorney Damian Williams praised the sentence and thanked the victims for testifying.
"Today's sentence holds Ghislaine Maxwell accountable for perpetrating heinous crimes against children," he said. "This sentence sends a strong message that no one is above the law and it is never too late for justice."
However, defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim said Maxwell planned to appeal the conviction and, as she did during the trial, pushed the blame onto Epstein.
"We all know that the person who should have been sentenced today escaped accountability, avoided his victims, avoided absorbing their pain and receiving the punishment he truly deserved," Sternheim said. "Jeffrey Epstein left Ghislaine Maxwell holding the whole bag."
Victim impact statements say Maxwell facilitated abuse
Prior to the sentence, four women spoke in court to describe the long-lasting effects of Maxwell's and Epstein's abuse. The judge granted requests from eight women in all to give victim impact statements either in writing or in person at the sentencing.
Annie Farmer, one of the victims, asked the judge to consider the lasting effects of Maxwell's behavior on her victims.
"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," she wrote. "I hope you weigh the systemic effects of the crimes she perpetrated -- the ways that our family members, romantic partners, and friends have been hurt through our suffering."
Another victim, identified only as "Kate," said Maxwell's "final insult" was her lack of remorse after being found guilty. She said Maxwell was "a manipulative, cruel and merciless person" and could have stopped the abuse.
"You could have put an end to the rapes, the molestations, the sickening manipulations that you arranged, witnessed and even took part in," Kate said in court.
Sarah Ransome, another accuser who was not part of this trial, told the court about the ramifications the years of abuse had on her, saying she suffered from alcoholism and had twice attempted suicide.
"I frequently experience flashbacks and wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares reliving the awful experience," she said.
Afterward, Farmer said she was happy with the 20-year sentence and said she didn't believe Maxwell's statement of apology.
"Her statement felt like a very hollow apology to me," she said. "She did not take responsibility for the crimes that she committed and it felt like, once more, her trying to do something to benefit her and not at all about the harm she had caused."
She also said she appreciated the opportunity to speak in court.
"It actually felt very powerful to finally have a chance to speak and have my voice on the record and say the things that I wanted to say about how her crimes impacted myself and the people that I know and care about," Farmer said.
What happened at the trial
Maxwell's monthlong trial last year alternated between disturbing testimony from sexual abuse victims and illuminating testimony about some of Epstein's connections to high-profile celebrities.
Prosecutors argued Maxwell and Epstein conspired to set up a scheme to lure young girls into sexual relationships with Epstein from 1994 to 2004 in New York, Florida, New Mexico and the US Virgin Islands. Four women testified during the trial that Epstein abused them and that Maxwell facilitated the abuse and sometimes participated in it as well.
Her defense, meanwhile, said she was a "scapegoat" for Epstein's actions and attacked the memories and motivations of the women who say they were sexually abused.
The prosecution's case rested primarily on the testimony of the four women.
Jane, testifying under a pseudonym, said Maxwell organized sexual massages with Epstein and sometimes joined in the abuse. The charges of enticing -- on which Maxwell was acquitted -- and transporting relate to testimony solely from her.
Carolyn, who testified using only her first name, said that when she was 14, Maxwell touched her breasts, hips and buttocks and told her she "had a great body for Epstein and his friends." The child sex trafficking count -- the most serious of all the charges -- relates to her testimony.
Kate testified Maxwell invited her over and directed her how to give Epstein a sexual massage. She said Maxwell spoke often of sexual topics with her and asked Kate to invite other young girls for Epstein's sexual desires.
Farmer, the only accuser to testify by her full name, said that she was 16 when Maxwell massaged her naked chest at Epstein's New Mexico ranch in 1996.
Though she was convicted of five charges, Maxwell was sentenced on only three counts after the judge agreed that two of the conspiracy counts she faced were repetitive.