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Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years in prison for sex trafficking

The former partner of the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein returned to federal court Tuesday, six months after a jury convicted her of luring and grooming teenage girls into a lifestyle that, as one victim put it, “opened the door to hell.”

MANHATTAN (CN) — Sentencing the former socialite to 20 years in prison, a federal judge chided Ghislaine Maxwell on Tuesday for refusing to accept responsibility for her involvement with Jeffrey Epstein in the decadeslong operation of an underage sex ring.

U.S. Circuit Judge Alison Nathan made clear that Maxwell's long sentence is a reflection of the “heinous and predatory” abuse that the 60-year-old not only had a “pivotal role in facilitating” but in which she was an active, longtime participant.

“Ms. Maxwell was instrumental in the abuse of several underage girls, and she herself participated in some of the abuse," said Nathan, who has been elevated to the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in the six months since she presided over Maxwell’s District Court trial. 

Maxwell spoke at the hearing for the first time about the crimes of which she was convicted but made it a point not to take responsibility for them.

“It is the greatest regret of my life that I ever met Jeffrey Epstein,” Maxwell remarked in a six-minute speech from a plexiglass podium, calling theirs an association that “will forever and permanently stain me."

“Jeffrey Epstein should have been here before all of you,” she continued, wearing gray-blue prison garb over a white, long-sleeved shirt. “He should have stood before all of you in 2005, again in 2009, again in 2019.” 

That Maxwell portrayed herself as yet another victim of Epstein, rather than as an accomplice, was not lost on Judge Nathan, who rejected the defense's argument that she is being punished as the late pedophile financier's proxy.

Just before delivering the 240-month sentence, Nathan noted that Maxwell did not express genuine remorse or acceptance of responsibility in her remarks, “consistent with a pattern of deflection of blame."

“Although Epstein was essential to the scheme. Ms Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein,” the judge made clear on Tuesday afternoon.

Maxwell spoke in broad terms about the underage girls whom she was convicted of luring into Epstein's sphere of influence and grooming for predatory abuse.

“I want to acknowledge their suffering and empathize — I empathize deeply with all the victims,” she said.

“It is my sincerest wish to all of this in this courtroom..that this days brings a terrible a chapter to an end," Maxwell continued. “May this day help you travel from darkness into the light."

Sketch shows Ghislaine Maxwell and a pair of U.S. marshals entering a New York courtroom on Nov. 29, 2021, at the start of her trial. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

Earlier during the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said the case calls for an above-guidelines sentence “for the breathtaking scope of the defendant’s crime ... the sophistication of the defendant’s predatory conduct ... and the degree to which she psychologically manipulated her victims.” 

“They were predators together; they were partners in crime together; and they molested children together," Moe said of the Maxwell and Epstein.

Maxwell faced up to 55 years in prison after a New York jury convicted her on five counts in December.

Her sentencing hearing at the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse occurred half a block up from the Metropolitan Correctional Center where Epstein was found dead in 2019, ruled to have hanged himself while awaiting trial on federal charges that came over a decade after a cushy plea deal in Florida that massively limited his initial criminal exposure.

In the government's request last week that Maxwell receive a minimum 30-year sentence, prosecutors said Epstein sexually abused underage girls hundreds of times over more than a decade, and couldn’t have done so without the help of Maxwell, his longtime companion and onetime girlfriend.

“Maxwell’s conduct was shockingly predatory. She was a calculating, sophisticated, and dangerous criminal who preyed on vulnerable young girls and groomed them for sexual abuse,” prosecutors wrote.

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The trial of Maxwell lasted four weeks last year, during which time four women testified about the abuse to which Epstein and Maxwell subjected them as teenage girls from 1994 to 2004 at Epstein’s mansions and estates in Manhattan, New Mexico, Florida and the Virgin Islands.

Each witness spoke of a pattern of enticement wherein Maxwell charmed them with conversation and gifts and promises that Epstein could use his wealth and connections to help fulfill their dreams. Each testified that Maxwell induced them to give massages to Epstein, and that she played it off as normal when the encounters turned sexual.

The recurring and escalating sexual episodes that usually began on a massage table included masturbation, penetrative sex and “orgies” with other adults, according to the testimony from survivors and other witnesses, all of whom named Maxwell as a direct participant in and facilitator of Epstein's sex ring.

In a victim impact statement submitted by prosecutors, Annie Farmer — who testified at trial and spoke at Epstein’s bail hearing in 2021 as he awaited a sex trafficking trial — said Maxwell’s lack of remorse and her repeated lies about victims forced “a long fight for justice that has felt like a black hole sucking in our precious time, energy and wellbeing.” 

Prince Andrew poses with Virginia Giuffre at the home of Ghislaine Maxwell (right), the now-convicted recruiter for Jeffrey Epstein's sex-trafficking ring. (Photo courtesy of Giuffre via Courthouse News)

Virginia Giuffre, who accused Epstein and Maxwell of pressuring her into sexual trysts with powerful men, recently settled a civil suit out of court against the United Kingdom's Prince Andrew for a reported $16 million. In a letter filed by her counsel at Boies Schiller Flexner, Giuffre recalled that she was 18 years old when Maxwell spotted and pursued her at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Hotel. 

“I want to be clear about one thing: without question, Jeffrey Epstein was a terrible pedophile. But I never would have met Jeffrey Epstein if not for you,” Giuffre wrote in the letter, directed at Maxwell. “For me, and for so many others, you opened the door to hell. And then, Ghislaine, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, you used your femininity to betray us, and you led us all through it.” 

Before his legal troubles, Epstein led a life of luxury bordering upon vile that drew powerful people into his orbit. He socialized with princes and presidents — Andrew, Trump and Bill Clinton, to name a few — owning multiple residences including one of the biggest mansions in Manhattan and a 100-acre private island in the Caribbean.

The allegations against Epstein first surfaced publicly but briefly in 2005. Though Epstein was charged at the time in Florida with the serial sexual abuse of underage girls, then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta ultimately withdrew that 53-page federal indictment and signed a “global” settlement that purported to shield Epstein’s co-conspirators from prosecution.

Thanks to Acosta, who would go on to join the Trump administration, the terms of the deal were withheld for years from more than 30 of Epstein's victims. His federal charges exchanged for state ones, Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to two counts of soliciting prostitution. He served 13 months in jail — much of it in a work-release program — registered as a sex offender and paid damages to two dozen victims.

The original Florida indictment put Epstein at the center of trafficking ring in which at least 40 underage girls were scouted by female recruiters — either locally or in other parts of the world, but principally in Eastern Europe — and then brought to Epstein's Palm Beach mansion for sex.

Federal prosecutors in New York revived the case against Epstein after the Miami Herald brought new attention to his crimes in a 2018 investigative series. To get out from Acosta's so-called "global" release, the government focused on crimes committed within the New York jurisdiction and emphasized that the federal government was not a party to Epstein's Florida plea deal.

Prosecutors used photographs recovered from Jeffrey Epstein's Manhattan townhouse to illustrate the close romantic relationship between the late financier and Ghislaine Maxwell. The British socialite faced a six-count indictment in connection with enticing teenage girls into sexual abuse by Epstein. (Courthouse News via Department of Justice)

Epstein was rearrested in July 2019 and died in jail the following month. Maxwell's arrest at a sprawling New Hampshire estate occurred in July 2020.

A U.S., British and French citizen, Maxwell has spent the last two years confined to a federal detention center in South Brooklyn. Defense lawyers for the erstwhile socialite have repeatedly criticized her treatment, saying just this week that she was unjustly placed under suicide watch before her sentencing.

Prosecutors say the claims about the jail are exaggerated and that Maxwell has been treated better than other prisoners.

While details about Epstein and Maxwell’s romantic involvement over the years is murky, prosecutors showed that Epstein paid her more than $30 million for her complicity in the sex ring.

The jury at Maxwell's trial acquitted her on only one count — enticement of an individual under the age of 17 to travel with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity — allegations that applied to a victim who took the stand under the pseudonym Jane.

In April 2022, Judge Nathan upheld Maxwell’s sex trafficking convictions but also dropped three conspiracy counts she ruled to be multiplicitous.

Maxwell was denied a retrial meanwhile after one of her jurors admitted that he failed to disclose his own past childhood sexual abuse during the jury selection process.

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