By TOM HAYS and LARRY NEUMEISTER
NEW YORK (AP) — Ghislaine Maxwell, the jet-setting socialite who once consorted with royals, presidents and billionaires, was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison for helping the financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse underage girls.
The stiff sentence was the punctuation mark on a trial that explored the sordid rituals of a predator power couple who courted the rich and famous as they exploited vulnerable girls as young as 14.
Prosecutors said Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial, sexually abused children hundreds of times over more than a decade, and couldn’t have done so without the help of Maxwell, his longtime companion.
A jury in December convicted Maxwell, 60, of sex trafficking, transporting a minor to participate in illegal sex acts and two conspiracy charges.
Judge Alison J. Nathan, who also imposed a $750,000 fine, noted that Maxwell never expressed remorse. The judge said she wanted the sentence to send an “unmistakable message.”
Maxwell, wearing a blue prison uniform and a white mask to conform with coronavirus rules, looked to one side as the sentence was announced, but otherwise did not react. She wore leg shackles that could be heard rattling when she walked into the courtroom.
Addressing the court earlier, Maxwell stood at a lectern and said she empathized with the survivors and hoped her punishment would bring them peace. But she did not admit culpability and laid blame for the abuse on Epstein, saying meeting him was the “greatest regret of my life.”
She called him “a manipulative, cunning and controlling man who lived a profoundly compartmentalized life.”
Annie Farmer, one of the four accusers who testified against Maxwell at trial, was briefly overcome with emotion as she addressed the judge before the sentence was pronounced.
“We will continue to live with the harm she caused us,” Farmer said.
The judge said Maxwell was being punished for her “heinous and predatory” crimes, not Epstein’s. She criticized Maxwell’s “pattern of deflection and blame.”
Four survivors at the sentencing described their sexual abuse, including Farmer, who said she and her sister tried to go public with their stories about Epstein and Maxwell two decades ago, only to be shut down by the powerful couple through threats and influence with authorities.
Inside a courtroom crowded with reporters, three of Maxwell’s siblings sat in a row behind her. Outside the courthouse, Kevin Maxwell said that his sister won’t give up on her legal battle, “and we as a family will be solidly behind her.”
Defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim promised to appeal, saying Maxwell “has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.” She said Epstein had left Maxwell “holding the whole bag.”
Earlier in court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe recounted how Maxwell and Epstein “molested these kids together.” She called Maxwell “a person who was indifferent to the suffering of other human beings.”
Epstein and Maxwell’s associations with some of the world’s most famous people were not a prominent part of the trial, but mentions of friends such as Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Britain’s Prince Andrew showed how the pair exploited their connections to impress their prey.
Over the past 17 years, scores of women have accused Epstein of abusing them, with many describing Maxwell as the madam who recruited them. The trial, though, revolved around allegations from only a handful of those women.
Four testified that they were abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s mansions in Florida, New York, New Mexico and the Virgin Islands.
Three were identified in court only by their first names or pseudonyms to protect their privacy: Jane, a television actress; Kate, an ex-model from the U.K.; and Carolyn, now a mom recovering from drug addiction. The fourth was Farmer, the sole accuser to identify herself in court by her real name, after speaking out publicly.
They described how Maxwell charmed them with conversation and gifts and promises that Epstein could use his wealth and connections to help fulfill their dreams.
Then, they testified, she led them to give massages to Epstein that turned sexual and played it off as normal.
Carolyn testified that she was one of several underprivileged teens who lived near Epstein’s Florida home in the early 2000s and took up an offer to massage him in exchange for $100 bills in what prosecutors described as “a pyramid of abuse.”
Maxwell made all the arrangements, Carolyn told the jury, even though she knew the girl was only 14 at the time.
The allegations against Epstein first surfaced publicly in 2005. He pleaded guilty to sex charges in Florida and served 13 months in prison, much of it in a work-release program as part of a deal criticized as lenient. Afterward, he was required to register as a sex offender.
In the years that followed, many women sued Epstein over alleged abuse. One, Virginia Giuffre, claimed that Epstein and Maxwell had also pressured her into sexual trysts with other powerful men, including Prince Andrew. All of those men denied the allegations, and Giuffre ultimately settled a lawsuit against Andrew out of court.
Federal prosecutors in New York revived the case against Epstein after stories by the Miami Herald in 2018 brought new attention to his crimes. He was arrested in 2019, but killed himself a month later.
Eleven months after his death, Maxwell was arrested at a New Hampshire estate. Since then, she has been jailed in a federal facility in New York City.
Her lawyers fought to have her conviction tossed out on the grounds of juror misconduct. Days after the verdict, one juror gave media interviews in which he disclosed he had been sexually abused as a child — something he hadn’t told the court during jury selection. Maxwell’s lawyers said she deserved a new trial. A judge disagreed.
At least eight women submitted letters to the judge, describing the sexual abuse they said they endured.
Anne Holve and Philip Maxwell, her eldest siblings, wrote to the court to ask for leniency and said that their sister’s relationship with Epstein began soon after the 1991 death of their father, the British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell.
Robert Maxwell, they wrote, subjected his daughter to “frequent rapid mood swings, huge rages and rejections,” which “led her to becoming very vulnerable to abusive and powerful men who would be able to take advantage of her innate good nature.”
Sarah Ransome — an accuser whose allegations weren’t included in the trial — testified about the lasting harm to her life, gazing directly at Maxwell several times.
“You broke me in unfathomable ways,” said Ransome, who twice tried to die by suicide. “But you did not break my spirit.”