Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years in prison for sex trafficking

Socialite earlier convicted of helping financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls

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Ghislaine Maxwell on Tuesday was sentenced to 20 years in prison for helping financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls.

The sentencing was the culmination of a prosecution that detailed how Epstein and Maxwell had flaunted their riches and associations with prominent people to groom vulnerable girls and then exploit them.

Those crimes occurred even as the couple hobnobbed with some of the world’s most famous and wealthy people, including former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump and Britain's Prince Andrew. Epstein killed himself in jail while awaiting trial. Maxwell denied being Epstein’s accomplice.

The British socialite was convicted in December of recruiting and grooming four girls to have sexual encounters with Epstein — who was her boyfriend at the time — between 1994 and 2004.

US Circuit Judge Alison Nathan ruled that she must apply the sentencing guidelines in place at the time the offence was committed.

The judge said that applying the current guidelines would result in a “significantly longer sentence” than she would get under the ones that were in place when the crime happened.

Ms Nathan added that calculating a sentence for Maxwell hinged on whether there is any evidence that shows criminal conduct continued after November 1, 2004.

The judge said there was not evidence to support the higher guidelines sought by prosecutors.

A number of victims are expected to be in the federal courtroom and will be given a chance to speak before Ms Nathan imposes her sentence. Maxwell herself will also have what may be her last opportunity to speak publicly. She chose not to speak in her own defence at her month-long trial.

Maxwell's trial 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 sex trafficking trial — never had. It was one of the highest-profile cases that rose out of the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out about sexual abuse, especially that which occurred at the hands of wealthy and powerful people.

Four women took the stand against Maxwell, describing how they were sexually abused as teenagers from 1994 to 2004 at Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion, Palm Beach estate and New Mexico ranch, as well as Maxwell’s London town house, among other luxury properties.

Calling Maxwell's conduct “shockingly predatory”, prosecutors said she deserves to spend at least 30 years in prison, reflecting the federal sentencing guidelines.

“She made the choice to conspire with Epstein for years, working as partners in crime and causing devastating harm to vulnerable victims,” prosecutor Maurene Comey argued in the government’s sentencing memo to the court. “She should be held accountable for her disturbing role in an extensive child exploitation scheme.”

Maxwell's lawyers had earlier said in court papers that she should be sentenced to no more than five and a quarter years, arguing that she was being scapegoated for Epstein's crimes and that she had already spent significant time in jail.

She was arrested in July 2020 and repeatedly denied bail. Since then, she has been held mostly at Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention centre, where she has complained of vermin and the scent of raw sewage in her cell. Her lawyer has compared her confinement conditions to those of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.

Maxwell was placed on suicide watch at the weekend, but her lawyers said she was not suicidal.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: June 29, 2022, 5:48 AM