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WORLD | 28-06-2022 17:06

Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years for sex crimes

A friend to British royalty who romanced billionaires and dazzled elites, Ghislaine Maxwell was once the toast of the jet-set party circuit, a knows-everybody socialite with an aura of mystique. But now she will spend 20 years in prison.

Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a New York judge Tuesday for helping the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse girls.

The term, handed down in the Manhattan federal court, means the 60-year-old former socialite will spend much of the rest of her life in jail.

The Oxford-educated daughter of the late British press baron Robert Maxwell was convicted late last year on five of six counts, the most serious for sex-trafficking minors.

Her lawyers had argued for leniency, citing a traumatic childhood and claiming that Maxwell was being unfairly punished because Epstein escaped trial. They had asked for a maximum of five years while prosecutors had called for between 30 and 55 years in jail.

In the end, judge Alison Nathan went with 20, the amount of time recommended by the US probation office.

During Maxwell's high-profile trial in late 2021, prosecutors successfully proved that she was "the key" to Epstein's scheme of enticing young girls to give him massages, during which he would sexually abuse them.

Two of Epstein's victims, identified as "Jane" and "Carolyn," testified that they were as young as 14 when Maxwell began grooming them.

Maxwell's lawyers said their client had "a difficult, traumatic childhood with an overbearing, narcissistic, and demanding father."

"It made her vulnerable to Epstein, whom she met right after her father's death," they wrote in submissions filed earlier this month.

Money manager Epstein killed himself in prison in 2019 aged 66 while awaiting his own sex crimes trial in New York.

"Ms Maxwell cannot and should not bear all the punishment for which Epstein should have been held responsible," her attorneys pleaded.

 

'Devastating harm'

But the prosecution contended in its own court filing last week that Maxwell "was an adult who made her own choices."

They argued that she had shown an "utter lack of remorse" for her crimes, committed between 1994 and 2004.

"Today's sentence holds Ghislaine Maxwell accountable for perpetrating heinous crimes against children," Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said.

"This sentence sends a strong message that no one is above the law and it is never too late for justice," he added.

Maxwell has already been held in detention for some two years following her arrest in New Hampshire in the summer of 2020.

"Ghislaine must die in prison," Maxwell and Epstein accuser Sarah Ransome told reporters outside court.

Maxwell's sentencing caps a dramatic fall for the former international jetsetter who grew up in wealth and privilege as a friend to royalty.

Her circle included Britain's Prince Andrew, former US president and real-estate baron Donald Trump and the Clinton family.

In February, Prince Andrew settled a sexual abuse lawsuit with Virginia Giuffre, who said she had been trafficked to the royal by Epstein and Maxwell.

In April, Nathan rejected a request by Maxwell for a new trial. 

She unsuccessfully argued that a juror, who had boasted of helping convince fellow panelists to convict Maxwell by recalling his own experiences as a sex abuse victim, had biased the jury.

 

Socialite turns jailmate

A friend to British royalty who romanced billionaires and dazzled elites, Maxwell was once the toast of the jet-set party circuit, a knows-everybody socialite with an aura of mystique.

It has been a tawdry fall for the fixture of society, who was arrested in July 2020 in a tiny New Hampshire town after seemingly vanishing following the death of Epstein, 66, her lover-turned-close friend.

During the high-profile and often grim trial, accusers described the French-born, Oxford-educated Maxwell as Epstein's shadowy right-hand confidante and accomplice, who beginning in the 1990s acted at his behest as both paramour and madam.

Prosecutors detailed how she and Epstein crafted a scheme to procure young girls for the registered sex offender, whose death in prison left many reeling over the fact that he would never face his own trial.

Two of the accusers who testified said they were as young as 14 when Maxwell began grooming them, taking them under her wing before later cajoling them into offering Epstein nude massages and sex acts.

Witnesses said Maxwell facilitated and sometimes participated in the abuse, taking advantage of the victims after making them feel "special."

Maxwell's name was thrust into the spotlight in 1991 when her father went overboard off his yacht, which he had christened "Lady Ghislaine" after his youngest daughter.

Rumors swirled following the apparent accidental drowning of the Czechoslovakian-born businessman, alongside details of his financial misdeeds at Mirror Group Newspapers that tarnished the family name.

But it didn't stop Maxwell's life of opulence: She revamped her image in Manhattan and became a regular on the glitterati's party circuit.

Maxwell was an avid scuba diver and pilot, founding a now-dissolved environmental charity, the TerraMar Project. 

It's unclear how exactly she met Epstein, whom she reportedly dated for a time in the 1990s before forming a close friendship.

But court testimony made clear that for years the multimillionaire Epstein funded her luxurious lifestyle, even once transferring her the cash to purchase a helicopter.

 

'Sophisticated predator'

A holder of multiple passports, Maxwell had been deemed by authorities as a flight risk and was repeatedly denied bail.

She has lodged persistent complaints about the conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, including with United Nations human rights officials.

Donning a collection of turtlenecks paired with black slacks, Maxwell cut a relatively relaxed figure over the course of the trial, doodling, hugging her lawyers or chatting with siblings who sat in support throughout the proceedings.

But the federal trial against Maxwell followed years of accusations against her, with prosecutors branding her "the key" to Epstein's criminal scheming during closing arguments, "a sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing."

Maxwell declined to take the stand – as is routine in such cases – but not before telling the judge "the government has not proven its case beyond reasonable doubt so there is no need for me to testify."

Her defence team insisted on a "lack of evidence," and focused on discrediting the women who delivered lurid testimony to the court – but it was not enough to escape her charges. She was convicted on five of six counts, including the most serious charge of sex-trafficking of a minor.

In a last-ditch effort her lawyers pleaded for a lenient sentence, citing Maxwell's own emotional wounds, traumatic childhood and vulnerability to Epstein.

But it didn't sway Judge Alison Nathan. Maxwell now will spend much of the rest of her life in a cramped cell, a bleak final chapter to a debauched life.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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