Ghislaine Maxwell, who abused young women and girls alongside her late accomplice Jeffrey Epstein, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on Tuesday. She was convicted in December of sex trafficking and other charges for her years of grooming, transporting, and threatening young women and girls on behalf of Epstein and herself.
“It is the biggest regret of my life that I ever met him,” Maxwell said in court, adding that Epstein should have been on trial.
Federal prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Maxwell, 60, to a term of between 30 and 55 years.
The sentencing is the unsatisfying resolution to a story that has baffled and captivated the world, one in which hundreds of young women were flown to private islands and luxurious estates in plain sight on the same private aircraft that ferried royalty, senators, and at least two U.S. presidents. Epstein, a secretive billionaire, notoriously died prior to his own trial for similar charges.
Maxwell appeared in a Manhattan federal courtroom where Epstein’s victims delivered victim-impact statements. (Before the proceedings, a last-minute tussle took place over whom the court could consider a “victim.” The court agreed that victims could include women who had not testified in the trial, including Virginia Giuffre, who had accused Epstein and Maxwell of trafficking her to the U.K.’s Prince Andrew and who could not be present in court today.)
These statements included vivid assertions about Maxwell’s role as imprisoner, groomer, and bully. “I witnessed her relentless and insatiable drive to meet the sexual needs of Epstein at any cost to the vulnerable girls and women upon whom she preyed and fed to Epstein and other powerful men to whom she wished to ingratiate herself,” testified the woman known as Kate in one of many hints of the involvement of people beyond Maxwell and Epstein. This was echoed by Sarah Ransome, who testified that she “became, against my will, nothing more than a human sex toy with a heartbeat and soul for the entertainment of Epstein, Maxwell, and others.”
“She assured me that I could be killed walking down my favorite path in NYC,” Maria Farmer wrote in her victim statement about her attempts to escape the Epstein circle. Elizabeth Stein testified that, for years, “Everywhere I went, they found me.”
“Jeffrey Epstein was a terrible pedophile,” testified Giuffre in her statement, which was addressed directly to Maxwell. “But I would never have met Jeffrey Epstein if not for you. For me, and for so many others, you opened the door to hell.”
Maxwell has been on suicide watch in a Brooklyn federal lockup since late last week, after she emailed the Bureau of Prison’s watchdog to say she was being threatened by jail staff. “She is not suicidal,” her lawyer wrote to the court. Epstein died in custody in a Manhattan federal facility while awaiting trial on similar charges in 2019, and his death was ruled to be a suicide. Similarly, Jean-Luc Brunel, who was accused of sexual assault and trafficking in association with Epstein, died by suicide in a French prison.
Authorities said Maxwell had declined to answer questions about the threats. Maxwell also said she was being denied access to her legal materials, so the jail simply took all her belongings from her cell and brought them to her. Whether she was threatened or not, the prosecutors in this case had had enough. “The defendant lies when it suits her,” they wrote in a court filing. “It apparently suits her to spread horror stories about her experiences in jail to the press in an attempt to garner public sympathy.”
Maxwell’s lies, the government said, included that she was being starved and that her hair was falling out. Anyone could see, they wrote, that she had a full head of hair. They also fact-checked her complaints about being starved. Maxwell was “146 pounds when she was arrested, and she weighed 144.5 pounds when she was last weighed in April 2022.”
In her defense, lawyers for Maxwell produced letters of praise from her siblings, a former assistant, and her cousin who works at the New York Times, along with a handwritten letter from another person in jail who wrote that Maxwell had volunteered to teach English and yoga and was helping people earn their high-school-equivalency certifications.