NEW YORK (Reuters) – Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday for helping the sex offender and globetrotting financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls, in what a judge called a “horrific scheme” that inflicted “incalculable” harm on victims. By Luc Cohen and Brendan Pierson
Survivors of Epstein’s abuse arrived at the courthouse Tuesday morning ahead of victim impact statements, including South African expat Sarah Ransome (37).
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Sarah said: “People must remember this was an international sex-trafficking ring that spanned across the world. And the fact that (Ghislaine) still maintains her innocence is beyond anything I’ve ever – I still can’t believe it. And that’s why I’ve had to fight so hard to keep her off the streets.”
The 60-year-old British socialite and daughter of the late media giant Robert Maxwell was convicted in December of five charges, including sex trafficking a minor, for recruiting and grooming four girls to have sexual encounters with Epstein, then her boyfriend, between 1994 and 2004.
Speaking at her sentencing hearing in Manhattan federal court before learning the sentence, Maxwell called Epstein a “manipulative, cunning and controlling man” who fooled everyone in his orbit. She said she was “sorry” for the pain that his victims experienced.
“It is the greatest regret of my life that I ever met Jeffrey Epstein,” Maxwell said.
In Sarah Ransome’s victim impact statement, she said she had twice tried to kill herself by suicide. She said she once tried to jump off a cliff during a stay at Epstein’s private island – St Little James in the US Virgina islands.
In her statement, Sarah said she was “nothing more than a sex toy with a heartbeat and soul used to entertain Epstein, Maxwell and others. On one visit to the island, the sexual demands, degradation and humiliation ensued me to try to escape by jumping off a cliff into shark-infested waters.
“I was caught by Maxwell and company moments before jumping. At the time, that extremely risky escape seemed more appealing than being raped one more time.”
She said she had arrived in New York at the age of 22 with dreams of going to the Fashion Institute of Technology. Instead she was targeted by an Epstein-Maxwell recruiter, named as Natalya Malyshev, who told her that she could arrange a meeting with billionaire Epstein who would help her dreams come true.
WATCH South African expat Sarah Ransome speaks out re Ghislaine Maxwell court case
Sarah wrote in her victim statement: “Epstein and Maxwell were masters at finding young, vulnerable girls and young women to exploit. However, soon after lulling me and others into a false sense of comfort and security, they pounced, ensnaring us in their upside-down, twisted world of rape, rape and more rape.
“Like Hotel California, you could check into the Epstein-Maxwell dungeon of sexual hell, but you could never leave. Ghislaine by her own hand, forced me into Epstein’s room to be raped.”
Sarah escaped to the UK in 2007 but has never escaped the horrors of what she endured. She says she began drinking a lot and always feared that “someday Epstein and Maxwell would harm me, my loved ones and my family, as Epstein repeatedly told me would happen, if I ever dared to leave.”
She says she made a second attempt at suicide in 2018 during her case against Maxwell and others.
“Despite my earnest effort, I have not realized my God-given potential professionally or entered healthy personal relationships. I have never married and do not have children, something I always wished for, even as a little girl,” she wrote.
“I shy away from strangers and have difficulty making new friends because I fear they could be associated with Epstein, Maxwell and the enablers. To this day, I attend AA meetings, but I have had numerous relapses and know that only by the grace of God do I continue to live. Maxwell is today the same woman I met almost 20 years ago – incapable of compassion or common human decency.”
Maxwell’s month-long trial in late 2021 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 in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out about sexual abuse, often at the hands of wealthy and powerful people.
In imposing the sentence, U.S. Circuit Judge Alison Nathan said Maxwell did not appear to express remorse or accept responsibility.
“Maxwell directly and repeatedly and over the course of many years participated in a horrific scheme to entice, transport and traffic underage girls, some as young as 14, for sexual abuse by and with Jeffrey Epstein,” Nathan said. “The damage done to these young girls was incalculable.”
Bobbi Sternheim, a lawyer for Maxwell, said Maxwell would appeal, arguing the public scrutiny of the case before the trial “left little room for her to be treated fairly.”
“We all know that the person who should have been sentenced today escaped accountability, avoided his victims, avoided absorbing their pain and receiving the punishment he truly deserved,” Sternheim told reporters.
‘PATTERN OF DEFLECTION OF BLAME’
Maxwell’s lawyers had proposed she serve no more than 5-1/4 years, arguing she was being scapegoated for Epstein’s crimes. Prosecutors had last week suggested she serve between 30 and 55 years in prison, but on Tuesday said the 20-year sentence would hold Maxwell accountable for “heinous crimes against children.”
“This sentence sends a strong message that no one is above the law and it is never too late for justice,” Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in a statement.
Nathan said Maxwell’s statements showed a “pattern of deflection of blame.”
“Although Epstein was of course central to this criminal scheme, Ms. Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein or as a proxy for Epstein,” Nathan said. “Ms. Maxwell was instrumental in the abuse of several underage girls.”
In often emotional and explicit testimony during the trial, Annie Farmer, a woman known as “Kate,” and two other women testified that Maxwell, who was found guilty on five counts, was a central figure in their abuse by Epstein.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Farmer, now a psychologist, said her experience being exploited by Maxwell “resulted in significant shame” that sometimes left her feeling like she wanted to “disappear.”
Kate said she was proud to help hold Maxwell accountable.
“Today, I can look at Ghislaine and tell her that I became what I am today in spite of her and her efforts to make me feel powerless and insignificant, and I will cast that empowerment on my daughter,” Kate said.
WATCH Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years for ‘horrific’ sex crimes
(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Mark Porter, Noeleen Walder and Marguerita Choy)