It took more than 17 years, numerous lawsuits, private depositions and a three-week criminal trial. But at last, the public — and the victims of the crimes for which she was convicted — heard from Ghislaine Maxwell.
At the stroke of 2pm on Tuesday, the disgraced socialite rose from her seat in a New York federal courtroom, where she was being sentenced for aiding — and at times, participating in — the sexual abuse of numerous underage girls by her former consort, Jeffrey Epstein.
Once a swanky fixture of Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Palm Beach in Florida, mingling with presidents and dancing at royal balls, Maxwell was clad in a baggy, light blue prison jumper over a long-sleeve undershirt. Her ankles were shackled.
She had not been expected to speak, and a flush of excitement rippled through the room as she donned her reading glasses and shuffled her papers. Then came the purr of Maxwell’s voice. Where her victims’ earlier remarks had been rushed or overtaken by sobs, hers were smooth, steady, public school-trained, like a royal addressing the Commonwealth.
“Your honour. It is hard for me to address the court after listening to the pain and anguish expressed in the statements made here today,” she began. “I want to acknowledge their suffering and I empathise deeply with all of the victims.” Her association with Epstein, she said, would “forever and permanently stain me”.
It was a stark departure from the years Maxwell spent deriding and threatening her accusers in a bid to silence them.
Maxwell, who was found guilty in December of trafficking girls as young as 14, hinted that she saw herself as a victim, too. She described Epstein as “a manipulative, cunning and controlling man”, adding: “His impact on all those who were close to him has been devastating.”
In pre-sentencing filings, her lawyers had also pointed the finger at her father, Robert Maxwell, the late British publishing baron and embezzler, whom they described as “narcissistic and brutish”.
It took eight minutes for Maxwell, 60, to conclude, before returning to her seat.
The reaction from Judge Alison Nathan was swift. While Maxwell’s statement had acknowledged the victims’ suffering, the judge said, “what there wasn’t expressed was acceptance of responsibility”.
A lack of contrition appeared to figure into the 20-year prison sentence that Nathan handed down moments later. With it came the judge’s observation about Maxwell’s tendency to “deflect blame” and a rebuttal of her defenders’ suggestion that she had been made a scapegoat for Epstein, who was found hanged in his prison cell weeks after his arrest in July 2019.
“Ms Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein — or as a proxy for Epstein,” the judge said.
“The damage done to these young girls was incalculable,” she added.
Maxwell sat slumped at the defence table as the judge spoke, flanked by lawyers and supported by family, including her brother Kevin and sister Isabel. She was mostly impassive, except for the occasional sip of water or scribble in a notebook.
She had maintained that pose throughout a day that featured harrowing statements from five victims — some of whom had not previously been heard — about the ways that their lives were wrecked.
One, Elizabeth Stein, recounted how Maxwell had groomed her when she was a young student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and working as an intern at the Henri Bendel department store.
“I was assaulted, raped and trafficked countless times in New York and Florida over a three-year period,” she said. Now 48, Stein said she had endured two-dozen hospitalisations for mental and physical breakdowns and missed out on all the trappings of a normal life her siblings had enjoyed — a career, a partner and a family of her own.
“The only difference between them and me is that one day I was doing my job and I met Ghislaine Maxwell, who fed me to Jeffrey Epstein,” Stein said.
Others spoke of suicide attempts, extreme anxiety, nightmares, uncontrollable crying and an inability to trust — even so many years later. None believed Ghislaine felt remorse.
“She doesn’t think what she did is wrong. She is not sorry. She would do it again,” said one victim, identified only as Kate. “Her blatant refusal to take responsibility is the final insult.”
After her sentence was read, Maxwell accepted a brief embrace and a few whispered words from her lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, as two US marshals approached. Then, she took a last sip of water before they led her away, into the federal prison system.
In the sunshine outside, Sigrid McCawley, a lawyer for Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of the first accusers to come forward against Epstein, called Maxwell’s statement “pathetic”. The lawyer expressed disgust — but not necessarily surprise.
“It was so Ghislaine,” she said.