Ana FERNANDEZ and Peter HUTCHISON
New York - Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a US 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.