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Prosecutors ask that Ghislaine Maxwell spend at least 30 years in prison

Ghislaine Maxwell will be sentenced next week in US District Court in Manhattan. If the judge follows the government’s recommendation, she could spend much of the rest of her life in prison. Maxwell was convicted on Dec. 29 on five of the six counts she faced, including sex trafficking.Laura Cavanaugh/Photographer: Laura Cavanaugh/Ge

NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors in Manhattan, writing that Ghislaine Maxwell had made the choice to conspire with Jeffrey Epstein for years, “working as partners in crime and causing devastating harm to vulnerable victims,” asked a judge on Wednesday night to sentence her to at least 30 years in prison.

Maxwell, 60, is to be sentenced on Tuesday in US District Court in Manhattan. If the judge follows the government’s recommendation, she could spend much of the rest of her life in prison.

Maxwell was convicted on Dec. 29 on five of the six counts she faced, including sex trafficking, after a monthlong trial in which witnesses testified that she helped Epstein recruit, groom, and abuse underage girls.

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Maxwell’s lawyers, in a brief last week, asked the judge, Alison J. Nathan, to impose a sentence shorter than the 20 years that the court’s probation department had recommended. The lawyers suggested that the government had decided to prosecute Maxwell after Epstein’s jailhouse suicide in 2019 to appease his victims and “repair the tarnished reputations” of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons, in whose custody the disgraced financier died.

The defense also suggested that blame for Maxwell’s conduct lay with Epstein and her father, the late British media magnate Robert Maxwell, who they said was a cruel and intimidating parent.

The government, in its letter on Wednesday to Nathan, dismissed those claims, asserting that if anything stood out from Maxwell’s sentencing submission, it was her failure to address her criminal conduct and her “utter lack of remorse.”

“Instead of showing even a hint of acceptance of responsibility,” the office of Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, wrote, “the defendant makes a desperate attempt to cast blame wherever else she can.”

The prosecutors said Maxwell’s attempt “to cast aspersions on the government for prosecuting her, and her claim that she is being held responsible for Epstein’s crimes, are both absurd and offensive.”

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“Maxwell was an adult who made her own choices,” the government added. “She made the choice to sexually exploit numerous underage girls.”

Maxwell’s trial focused primarily on events from 1994 to 2004, a period when she and Epstein recruited girls for him to abuse, prosecutors charged. The government presented its case over 10 days, through 24 witnesses. They included four women, all now adults, whose cases were at the center of the indictment.

Two of the women testified that Epstein began engaging in sex with them when they were only 14. Maxwell was sometimes present in the encounters, one woman testified; the other said Maxwell had directly molested her by touching her breasts.

In the government’s sentencing brief, prosecutors said Epstein could not have committed his crimes without Maxwell, who provided a “cover of respectability to Epstein that lulled the victims and their families into a false sense of security.”

Indeed, the government said, Maxwell worked with Epstein to select victims who she knew were vulnerable to exploitation — girls from families struggling to make ends meet, the daughters of single-mother households, the child of a drug addict.

“Maxwell’s conduct was shockingly predatory,” the prosecutors said.

Money was also a key theme underlying her criminal conduct, according to the government brief. Her access to wealth, the prosecutors wrote, enabled Maxwell to present herself “as a supposedly respectable member of society, who rubbed shoulders with royalty, presidents and celebrities.”

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“That same wealth dazzled the girls from struggling families who became the defendant and Epstein’s victims,” the prosecutors said.

The memo said it was difficult to capture in words the harm Maxwell caused her victims.

“They were children who experienced what can only be described as a recurring nightmare: again and again, they found themselves alone with Maxwell and Epstein in terrifying mansions where they were sexually abused and physically violated,” the prosecutors wrote.

Epstein, 66, was found dead in his cell in August 2019, a month after he was arrested on sex-trafficking charges. An indictment accused him of sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of underage girls at his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, his mansion in Manhattan, and other locations. He had also paid some of his victims to recruit additional girls to be abused, maintaining “a steady supply of new victims,” the indictment said.

Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 in New Hampshire, where, authorities said, she was hiding. She was brought to New York and has been held without bail ever since.

Maxwell’s lawyers argued last week in their submission to the judge that she deserved leniency for enduring extreme jail conditions since her arrest. For 22 months, her lawyers said, she was locked in a small isolation cell and was monitored constantly by video cameras.

But the prosecutors said her complaints only highlighted “the vast gulf” between the conditions of her confinement and her “lived experience,” which they depicted as one of “extraordinary privilege,” a luxurious lifestyle of mansions, chefs on staff and private planes.

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“It is no wonder, then, that she found jail jarring,” the prosecutors wrote. “Going from being waited on hand and foot to incarceration is undoubtedly a shocking and unpleasant experience.”