What's Next for Ghislaine Maxwell?
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Ghislaine Maxwell’s Verdict Won’t Close the Jeffrey Epstein Saga. Here’s What to Watch Out for in the Courts.

Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein appear in an undated photo (sitting in front of marble wall)

Photo courtesy DOJ

Now that a federal jury has convicted Ghislaine Maxwell of sex trafficking and other crimes, the Jeffrey Epstein saga is far from over — not even in her case. Maxwell’s attorneys have vowed to appeal her convictions. Her sentencing date has not been set. She continues to face a possible trial two unresolved counts of perjury, and then, there is the question of Epstein’s associates who still have unfinished business in the same courthouse.

Law&Crime breaks down what to expect in these and other cases.

“Death by Incarceration”

On the top count alone of sex trafficking a minor, Maxwell faces a sentencing exposure of up to 40 years imprisonment—effectively a life sentence for a woman who turned 60 years old on Christmas Day. The maximum penalty on all five counts of her conviction add up to the possibility of 65 years behind bars.

That said, experts note that the federal sentencing guidelines for a first-time convict advise a much lower sentence than that. Former federal prosecutor Mitchell Epner, who led intake on sex trafficking cases in the District of New Jersey between 2003 and 2004, crunched the numbers on the advisory range that Maxwell can expect at her sentencing.

“By my calculation, she’s looking at between a 235 and 293 months, which roughly is 20 to 24 years,” Epner said in a phone interview. “As a 60-year-old person, that’s basically death by incarceration.”

Maxwell may dispute those calculations on two issues, potentially casting herself as having had a “minor role” in Epstein’s abuse of young girls. That may be a difficult climb for her now that two of Epstein’s ex-pilots Lawrence Visoski and David Rodgers described her as his “No. 2.” Juan Alessi, Epstein’s former house manager at his Palm Beach estate, testified that Maxwell described herself as the “lady of the house.”

Epner noted, however, that Maxwell could make a strong argument Epstein was the “prime malefactor,” but even if she prevailed on issues potentially under dispute, the guidelines range would still put her between 12 to 14 years imprisonment, which the prosecutor said would still be akin to death by incarceration for her.

“Pedophiles do not fare well in prison,” he said.

Since federal sentencing guidelines are advisory, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan could mete a term of incarceration above or below that range. Epner, who is now of counsel for Rottenberg Lipman Rich PC, noted that another defendant in a high-profile sex crimes trial received an above-guidelines penalty. Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison in September 2020, for her role in the NXIVM cult.

Like Maxwell, Bronfman was a “high society, very wealthy person who was a co-conspirator,” Epner noted.

“Judges do not like people who seemed to take schadenfreude from the suffering of others, especially others under the age of 18,” he added.

There is also the matter of Maxwell’s unresolved charges—and the promised appeal.

Before the trial, Judge Nathan severed the six counts she was tried on from two accusing her of lying during depositions in litigation with Virginia Giuffre, whose civil lawsuit was a catalyst for Maxwell’s federal prosecution. These charges, however, are unlikely to move the needle on Maxwell’s possible sentencing exposure, and experts believe they will likely be dealt with quickly.

“I think that it’s not clear whether or not those charges will be tried,” Epner said. “They’re not likely even if there’s a conviction to materially affect the eventual sentence. The one big collateral consequence, if that trial does go forward, is that it will extend the period of time that Ghislaine Maxwell is held at MDC, [a Brooklyn federal jailhouse] which is a much worse place for her to be serving time than wherever she will eventually be assigned after she is sent,” Epner said.

“She’s Really Going to Have to Face the Music”

Maxwell’s attorney Bobbi Sternheim informed dozens of TV, print and radio reporters lined up outside the courthouse immediately after the verdict that an appeal started to be drafted even before the legal team exited the courthouse after the verdict.

“We firmly believe in Ghislaine’s innocence,” Sternheim told journalists. “Obviously, we are very disappointed with the verdict. We have already started working on the appeal and we are confident that you will be vindicated.”

Former prosecutor Maggy Krell told Law&Crime in a phone interview that Maxwell has a “tough road ahead.”

“She enjoyed a vigorous defense at trial, and she had a meticulous jury that inspected the evidence for multiple days,” noted Krell, the author of “Taking Down Backpage.” “At this point, she’s really going to have to face the music. I mean, these crimes carry 10-year minimums. She turned 60 last week, so she’s looking at possibly serving the rest of her life.”

As for the pending perjury counts, Krell said: “They could potentially go to trial, although it might make sense for Miss Maxwell to admit to those charges, and have the sentencing run concurrent, whatever she’s facing, if she’s hoping for any kind of leniency whatsoever on her on her current slate of convictions.”

Some experts have explored the possibility that Maxwell could cooperate with prosecutors following her convictions, but Krell believed that this option may be of limited appeal to her prosecutors.

“It’s pretty uncommon, at this stage of the game after a full jury trial, for someone to cooperate in a way that’s really meaningful to the outcome of their sentencing,” Krell said. “In other words, that ship has kind of sailed for her.”

Typically, cooperators are valuable in going after someone higher in a criminal conspiracy.

“Here, the way the evidence was painted, the only one above her is the person who’s dead now, Mr. Epstein himself,” Krell said.

In addition, defense attorneys would likely attack Maxwell’s credibility if she turned cooperator, given the exposure that she faces.

“Having a person who is now a cooperator, who has a life sentence hanging over their head and also has to perjury accounts isn’t really a great look as a valuable witness against someone else,” Krell added.

“[Epstein’s] Criminality Traveled the World”

A little less than an hour before the jury reached a verdict, two federal judges in the same courthouse ordered the unsealing of a 2009 settlement deal between Giuffre and Epstein. The document will become public on Jan. 3, one day before the next court match-up between Giuffre and the U.K.’s Prince Andrew. The timing is significant: Andrew’s attorneys have argued that the agreement shields their client from litigation.

“Because Prince Andrew is a senior member of the British royal family, he falls into one of the expressly identified categories of persons, i.e., royalty, released from liability under the Release Agreement, along with politicians, academicians, businessmen, and others allegedly associated with Epstein,” the prince’s lawyer Andrew B. Brettler wrote in a memo on Oct. 29.

Professor Emeritus at Harvard Law School Alan Dershowitz, who was sued by Giuffre and filed a countersuit in response, invoked this agreement to swat away Giuffre’s claims in the past.

Beyond this agreement, Prince Andrew’s lawyers have requested jurisdictional discovery to argue that Giuffre’s case should not be heard in a U.S. court because she’s actually living in Australia. Epner, the former federal prosecutor, warns that the succeeding on that argument would not be a “get-out-of-litigation-free card” for the prince.

“If there’s not federal jurisdiction here in New York, state courts would take control of the case, and that might be out of the frying pan and into the fire because the level of care and attention that litigants typically get in state court is believed to be lower than in federal court,” Epner noted. “And for certain, the jury pool in New York State Court ballot cases is more likely to be predisposed against Prince Andrew, than the similar federal jury.”

Epstein-related cases are unfolding in the courts globally. Courtney Wild, one of Epstein’s adjudicated victims, has turned to the Supreme Court for a ruling hoping to invalidate the 2008 sweetheart plea deal that purportedly immunized Epstein’s possible co-conspirators from prosecution. Maxwell unsuccessfully invoked the agreement before her trial in order to dismiss her case, in a motion rejected by Judge Nathan. Giuffre’s lawsuits against Prince Andrew and Dershowitz continue in the Southern District of New York. So does Dershowitz’s countersuit against Giuffre. Dershowitz has said that he’s never met Giuffre.

Outside the United States, Epstein associate and French modeling scout Jean-Luc Brunel, the founder of the agencies Karin Models and MC2 Model Management, still faces prosecution on rape allegations. Brunel denies those claims, and it is unclear when his case will progress.

“I think that just as Jeffrey Epstein was a world traveler, his criminality traveled the world,” Epner said. “I would not be surprised to see cases in France, in the UK, or any place that he traveled.”

(Photo via DOJ)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks.