/All We Know About the Case Against Jeffrey Epstein — and Its Implications

All We Know About the Case Against Jeffrey Epstein — and Its Implications

Photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images

Over the weekend, billionaire financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for the alleged sex trafficking of dozens of minors in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005. According to the Daily Beast, the new indictment will allege that Epstein paid cash for “massages” from underage girls before molesting or sexually abusing them in his homes in Palm Beach and the Upper East Side. Epstein — who plead guilty in 2008 to soliciting an underage girl for prostitution in a notoriously lax deal — could face a maximum of 45 years for the expected charges of one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. Below is what to expect from the indictment unsealed on Monday, and everything you need to know to understand the convoluted case of sexual abuse and legal failures.

According to the Daily Beast and Miami Herald, the Southern District of New York’s public corruption unit, with an assist from the office’s sex trafficking unit, have been investigating Epstein for months and conducting new interviews with his victims. Details about the new charges have been slow to emerge since Epstein was arrested, but he reportedly faces one count of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and the case is focused on victims he lured to his homes in both New York and Florida.

Epstein infamously avoided federal charges — and the potential lifetime sentence that could have come with them — a decade ago after he was accused of molesting dozens of underage girls at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. He was instead allowed to plead guilty to two counts of soliciting prostitution from a minor. Epstein was forced to register as a sex offender, and sentenced to 18-months in prison, but he only served 13 months is all — and got to spend 12 hours a day, six days a week, as part of work release privileges. Epstein’s secret plea deal shielded him and his coconspirators from federal prosecution.

That shield is apparently gone, the New York Times reported on Sunday, explaining that Epstein is now “charged with using his vast network of contacts and associates to bring a constant stream of underage girls to his Manhattan townhouse,” and “is accused of shuttling the girls between the townhouse and his home in Palm Beach, Fla., paying them in cash and urging them to recruit other underage girls to visit his home.”

The 66-year-old former hedge-fund manager was arrested and taken into federal custody on Saturday afternoon at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he had just returned in his private jet after a few weeks in Paris. Epstein was then transferred to Manhattan Correctional Center to await his arraignment in federal court in New York on Monday.

Federal agents also executed search warrants for Epstein’s Manhattan home early Saturday evening, breaking down the door of his Upper East Side townhouse, according to witnesses.

Epstein’s considerable wealth is likely to factor into whether or not he’ll be offered bail.

Per the Miami Herald’s law enforcement sources, the indictment against Epstein “includes new victims and witnesses who spoke to authorities in New York over the past several months.”

We’ll almost certainly never know how many girls Epstein molested or allowed to be molested by others. Police originally identified more than three dozen possible victims when they investigated in 2005 and 2006. The Herald has since identified nearly 80 girls who Epstein molested, most of whom were only listed as “Jane Doe” in court documents to protect their identities as minors. Most victims were between 13 and 16-years old, and many came from low income households. Witnesses also have testified in subsequent civil court proceedings that there are hundreds of additional victims who were brought to Epstein from around the world.

Epstein’s arrest came as a surprise, but the momentum for new charges has been building since last year. In November, the Miami Herald published an explosive investigative report which revealed horrifying new details about Epstein’s crimes and their effect on his many victims. The report included on-the-record accounts from four of the girls Epstein molested, and exposed the secret plea deal Epstein’s lawyers negotiated with then U.S. attorney Alex Acosta.

In 2008, federal prosecutors in Miami — led by former Sam Alito clerk Alexander Acosta — drafted a 53-page indictment against Epstein, including charges that could have put him in prison for life. But Acosta made a deal with Epstein’s legal team that resulted in 13 months in jail, and a non-prosecution agreement for any possible federal charges. According to a copy of the non-prosecution agreement, the likelihood of a federal charge was high: The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office determined that from 2001 to September 2007, Epstein had conspired to persuade minors to engage in prostitution, conspired to transport minors acros state lines for the purpose of illicit sexual conduct, and recruited a minor across state lines to engage in a commercial sex act.

According to the Miami Herald, Acosta met privately with one of Epstein’s lawyers Jay Lefkowitz — a former colleague in D.C. — and gave Epstein’s legal team a bizarre amount of control over the plea deal’s terms. (Other Epstein lawyers included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr.) “Thank you for the commitment you made to me,’’ Lefkowitz wrote to Acosta after their meeting, referring to Acosta’s promise he would not contact “any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants.” The deal was kept secret until it was finalized.

As the Trump administration’s Secretary of Labor, Acosta has already faced calls for resignation. With Epstein’s arrest over the weekend, the calls are growing again, including messages from former Senator Mike Gravel and Congressman Ted Lieu.

Though Epstein has had a massive social network — as evidenced by the publication of his “little black book” by Gawker in 2015 — it’s unclear if, or how many of, his contacts will be in legal jeopardy after his indictment is unsealed on Monday. The Miami Herald has identified two possible enablers who “could be charged or named as cooperating witnesses:”

Among those potentially on the list: Ghislaine Maxwell, a 57-year-old British socialite and publishing heir who has been accused of working as Epstein’s madam; and Jean-Luc Brunel, who, according to court records, was partners with Epstein in an international modeling company.

For her part, Maxwell, whose social circle included such friends as Bill and Hillary Clinton and members of the British Royal family, has been described as using recruiters positioned throughout the world to lure women by promising them modeling assignments, educational opportunities and fashion careers. The pitch was really a ruse to groom them into sex trafficking, it is alleged in court records.

In an interview on MSNBC on Sunday, Herald reporter Julie K. Brown expanded on possible developments following the indictment:

Needless to say, these are very powerful people and I think that they’re sweating a little bit, especially today. We don’t know how much, how deep this went, how far-reaching it went in government, but there have been a lot of names that I could see on these message pads [listing clients] on a regular basis as part of the evidence — these message pads where they would call and leave Epstein messages, such as, “I’m at this hotel.” Why do you do that, unless you’re expecting him to send you a girl to visit you at your hotel? So there are probably quite a few important people, powerful people, who are sweating it out right now. We’ll have to wait and see whether Epstein is going to name names.”

In addition to Trump’s now-notorious remark about Epstein to New York in 2002 that, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years … It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side” — given to New York in 2002, Trump has some connections to and allegations involving Epstein that will certainly come into further scrutiny in the coming weeks. To begin, there’s a picture of Epstein, Trump, and then-Melania Knauss at the president’s Florida resort in 2000.

Virginia Giuffre, an alleged victim of Epstein, claimed in court documents she was recruited to give him massages while she was working at Mar-a-Lago. Giuffre says that Epstein’s friend Ghislaine Maxwell began to recruit her away from Mar-a-Lago, where she worked as a locker room towel girl, at the age of 15 to be Epstein’s “sex slave.”

The Washington Post reports that “During the 2016 presidential campaign, another young woman, known in court records only as Jane Doe, said Trump had raped her when she was 13, in 1994, at a party at Epstein’s New York mansion. But the woman dropped her lawsuit and canceled a news conference at which she was expected to spell out her allegation. Her lawyer, Lisa Bloom, said the woman had received threats and was too scared to go ahead with her accusation. An attorney for Trump at the time called the allegation “categorically untrue.”

In her interview with MSNBC, Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown added:

They went to dinner parties at each other’s houses. Trump was also on his plane, probably not as much as a lot of other people because, you know, Trump had his own plane. But they had a lot of social relationships. And the other interesting thing is Trump had a modeling agency, and Epstein also had a stake in a modeling agency, which they suspect he used to bring in underage girls from overseas.

There is a comment in one of the court files where Epstein is quoted as saying, ‘I want to set up my modeling agency the same way Trump set up his modeling agency.’ I don’t know what that means, but it is curious he was trying to do something similar to Trump.

Trump has also attempted to distance himself from Epstein. According to court documents filed by a lawyer representing Epstein’s alleged victims, Trump banned him from Mar-a-Lago because he “ sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club.” And last year, the prosecutor in a 2009 settlement involving Epstein reportedly vouched for Trump’s conduct in the case:

The only thing that I can say about President Trump is that he is the only person who, in 2009 when I served a lot of subpoenas on a lot of people, or at least gave notice to some pretty connected people, that I want to talk to them, is the only person who picked up the phone and said, let’s just talk. I’ll give you as much time as you want. I’ll tell you what you need to know, and was very helpful, in the information that he gave, and gave no indication whatsoever that he was involved in anything untoward whatsoever, but had good information. That checked out and that helped us and we didn’t have to take a deposition of him in 2009.

Despite the 2002 comment in New York, a lawyer for Trump denied that he and Epstein had a social relationship, according to the New York Times. Another denial came in 2015 when Gawker published Epstein’s contact list, which featured Trump. “Mr. Trump only knew Mr. Epstein as Mr. Trump owns the hottest and most luxurious club in Palm Beach, [redacted], and Mr. Epstein would go there on occasion.”

Vicky Ward, who wrote a 2003 profile about Epstein for Vanity Fair, revealed at the Daily Beast on Sunday that her profile had originally contained a highly credible allegation that Epstein had molested a 16-year-old girl, but it was cut from the published version by then-editor Graydon Carter. Ward said that Epstein — who had pointedly and repeatedly asked her, “What do you have on the girls?” during their interviews — denied the accusation and tried to discredit it in some unsettling ways:

He called Graydon. He also repeatedly phoned me. He said, “Just the mention of a 16-year-old girl… carries the wrong impression. I don’t see what it adds to the piece. And that makes me unhappy.”

Next, Epstein attacked both me and my sources. Letters purporting to be from the women were sent to Graydon, which the women claimed (and gave evidence to show me) were fabricated fakes. I had my own notes to disprove Epstein’s claims against me.

And then there was Epstein himself, who, I’d be told after I’d given birth, got past security at Condé Nast and went into the Vanity Fair offices. By now everyone at the magazine was completely spooked.

Ward said that Epstein spooked her too, enough so that she had a guard placed on her newborn twins after he had asked her what hospital they were being treated at. When the allegation of molestation was cut, she was devastated:

I began to cry. It was so wrong. The family had been so brave. I thought about the mother, her fear of the dark, of the harm she feared might come to her daughters. And then I thought of all the rich, powerful men in suits ready to talk about Epstein’s “great mind.”

In the end, she wrote, Carter said he believed Epstein over the mother and two daughters who had made the claim. Vanity Fair, in a statement to the Beast, explained that “Epstein denied the charges at the time and since the claims were unsubstantiated and no criminal investigation had been initiated, we decided not to include them.”

Ward insisted that she does not blame Carter for making what he thought was the right call at the time, but that, “it has often struck me that if my piece had named the women, the FBI might have come after Epstein sooner and perhaps some of his victims, now, in the latest spate of allegations, allegedly either paid off or too fearful of retribution to speak up, would have been saved.”