Editor's note: On August 10, 2019, Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent jailhouse suicide. For more information, see The Daily Beast's reporting here.
Federal prosecutors on Monday released an indictment against billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, charging him with sex trafficking and accusing him of using his fortune to “create a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit.”
They also revealed at a news conference that the FBI found nude photos of girls in a weekend raid of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion—after he was cuffed at a New Jersey airport following a flight from France.
“The defendant, a registered sex offender, is not reformed, he is not chastened, he is not repentant,” prosecutors wrote in a memo seeking to have Epstein jailed until trial.
“Rather, he is a continuing danger to the community and an individual who faces devastating evidence supporting deeply serious charges.”
The 14-page indictment alleges that at the Manhattan property and at and his estate in Palm Beach, Epstein paid girls for massages that became sex acts and then paid them even more to find new victims—essentially a pyramid scheme of predation.
The politically connected money man faced similar allegations a decade ago but got a sweetheart plea deal in Florida that is now under investigation. Manhattan prosecutors said they are not bound by the non-prosecution agreement that ties the hands of prosecutors in Florida.
At an afternoon arraignment, Epstein, 66, pleaded not guilty to the charges out of Manhattan. His attorneys argued the New York case is essentially an improper “do-over” of the Florida case, adding that there are no allegations of violence or coercion.
Meanwhile, the FBI urged any other victims to come forward, saying the Epstein investigation is its No. 1 sex trafficking investigation and any tips will be given priority. “In the eyes of the FBI, you come first,” FBI Assistant Director Bill Sweeney said.
Monday’s indictment against the politically connected money man is based on three new victims and covers alleged crimes between 2002 and 2005 that involved girls as young as 14 and spanned two states.
According to the indictment, Epstein “enticed and recruited, and caused to be enticed and recruited, minor girls to visit him” at his Manhattan mansion and Palm Beach estate “to engage in sex acts with him, after which he would give the victims hundreds of dollars in cash.”
“Moreover, and in order to maintain and increase his supply of victims, Epstein also paid certain of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused by Epstein,” the indictment says.
“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit.”
The indictment on two counts of sex trafficking and conspiracy details three victims and refers to three unnamed employees who allegedly assisted Epstein in the scheme.
Girls were initially lured to Epstein’s homes to provide massages, “which would be performed nude or partially nude, would become increasingly sexual in nature, and would typically include one or more sex acts,” the 14-page indictment alleges.
Some of those girls would then be asked to go find other victims and be paid hundreds of dollars for each one they brought back, the court documents say. “In so doing, Epstein maintained a steady supply of new victims to exploit,” the indictment says, adding that some recruiters funneled dozens of girls to him.
The indictment alleges that Epstein knew the girls were underage because some of them said how old they were.
“We are proud to be standing up for them in bringing this indictment,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said of the victims.
“Too often adults in our society have turned a blind eye,” the FBI's Sweeney added.
The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Public Corruption Unit, with an assist from its human trafficking coordinator. The indictment does not contain any public corruption charges, and Berman said he would not comment on how the case was being staffed.
As The Daily Beast first reported, Epstein was collared on Saturday by the FBI-NYPD Crimes Against Children Task Force. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol alerted the FBI that Epstein’s plane was returning from France and agents were waiting for him as he landed at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, according to a law enforcement official.
He spent the weekend in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to a senior law enforcement official—the high-security prison once dubbed tougher than Guantanamo where drug lord El Chapo is held.
Epstein’s mansion on New York’s Upper East Side was raided by federal agents on Saturday night as they executed search warrants, with a witness telling the New York Post that authorities broke the door down and “went in with bags.” The indictment seeks forfeiture of the Manhattan mansion. Epstein also has palatial homes in New Mexico, on a private island in the Caribbean, and in Paris.
A Dark Secret and Dozens of Girls
Details of Epstein’s alleged trafficking—which, prosecutors say, took place between 2002 and 2005—match the reports of girls who accused the billionaire of molestation and sexual abuse in the mid-2000s in Palm Beach. Local Florida police launched an investigation after a 14-year-old and her parents claimed that an older man named “Jeff” had molested her at Epstein’s gaudy tropical mansion. More accusers soon came forward with similar tales of massages and molestation in exchange for $200 to $1,000 per visit. Some also claimed that Epstein would force them to have intercourse with him or a young woman described as his Eastern European “sex slave.” Epstein’s assistant, Sarah Kellen, allegedly kept a whole Rolodex of underage girls to recruit for her employer.
The case against Epstein quickly escalated to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami, then led by Alexander Acosta. But the prosecutor (now President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary) cut a sweetheart plea deal with Epstein and his high-powered lawyers, one that amounted to a mere slap on the wrist: instead of facing federal charges—such as sex trafficking of children by force, fraud, or coercion, as laid out in the plea deal—Epstein pleaded guilty in state court to two minor prostitution charges (solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution). He served a mere 13 months in a county jail with lenient work-release privileges. The plea deal also granted immunity to any alleged co-conspirators—“including but not limited to” recruiters Kellen, Adriana Ross, and Lesley Groff, or the alleged sex slave, Nadia Marcinkova.
The new charges could land Epstein in prison for up to 45 years if he’s convicted.
Lawyer David Boies, who also represents some of Epstein’s accusers, said the charges outlined in the indictment show that authorities punted when they investigated Epstein more than a decade ago, when he avoided federal charges and any meaningful jail time.
“I think there is no question this demonstrates that something could've happened and should've happened,” Boies said.
Meanwhile, Epstein’s famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz told the Beast that he planned to “wait and see what the evidence is” against his former client. The Harvard law professor has been accused of digging up dirt on victims in the Florida case and trying to portray the girls as unreliable witnesses. (Dershowitz has denied any wrongdoing.) The attorney has also been accused by at least one alleged victim of Epstein’s, Giuffre, of being involved in the sex-trafficking ring himself—a charge which Dershowitz has vehemently denied.
Tip of the Iceberg
Even as Epstein faces sex-trafficking charges in New York, other cases threaten to further expose the financier.
In Florida, a judge has ruled that Acosta’s 2007 plea deal with Epstein violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because it was brokered in secret, without the knowledge of the young women involved. While the government’s attorneys are recommending that the plea deal should be upheld—to protect the privacy of the women, they say, as well as the monetary settlements some have won against Epstein, who agreed not to contest damages—the judge has yet to issue a final ruling. Meanwhile, some alleged victims continue to press for the plea deal to be tossed and for Epstein to face federal charges in Florida—or for the files in the case to be made public.
Meanwhile, other alleged victims, in other locations, have begun to emerge. A woman named Maria Farmer claimed in April in an affidavit that Epstein sexually assaulted her at Les Wexner’s mansion in Ohio in 1996, and that he molested her 15-year-old sister in New Mexico. She also said that Dershowitz used to frequent Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion as girls in school uniforms paraded in for “modeling” calls. (Dershowitz denies the claims. Wexner and Epstein did not respond to requests for comment.)
And Virginia Giuffre is at the center of a fight that could turn explosive. She claimed that as an underage teen, she was loaned out for sex by Epstein and his girlfriend, the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, to famous friends like Prince Andrew and Dershowitz (the two men and Maxwell deny it). A defamation suit was brought by Giuffre against Maxwell after the latter called Giuffre a liar; the Miami Herald and others have sued to have documents in the case unsealed, and the court agreed just last week. In the ruling, the court warned the public that allegations in the documents were unproven accusations. But such an admonition may hint at bombshells ahead for Epstein and his friends.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years—terrific guy,” Trump told New York Magazine in 2002. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it—Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
That “social life” will likely be on full display in Manhattan federal court in the months to come.
Additional reporting by Marianne Dodson
The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Maxwell sued Giuffre for defamation. Giuffre sued Maxwell. The Daily Beast regrets this error.