R. Kelly arrived under escort of U.S. Marshals on Friday at the same small New Jersey airport where Jeffrey Epstein was arrested last month.
The singer and the money manager are charged in separate cases with having sex with multiple minors. Both have long been seen in the company of underage girls. And both cases raise the question of why so many people said nothing over the years.
Saying something when you see something—the post-9/11 adage about terrorism—should also apply to the sexual abuse of underage girls.
Of course, not everybody could be expected to have understood the significance of what they were seeing before Epstein’s proclivities became widely known. That included realtor Pat French of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Back in September of 1992, French was on the way to take her tween-turning-teen daughter and a friend to see the first woman to lead the Cherokee tribe, when she stopped at a luxury hotel to drop off some papers to a mega-rich New Yorker who was shopping for a ranch.
When she rang the doorbell to the suite at the Rancho Encantado that September day in 1992, Jeffrey Epstein was not who answered.
“There were all these girls,” French told The Daily Beast this week. “A little bit older than my daughter. Not much.”
French made what seemed at the time to be a completely reasonable assumption.
“I thought, ‘Oh, these must be his daughters and friends he took along on the trip,’” French recalled.
She did not know at the time that Epstein had no children.
The girls took the papers, which described properties that French thought might interest Epstein. He had told her he was seeking isolation.
“He wanted really far away from people,” French recalled.
French proceeded on with her daughter and friends to see Cherokee Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller receive an an award from the International Women’s Forum. Mankiller—now deceased, from cancer in 2010—was a leading champion of women’s rights as well as Native American rights and human rights in general. Mankiller was taking particular steps to combat the sexual abuse of children in her tribe. French never imagined that the girls she saw back at the plush Rancho Encantado were victims of evil such as Mankiller battled.
“I had no idea about this man,” French later told The Daily Beast.
French had no further dealings with Epstein. He chose to buy a ranch through another realtor, Rhonda King, who was also then a representative to the New Mexico state legislature. The purchase of the 10,000-acre Zorro Ranch came with an additional, instant political connection, as Epstein bought it from the realtor’s uncle, former Gov. Bruce King.
Epstein proceeded to build a 26,700 square foot hacienda-style hilltop mansion, the largest private home in Santa Fe County, perhaps the state. The former governor’s brother, New Mexico State treasurer David King, was quoted saying of Epstein, “He’s building what you want as a heavenly ranch.”
Epstein was reported to have bought $600 bedsheets. He was said to have his bread flown in from New York.
“They do have money,” a local builder remarked.
But money was still money for Epstein. He sued Santa Fe County in 2000, alleging that he was being overcharged on property taxes because the ranch was worth only $30 million, not the $33 million it had been officially appraised. He demanded a refund of $20,000 he had already paid. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Visitors to the mansion included the leading candidate for governor in 2002, Bill Richardson, who was later quick to say that he was accompanied by his wife. Epstein contributed $50,000 to Richardson’s campaign. Epstein kicked in another $50,000 towards Richardson’s successful run for reelection in 2006.
Gary King, the former governor’s son, was running for state attorney general that year and Epstein donated $15,000 to his primary campaign. Epstein also donated $10,000 toward Jim Baca’s campaign to become head of the land commission and $2,000 toward Santa Fe County Sheriff Jim Solano's bid for reelection.
In the meantime, Epstein was apparently flying in underage girls as well as fresh bread, usually through Santa Fe when he was using his Gulfstream, or the larger Albuquerque airport when using his Boeing 727. One of his accusers would say that she was raped at the ranch when she was 15.
No doubt people at the airports and ranch workers and folks in town saw the girls. But nobody seems to have contacted the authorities even after the news broke in July 2006 that Epstein was being charged in Florida with having sex with underage girls.
The following year, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to just one count of engaging a minor in prostitution. This unconscionable deal allowed him to serve just 13 months of nights and weekends in a private section of the Palm Beach County Jail. A resident of Santa Fe recalled to The Daily Beast that when she went into a local newsstand, the proprietor remarked, “Oh, he always used to come into town with all these girls.”
Upon his release in 2009, Epstein was required by the plea deal to to register as a sex offender. Federal law required him also to register in any other jurisdiction where he maintained a residence, including what his lawyers termed his “vacation home” outside Santa Fe.
On July 23, 2010, Epstein received a notice from the New Mexico Department of Public Safety (NMDPS) stating it had been notified by its Florida counterpart that Epstein was a registered sex offender.
“A convicted sex offender who resides in New Mexico shall register with the county sheriff no later than ten (10) days after establishing residence in this state,” the notice said.
On August 17, Epstein registered in person with Detective Deborah Anaya at the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office. Anaya afterwards paid a standard visit to the offender's home. What wasn’t standard were the offender's conveyances, which she listed as two private jets and two helicopters, along with a fleet of land vehicles.
Two days later, on August 19, Epstein received a second notice from NMDPS, which said, “You are not required to register with the state of New Mexico.” A NMDPS spokesman later told The Daily Beast, “While in New Mexico we expressly disapprove of such conduct as specific to this case, the determination made when someone must register in New Mexico is a fact-based inquiry. The state conducted a 'translation' on August 11, 2010, regarding Mr. Epstein's 2008 conviction for procuring a person under the age of 18 for prostitution in the state of Florida, i.e., a comparison of the out-of-state elements of the Florida conviction were compared against New Mexico law. It was determined at that time that because the victim was not under the age of 16, Mr. Epstein does not have a registration requirement in New Mexico.”
The spokesman did not respond to a query as to how this squared with federal law, which would seem to say that the conviction in Florida required him to register in New Mexico even if the victim was not under 16. The Florida definition of a minor was the operative one in whatever state when it came to registering.
The standard letterhead in both NMDPS notices was identical, but in retrospect the words “Bill Richardson, Governor” seem to jump out a little more in the second one.
Richardson—a former Energy Secretary in the Clinton administration—was in the final months of his second and final term as New Mexico’s governor, but Gary King remained the state attorney general until 2015. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014 and may have imagined nobody would be any the wiser when he accepted $35,000 donated by five shell companies that Epstein had established.
The companies—three of which were apparently named after streets in the gated Brooklyn enclave where Epstein was raised—are based in the Virgin Islands. That is where Epstein has two private islands and where numerous people also saw him in the company of apparently underage girls and where he also made numerous political contributions, and even hired a former governor's wife as his office manager.
Epstein almost certainly would still be flying girls to New Mexico and the Virgin Islands, along with his residences in Palm Beach and New York and likely Paris had he not been indicted by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office for sex trafficking. He was arrested when he stepped off his Gulfstream at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
Epstein seems to have been abusing girls in New Mexico for at least 27 years. If he was traveling with underage girls after his widely reported conviction, no one should have imagined that he was doing so for any purpose other than should have been immediately reported to the authorities.
So many people saw something and said nothing.
Epstein apparently imagined people would keep saying nothing and he would remain at liberty. He has long leased grazing rights for 1,244 acres adjoining his Zorro Ranch and he renewed the lease in 2016 so it runs to 2021. He was reported in 2011 to have 39 Angus-cross cows and two bulls. The bulls are apparently for breeding.
Epstein seems to have been obsessed with breeding. As The New York Times reported, he talked about using his seed to impregnate a herd of women, whom he seems to have regarded as just cattle at whatever age. He was said to have suggested to scientists that the human race would be improved by having what might in ranch terms be called an Epstein-cross.
We can all hope that his line dies in prison along with him.
Until then, look for Epstein to seek to curry favor with other inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center by putting money in their commissary accounts the same way he used to contribute to politicians in New Mexico and the Virgin Islands.
Out in New Mexico, one of Epstein’s more remote neighbors was spared ever encountering him. But the artist Sina Brush did receive an unbidden letter from him not long after he built his mansion. He informed her that he was paying her $25,000 for her refuge of 40 years. The letter did not even ask she was interested in selling. She sent back a polite “no thank you” note despite his rudeness.
The modest parcel where Brush lives and works with an aging mare named Billie—“after the kid”—is one place that Epstein could not have bought with all his money. There, Brush enjoys a realm whose magical light and timeless peace have inspired many other artists, including not only Georgia O’Keeffe, but also Gerald Cassidy, Forrest Moses, Woody Gwyn and Fritz Scholder. Here is isolation that can also lead to what is the very best in us.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she told The Daily Beast. “I need this kind of tranquility and beauty.”