Jeffery Epstein got away with his crimes for as long as he did because he had a network including powerful politicians, heiresses, celebrities, publicists, lawyers, a district attorney, and even a recently resigned labor secretary as bad actors, rotten enablers, and abusive fellow-travelers.
Epstein’s known victims number in the dozens, with more coming out to say that he assaulted them while he was “incarcerated” in Florida and later at his palatial Manhattan town house—where being a registered sex offender didn’t seem enough to get him removed from the social register.
We need to face up to the fact that Epstein is, in part, a product of a culture where wealthy men can do whatever they want. Consequences are for little people.
Epstein was one of the boys, and so was his friend Donald Trump. They were peers, two buddies in Manhattan and Palm Beach talking up the size of their financial packages and enjoying their sexual conquests as in footage NBC surfaced this morning of the future President of the United States laughing and dancing surrounded by Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins cheerleaders beside the future convicted pedophile.
The video, shot in 1992, shows the friends bantering about the scantily clad women around them, pointing to them like cuts of meat in a butcher’s case. “She’s hot,” Trump tells Epstein—who the president now claims he hardly knew, before cutting him off—at one point.
A few days before the video appeared, Trump had said that “ “I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. I mean, people in Palm Beach knew him. He was a fixture in Palm Beach.” Which maybe says more about the scene in places like Palm Beach, and the Upper East Side for that matter, than Trump had intended to.
Following his 2009 conviction, Epstein spent the next year rebranding himself and reentering the world of the Upper East Side. People were easily won over, brought into his web through publicists, lawyers and others who serve men with money with consummate skill and moral blindness.
As the New York Times explained it, “Mr. Epstein’s social strategy proceeded from his legal one. The lenient agreement he reached with prosecutors—his plea involved one girl and the crime was prostitution, which made it look like the teenager was in part to blame.” On December 2, 2010, a year after he was released from his 13-month-prison sentence—where his “hard time” included 12 hours a day in an office, six days week—he had a party.
With the help of Peggy Segal, he filled his mansion at 9 East 71st Street with the fanciest Upper East Side guests, including Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos, and Chelsea Handler. In a moment of spectacular irony, Woody Allen joined the festivities. Meanwhile, three floors above this dinner sat a free-standing safe filled with a vast trove of lewd photographs of Epstein’s victims, along with a list of names that perhaps belong to other victimizers who he would have then had leverage over.
Epstein was good at attracting famous friends; he often partied with the cash-poor Prince Andrew, to whom he was connected by his socialite enabler, Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of former Daily News owner Robert Maxwell. Epstein used his ties to the likes of Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Alan Dershowitz along with donations to Harvard (a university he did not attend in any capacity) to launder his image to make it seem like he belonged.
In a funny way, the Upper East Side isn’t such a hard place to belong. Money, or at least cash to flash, is really the only barrier to entry; there aren’t really private clubs any longer, and while private schools and co-ops can be tricky, a bachelor with a townhouse has no need for either. It’s the perfect place for a Talented Mister Ripley, or Epstein. It's a place where people seem to simply just sort of appear on society’s radar, slipping into a world where the dollar is king and social standings are largely based on it as old class distinctions are mostly gone now, for better and worse.
And indeed, publicists and social fixers played an oversized role in enabling Epstein, “I don’t want ‘billionaire pervert’ to be the first line of my obituary,” Epstein said to R. Courtney Hay when he met him to discuss possibly hiring the publicist. Hay has made a name for himself over the last few years representing some of the most toxic men in the world of #MeToo.
By now, America has a kind of reality-show understanding that publicists and lawyers are unsurprising enablers of criminal behavior and while it’s horrifying, it's not unimaginable.
What is unimaginable is that Epstein was also enabled by the office of Cy Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, when Jennifer Gaffney, then-deputy chief of the sex-crimes unit, asked a Manhattan judge in 2011 to downgrade Epstein’s status in the New York sex-offender registry from the most-dangerous Level 3 to least-restrictive Level 1.” The judge rejected that request and a spokesman for Vance’s office later told Gothamist, “Words like 'cover-up' and 'defense of Jeffrey Epstein' do not apply here” because the DA had already admitted that Gaffney "made a mistake (in open court) by misreading the Sex Offender Registration Act provision about what you have to include and exclude from the score."
While Epstein did register as a Level 3 offender, the NYPD never really monitored him, since he had residences elsewhere. As prosecutors and police toss the hot potato now, we know that the Epstein case was not the first time Vance had appeared to go easy on the wealthy. “Vance ordered his prosecutors to drop a promising criminal-fraud investigation against Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr,” before the presidential election, The New Yorker reported after it, and Vance also chose not to prosecute Harvey Weinstein when he was first credibly charged with assault.
Back to Epstein, his obsession with underaged women was no secret at all in the world of the wealthy, or even the gossip pages. As Trump said of him before his Florida conviction, “He likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” But because Epstein was rich and because he was clever about using institutions and people to launder himself, no one stopped him.
Even while imprisoned in Florida, Epstein was enabled. Palm Beach Chief Deputy Michael Gauger spoke glowingly about the serial child rapist. In response, a lawyer for one of Epstein’s accusers said Tuesday, that Epstein “continued to have visits from young women that allegedly resulted in sexual liaisons while he was in 'jail' in Florida.”
The presence of two systems of American justice is nothing new. Wealthy people have long gotten away with crimes that would lead to lifetime sentences or worse.
Perhaps this is too much to ask, but when the judge rules on Epstein’s bail application Thursday, could it mark the beginning of the end of this horrific trend?
Perhaps Jeffrey Epstein won’t be able to lawyer and PR his way out of his depraved crimes and a wealthy man will be held behind bars, and then held accountable to the law for his crimes, like anyone else.