Editor's note: Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York on July 6, 2019, and faces federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. For more information, see The Daily Beast's reporting here.
For Jeffrey Epstein and his famous friends, the Aughts were a simpler time, when the businessmen, academics, and celebrities who counted themselves among the playboy philanthropist’s inner circle could freely enjoy the fruits of his extreme wealth and connections.
Epstein’s little black book and flight logs read like a virtual Who’s Who: Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Larry Summers, Kevin Spacey, Prince Andrew, and Naomi Campbell all hitched rides on Epstein’s private planes. Socialites and distinguished scientists went to visit Epstein’s island in St. Thomas, and cavorted at epic dinner parties at his palatial townhouse—then the largest privately owned residence in New York, as he liked to brag. There, they picked at elaborate meals catered by celebrity chefs like Rocco DiSpirito, marvelled at Epstein’s opulent decor, and noted the pack of very, very young model-types with whom Epstein always seemed to surround himself.
But a darker story was going on underneath the glamour. In 2008, Epstein was convicted of soliciting sex from an underage girl and quietly paid settlements to scores of alleged victims who said he serially molested them. But the girls kept coming out of the woodwork—in 2014, another young woman filed a lawsuit claiming that Epstein used her as a sex slave for his powerful friends—and that she’d been at parties on his private island with former President Clinton.
And just last week, yet another “Jane Doe” filed a suit in New York accusing Epstein and Donald Trump of raping her at a series of sex parties when she was only 13.
Trump has denied Jane Doe’s claims and his reps have said he barely knew Epstein—even though New York media in the ’90s regularly chronicled his comings-and-goings at Epstein’s Upper East Side palace, and even though Epstein had 14 private numbers for Trump and his family in his little black book. Meanwhile, Bill and Hillary Clinton have remained mum about their ties to the Palm Beach pedophile—despite evidence that shows Bill was one of the most famous and frequent passengers on Epstein’s “Lolita Express” and that Epstein donated money to the Clinton Foundation even after his conviction.
For months, talking heads have wondered whether Trump would use Epstein and his girls as a weapon against Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Now, with the latest federal lawsuit against Trump himself, it seems the notorious financier has become a serious liability for both campaigns.
Less than a year before Florida police began investigating Jeffrey Epstein for the alleged rape and abuse of scores of young girls, the questionable billionaire responded to a call on Edge—an online club where navel-gazing intellectuals and academics meet to pose questions to one another—for a “bit of wisdom, some rule of nature... that you’ve noticed in the universe that might as well be named after you.”
“Epstein’s First Law,” he wrote, “Know when you are winning.”
“Epstein’s Second Law: The key question is not what can I gain but what do I have to lose.”
What the 63-year-old Ralph Lauren lookalike had to lose was his perverted double life. According to law-enforcement officials and alleged victims, between the years 1998 and 2007—and possibly even earlier—he ran a particularly vile pyramid scheme that involved paying minors around $200 at a time to perform sexual massages nearly every day and then recruit even younger girls to do the same. (“The more you do, the more you are paid,” one said.) During these massages, girls as young as 13 told police they were instructed to get undressed. Epstein would masturbate or penetrate them, they said—with his finger, or a vibrator, or his allegedly egg-shaped penis.
By the time Epstein was arrested in 2008, police in Palm Beach County, Florida, had already spent months monitoring his movements, rifling through his trash, and interviewing potential victims and witnesses. Police reported to prosecutors that they had gathered enough evidence to charge the money manager with several felonies: lewd and lascivious molestation and four counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Epstein’s freedom, his wealth, his little black book full of famous folk—including princes, presidents, and prime ministers—all were seemingly at stake.
So Epstein did what the mega-rich do in these situations: hired star attorneys Gerald Lefcourt and Alan Dershowitz, who defended their client vigorously, reportedly having witnesses followed and discrediting the alleged victims by offering their MySpace pages as evidence of supposed drug use and scandalous behavior.
Prosecutors said Epstein’s dream team made successful prosecution unlikely. “Our judgment in this case, based on the evidence known at the time, was that it was better to have a billionaire serve time in jail, register as a sex offender, and pay his victims restitution than risk a trial with a reduced likelihood of success,” U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta explained in a 2011 letter.
And so, despite a decade of alleged serial sexual abuse and rape of an unknowable number of girls, some as many as 100 times according to court filings, the notoriously secretive financier was offered a deal. For the alleged systematic victimization of young girls—most of whom were plucked by Epstein’s assistants from Palm Beach’s poorer neighborhoods and groomed to adore or acquiesce to him—he was slapped with a 2008 conviction on a single charge of soliciting a minor; and sentenced to an 18-month stay in a Palm Beach county jail—of which he served only 13 months and was allowed to leave six days out of every week for “work release.” He also agreed to a few dozen confidential, out-of-court payoffs to his accusers, the most recent of which was finalized in 2011.
Epstein’s “potential co-conspirators,” as the U.S. Attorney called them—women who allegedly procured girls for Epstein—also received immunity from prosecution as a condition of the 2007 agreement that enraged the local police force for its leniency. As of 2015, according to The Guardian, two of these women had changed their names, and were operating businesses out of a building owned by Epstein’s brother, where it was alleged in court documents that Epstein had housed young women.
Though Epstein must register as a sex offender for life, and arguably suffer the world’s most revolting Google presence, he has seemingly retained his collection of elite academic and media friends as well as his fortune. Since his release in 2009, Epstein has gone about his business, running a mysterious money management firm (clients unknown, income unknown, investments and activities unknown) from his private 70-acre island in the U.S. Virgin Islands and spending time at his Uptown stone mansion. The palace was gifted to Epstein, some say, by its previous owner—Epstein’s guardian angel and the founder of The Limited Inc., Leslie Wexner.
From his plush perch, Epstein continues to dismiss any notions that he should be viewed as the child rapist that victims and Florida police say he is.
“I’m not a sexual predator, I’m an ‘offender,’” he told the New York Post in 2011, shortly after a New York judge classified him as a level 3 offender, or “a threat to public safety.”
“It’s the difference between a murderer and a person who steals a bagel,” Epstein said.
But for the wealthy and famous in Epstein’s orbit, his conviction has meant suspicion by association.
In December 2014, just as the Palm Beach lawsuits were winding down, another alleged victim emerged and her claims were salacious: Epstein, she said, had loaned her out as an underage sex slave to his famous friends—including Britain’s Prince Andrew and Epstein defense attorney Dershowitz (both men denied the charges). Coming forward in Britain’s Daily Mail in 2011, Virginia Roberts Guiffre—called Jane Doe #3 in a related lawsuit (PDF)—claimed that Epstein and his “girlfriend,” alleged madame Ghislaine Maxwell, forced her to have sex with the pair’s powerful pals and gather intel that Epstein could later use. In court documents, Guiffre testified, “Epstein and Maxwell also told me that they wanted me to produce things for them in addition to performing sex on the men. They told me to pay attention to the details about what the men wanted so I could report back to them.”
Guiffre noted that Epstein appeared to be collecting information on Prince Andrew—particularly on his alleged foot fetish—and claimed, “Epstein also trafficked me for sexual purposes to other powerful men, including politicians and powerful business executives. Epstein required me to describe the sexual events I had with these men presumably so that he could potentially blackmail them. I am still very fearful of these men today.”
A judge threw out Guiffre’s motion in 2015, but Guiffre stands by her claims and is suing Ghislaine Maxwell, whom she claims acted as Epstein’s madam.
Meanwhile, the men named by Guiffre seem eager for her to go away. “It’s as if I’ve been waterboarded for 15 months,” Dershowitz told the Boston Globe after the settlement of a defamation case related to Guiffre’s claims. “This has taken a terrible toll on my family, on my friends…” Buckingham Palace has also denied the allegations against Prince Andrew, calling them “categorically untrue.”
UPDATE: This April, Giuffre's lawyers withdrew her allegations against Dershowitz and said that it was a "mistake" to have filed the accusations in the first place. A federal judge later struck her allegations against Dershowitz from the court record. At Dershowitz's request, Louis Freeh, the former head of the FBI, also conducted an independent investigation of her claims and published a statement noting, "Our investigation found no evidence to support the accusations of sexual misconduct against Professor Dershowitz."
In her lawsuit, Guiffre had claimed that during trips to Epstein’s private island, she'd also encountered another very famous person: former President Bill Clinton. Guiffre alleges the former U.S. president visited Epstein’s “Orgy Island” when there were underage girls present, but added that she never had sex with him and never saw him have sex with any of the young women.
Still, it’s these sorts of allegations that have journalists and Clinton-haters circling. Just last month, pundits on MSNBC’s Morning Joe were speculating about Bill Clinton’s oft-discussed friendship with Epstein and whether it would be the go-to play for a Trump campaign looking to combat Hillary Clinton’s claims that Trump is bad for women.
Requests for comment to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Clinton Foundation were not returned.
The former president, who flew on the “The Lolita Express” at least 26 times from 2001 to 2003, has never addressed his ties with Epstein, a onetime major Democratic donor, according to Federal Election Commission records, who also gave millions to the Clinton Foundation even after his arrest for abusing underage girls. “I invest in people—be it politics or science. It’s what I do,” Epstein has reportedly said to friends.
“There’s a 100 percent chance [Trump] is going there,” said former McCain strategist Steve Schmidt on Morning Joe, referring to Clinton’s friendship with the pervy moneyman.
Still, Trump may not want to actually “go there” in light of the new federal lawsuit against him.
Just last week, Trump’s own connections to Epstein made headlines when a Jane Doe claimed that the presumptive Republican nominee and his financier pal raped her on several occasions when she was 13 years old.
The allegations are explosive. And the circumstances surrounding them are very, very strange.
According to the complaint, filed in a Manhattan federal court, one of Epstein’s assistants approached Jane Doe as she waited for a bus at the New York Port Authority terminal and offered the teenager money and contacts that could lead to a modeling contract if she came to a party at Epstein’s house. Jane Doe says she attended several parties at Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion, and supposedly had sexual contact with Donald Trump at four of them. The fourth and final time she attended a party with Trump, she alleges he tied her to a bed with pantyhose, raped her, then beat her and threatened to kill her and her family if she told a soul.
This is the second time the woman has brought a suit against Trump and Epstein. The first, which she filed herself this April in California using the name Katie Johnson, was dismissed for failure to bring a claim under the civil-rights law under which she had filed suit. Calls to the phone number listed on the original suit were never answered, with no way to leave a voicemail. The plaintiff’s reported address in Twentynine Palms was a one-bedroom, one-bath home belonging to 72-year-old David Stacey, who had died on Oct. 9, and public records show no evidence of a Katie Johnson living at the property. Neighbors told RadarOnline that squatters had overrun the home while Stacey was hospitalized, and a real-estate agent reported the home had been turned over to the bank by April.
“The allegations are not only categorically false, but disgusting at the highest level and clearly framed to solicit media attention or, perhaps, are simply politically motivated,” Trump told RadarOnline, responding to the original lawsuit. “There is absolutely no merit to these allegations. Period.”
The new complaint charges that Trump’s denial amounts to defamation. This time, Johnson also has a declaration from a woman who claims to be a corroborating witness, known in the suit as Tiffany Doe. According to her statement, Tiffany was 22 when she lured Johnson to Epstein’s home and witnessed Johnson’s alleged rape firsthand.
Johnson has a number of non-anonymous supporters, though it’s a cast of characters who do little to allay Trump’s assertion that her claim was brought solely to influence the election.
According to a lengthy article on the site Jezebel, some eight months before Johnson filed her California lawsuit against Epstein and Trump, a man named Al Taylor—who claimed to be the “PR person” for something called the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas—reached out to a reporter at Gawker to shop a video recording of Johnson and her rape story. Taylor, who identified himself to The Daily Beast as “a friend” to Johnson, claims to have met her at a party where she revealed her alleged childhood assault by Trump. In a video published in part on Jezebel, a woman claiming to be Katie Johnson appears—wearing a blond wig, her face pixelated and her voice disguised. In it, she details the allegations of rape.
When The Daily Beast asked Taylor for a copy of the video, Taylor suggested it was still for sale. “I heard it would be worth $1 million,” Taylor said, claiming the proceeds from the sale would go to Johnson’s protection.
“We’ve got her in hiding,” he said.
Taylor has coincidentally been the subject of Epstein-related news before. In 2011, Taylor, at first freelance producing for The Jerry Springer Show then working alone, claimed to have made a million-dollar deal with Casey Anthony for an interview after the Florida woman’s acquittal in the murder of her 2-year-old daughter. When the interview didn’t happen, Taylor retained the services of Spencer Kuvin, a Palm Beach lawyer who also represented three Epstein victims. Taylor says he met Kuvin during an attempt to interview his Epstein clients. They settled with Epstein out of court and declined to be interviewed by Taylor.
But Taylor wasn’t the only party working to get the tape and Katie Johnson’s story to the media. According to Jezebel, Steve Baer, described in National Review as “a conservative activist and major, if secretive, donor to the conservative movement,” lobbied their reporter to publish Johnson’s claims. Baer is also, according to Jezebel, the father of Chandler Smith, an Ohio woman who happens to be the co-founder of an organization called Vote Trump Get Dumped, a campaign that urges ladies to withhold sex from Trump supporters. “Until Trump is defeated, we don’t date, sleep with, or canoodle with Trump supporters,” the group’s manifesto reads.
When Johnson’s case was thrown out in California, Taylor says he began looking for an attorney to file a new case for his “friend.” They approached Brad Edwards, the lawyer who has represented a number of Epstein victims through settlements—and who is now representing Virginia Roberts Guiffre in her claim against Epstein’s former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell as well as four alleged victims in the case against the federal government.
“I will say I’ve never represented [Johnson] and I won’t be representing her,” Edwards told The Daily Beast.
Edwards couldn’t comment on the conversations he had with Johnson or her representatives, citing attorney-client privilege. Concerning Trump’s involvement in Epstein’s illicit affairs, Edwards said he hadn’t seen any evidence that would implicate the GOP nominee and described Trump as “extremely helpful and honest,” during questioning.
When Edwards declined to take the case, Taylor told the website GossipExtra they were shopping for representation. That’s how Johnson’s current attorney, Tom Meagher, says he found his client.
Meagher is a patent attorney in New Jersey who openly admits, “I've never taken on accusations like this,” but says he was drawn to Johnson’s story and believes her “100 percent.” In an effort to get media attention for Johnson’s case, Meagher attended a May fundraiser in Lawrenceville, New Jersey—thrown to pay off the debt incurred by Chris Christie’s failed presidential campaign, and one at which Donald Trump spoke. Described as “a protester” by a local reporter, Meagher confirms he was removed by security after holding up a sign that read: “Ask Trump About Katie Johnson.”
“I don’t have a view on the race,” Meagher now tells The Daily Beast. “I did before the matter, but now I’m apolitical so I can focus on my client.”
Concerning the timing of the lawsuit, Meagher says: “Of course, she does not want her rapist to be president.”
Despite several requests, The Daily Beast was not able to speak with Katie Johnson or Tiffany Doe. When asked whether any evidence of their claims existed outside of the Doe declarations, Taylor said Tiffany kept a journal of Epstein contacts. “She has all the goods,” Taylor said, but would not elaborate and said future names would only be released in response to a scandal on par with Donald Trump’s political ascent.
But Mike Fisten, a retired Miami-Dade homicide detective who worked as a private investigator in several Epstein-related cases, is skeptical about the new claims.
Fisten says Epstein had in effect two lives: “a business life and deviant pedphile life.” To find out which friends were involved in which life, Fisten carried a book with photos of Epstein’s contacts. In hundreds of interviews with hundreds of witnesses, he said no one has ever identified Trump as being involved in any kind of sexual activity with underage girls. In fact, Fisten recalls learning in the early 2000s that members of Trump’s private Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago, complained that Epstein was often accompanied by very young girls–“a different girl every week”—each of whom he would refer to as “his niece.” Fisten says he offered to look at Tiffany Doe’s book to vet her free of charge, but Taylor and Meagher declined.
Emails to the Trump Organization and the campaign for this story were not returned, but Trump’s attorney Alan Garten has repeatedly denied any relationship between his client and Epstein, other than Epstein’s Mar-a-Lago membership.
Still, it’s clear that Trump’s association with Epstein runs deeper than just pool days at Mar-a-Lago.
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years,” Trump told New York Magazine in 2002. Calling him a “terrific guy,” Trump continued, “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.”
According to a 2003 profile in Vanity Fair and New York gossip rags that covered the goings-on of Epstein and his famous friends in the late ’90s, Trump would attend dinner parties at the 71st Street mansion. In April 1999, The Mail spotted Trump among the guests at a dinner Epstein threw in honor of Prince Andrew. In 2000, they reported he attended a “hookers and pimps” Halloween party. New York magazine reported Trump’s attendance at a 2003 dinner party thrown in honor of Bill Clinton. Magician David Blaine entertained the “barely clad models” with card tricks, but Clinton never appeared.
“I often see Donald Trump and there are loads of models coming and going, mostly at night,” a neighbor told The Mail on Sunday in 2000.
Then there is the black book, in which Epstein lists 14 phone numbers for Trump, including ones for his future wife Melania. Police evidence shows Trump has called Epstein, flown on Epstein’s plane, and eaten in Epstein’s Florida home.
Garten did not return a request for comment on these connections.
“Mr. Trump’s only connection with Mr. Epstein was that Mr. Epstein was one of thousands of people who has visited Mar-a-Lago,” the Trump attorney told a BuzzFeed reporter in 2015. “That’s it. Mr. Trump has NEVER been accused of having any involvement or even having any knowledge of any of Mr. Epstein’s conduct by anyone.”
That was true until last week. And while the media has been hesitant to report on Katie Johnson’s accusations, stories have emerged in recent days in outlets like the New York Daily News and Gothamist and more may be in the works: Johnson’s attorney says he taped an interview with ABC News and sources spoken to for this story said they had been contacted by other national news organizations.
Johnson will likely have her day in court, but—perhaps ironically, given Trump’s habit of “just asking” about conspiracy theories while claiming he’s not endorsing them—the veracity of her claims may not matter. True or not, they bring to light a number of disturbing questions about Epstein and his pre-Palm Beach days—ones both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will likely have to address.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the withdrawal of Virginia Roberts Guiffre's allegations against Alan Dershowitz and the striking of the allegations from the court record by a federal judge.