He’s a close friend of the Clintons. He’s brought some of the Washington and Hollywood elite to his private island where he’s long been accused of trafficking minors. He’s dodged prosecution for years, arguably because of his wealth. And now it’s all crashing down around him.
On Saturday, New York financier Jeffrey E. Epstein was arrested and charged with sex trafficking. It’s a shocking turn of events in what’s been a long criminal case that, to date, had been fruitless.
Epstein is now said to be in federal custody and will appear before a federal magistrate on Monday.
It comes more than a decade after he first gained notoriety with serious accusations that he had paid dozens of girls for sexual massages in Florida and had trafficked girls on his private island.
Epstein, who is 66-years-old, dodged federal criminal charges in 2007 and 2008. That was a plea deal that was widely criticized and is once again being scrutinized in the #MeToo era.
The former hedge-fund manager pleaded guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting prostitution and served 13 months in a county lockup . He registered as a sex offender, but his jail arrangement allowed him to get out of the Palm Beach County Stockade so he could work out of his office six days a week.
According to sources, Epstein was arrested late Saturday afternoon at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. He was taken into custody by federal agents after his private jet landed there from Paris
We’re told Epstein was arrested under a sealed federal indictment and that he is now charged one count of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.
His lawyers haven’t made any public comments.
For years now, women who claim to have been his victims have railed against federal prosecutors for agreeing to a non-prosecution deal with him more than a decade ago.
A lawyer for two of the women, Jack Scarola, said he hadn’t been aware of the arrest… but wasn’t surprised.
“But given his extensive pattern of past criminal conduct and the apparent addictive nature of his aberrant behavior, an arrest comes as no surprise,” Scarola said.
Authorities said that in that Florida investigation, Epstein paid cash to dozens of girls, many as young as 14 or 15. He hired them to give him nude massages. Police say those massages often ended in masturbation, oral sex or rape.
They also said that Epstein asked the girls to recruit others to his property between 1999 and 2005, and he preyed on runaways or foster children.
One girl shared in a 2007 interview with the F.B.I. that at age 15, Epstein would give her $200 to give him massages both in her underwear and then nude.
Authorities said the encounters became more and more sexual, and Epstein started getting her to bring other girls with her from a local strip club.
Epstein was protected from federal charges in a plea deal signed by the top federal prosecutor in Miami at the time, Alexander Acosta.
But this February, a Florida judge ruled that prosecutors led by Mr. Acosta violated federal law when they failed to disclose Mr. Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement to his victims.
Apparently that agreement was negotiated in secret – all while victims were told prosecutors were still pursuing a possible federal criminal case.
Acosta said it was a good thing, as the plea deal sent Epstein to jail and guaranteed that he would register as a sex offender.
The case came to light again after an investigative report by The Miami Herald in November quoted four of the victims, who are now adults, on the record for the first time.
Courtney Wild, who is now 31, was one of those victims.
“Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless,” Ms. Wild told The Herald. “He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right.”
In total, investigators found more than 30 victims and the paper said it had found about 60.
Shortly after the judge’s decision in February, the Justice Department said it had opened an investigation into the non-prosecution agreement to look at whether prosecutors committed professional misconduct in their handling of the Epstein case.
To add to the investigation, a federal appeals court Wednesday ordered that 167 documents in a lawsuit surrounding Epstein be unsealed.
That lawsuit alleges Epstein participated in a sex-trafficking ring should be unsealed.
The decision was handed down in a 27 page document in which the court cited that the public’s right to access the case information outweighed the privacy of certain individuals, “including numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well‐known Prime Minister, and other world leaders.”
The lawsuit was filed by Virginia Guiffre (now Roberts) against Ghislane Maxwell.
It charges that she had used her as part of a sex trafficking network of underage girls to Epstein and a number of his famous friends, including his lawyer Alan Dershowitz and Prince Andrew.
Dershowitz and Prince Andrew denied the accusations.
Anonymous individuals involved in the case have two weeks to file appeals before the documents are unsealed.
The court did, however, advise that the documents be read carefully.
“We therefore urge the media to exercise restraint in covering potentially defamatory allegations, and we caution the public to read such accounts with discernment,” wrote the court in its decision.