Jeffrey Epstein accused of operating vast sex-trafficking network

Federal prosecutors in New York unsealed a criminal indictment Monday charging multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein with having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, allegations that have circulated around the politically connected businessman for years.

According to the indictment, between 2002 and 2005, Epstein ran a trafficking enterprise in which he paid hundreds of dollars in cash to girls as young as 14 to have sex with him at his Upper East Side home and his estate in Palm Beach, worked with employees and associates to lure the girls to his residences and paid some of his victims to recruit other girls for him to abuse.

“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit, often on a daily basis,” Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement Monday.

Epstein, 66, was arrested Saturday night at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey aboard his private jet upon returning from Paris.

Later that evening, federal agents executing a search warrant of Epstein’s mansion in New York City seized a “vast trove” of lewd photographs of young-looking women or girls, prosecutors said in a court filing.

He is charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted of both counts.

Wearing navy prison garb and fluorescent orange sneakers, Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges in Manhattan federal court on Monday afternoon during one of two proceedings.

US District Court Judge Richard Berman ordered Epstein’s bail hearing postponed until July 15 to allow his defense lawyers time to file a written bail proposal. Epstein is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal detention center in lower Manhattan.

Why now?

The well-connected hedge fund manager previously evaded similar charges when he secured a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors in Miami more than a decade ago. Instead of facing federal charges, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges in 2008 and served just 13 months in prison. He also registered as a sex offender and paid restitution to the victims identified by the FBI.

But that arrangement has come under intense scrutiny in recent months as the result of a Miami Herald investigation that examined how it was handled by then-US Attorney Alexander Acosta, who now serves as labor secretary in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

On Monday, Epstein’s attorneys said in court that the non-prosecution agreement would constitute the centerpiece of their defense.

“To us, this indictment is essentially a do-over,” an attorney for Epstein, Reid Weingarten, said. “This is the very stuff that was investigated by the feds in Florida.”

The Herald investigation said that Acosta gave Epstein the “deal of a lifetime” despite a federal investigation identifying 36 underage victims. The agreement, the Herald said, “essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe” and further granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators” in the case.

In February, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the Department of Justice broke the law by failing to confer with Epstein’s victims about the agreement.

At a news conference Monday, prosecutor Berman and FBI Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. cited the Miami Herald’s reporting last November in helping to make the case.

“I will say that we were assisted by some excellent investigative journalism,” Berman said.

“When the facts presented themselves — as Mr. Berman hinted at — through investigative journalist work, we moved on it,” Sweeney said.

New York federal prosecutors were able to bring their case despite the non-prosecution agreement, Berman said, because that agreement applies only to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. Prosecutors later argued in court that “it is well-settled in the Second Circuit [appellate court] that a plea agreement in one US Attorney’s office does not bind another unless otherwise stated.”

“While the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, the victims — then children and now young women — are no less entitled to their day in court,” Berman said.

More details from the indictment

The court document unsealed Monday describes a predatory pattern in which girls were taken to a room in Epstein’s New York mansion to perform “massages.”

The girls were instructed by him or his associates to perform such duties nude or partially nude, according to the indictment, and Epstein would escalate the encounter to “include one or more sex acts.”

“Epstein typically would also masturbate during these sexualized encounters, ask victims to touch him while he masturbated, and touch victims’ genitals with his hands or with sex toys,” the indictment alleges.

Epstein knew that the girls were underage, according to court filings, in part because some of the girls told him their age.

The indictment also implicates some of Epstein’s employees. One person referred to as “Employee-1” called girls who had previously been lured into encounters with Epstein to arrange future visits to his New York residence.

When Epstein would travel by private jet from New York to Palm Beach, an employee or associate would “ensure that minor victims were available for encounters upon his arrival in Florida,” according to the indictment.

Epstein or his associates would pay each girl a sum in cash, and if a girl lured others to Epstein’s residences, he would pay both the “victim-recruiter” and the new girl hundreds of dollars, according to the indictment.

The indictment does not name any alleged victims, referring to them only as “Minor Victim-1,” “Minor Victim-2,” and “Minor Victim-3.”

“The alleged behavior shocks the conscience,” Berman said. Describing Epstein’s alleged scheme to lure girls to his residences and in turn coerce those girls to lure others, Berman said the tactic “allowed Epstein to create an ever-expanding web of new victims.”

Prosecutors argue against bail

During court proceedings Monday, prosecutors argued repeatedly against granting Epstein bail.

“He is extraordinarily wealthy, mobile and unattached to the southern district of New York,” Assistant US Attorney Alex Rossmiller said.

In a memo filed to the court, prosecutors outlined the scope of Epstein’s vast wealth to argue that he has the means to flee the country and escape prosecution, noting that he not only has homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach, New Mexico and Paris — with his Upper East Side townhouse, of which prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture, alone worth $77 million — but also owns a private island in the US Virgin Islands.

He also has three US passports, owns at least 15 vehicles and has access to two private jets, according to the memo.

“He is a man of nearly infinite means, your honor,” Rossmiller told Judge Henry Pitman.

The prosecutor also pointed out what he described as Epstein’s brazenness and willingness to flout the law. He specifically cited the trove of photos that were seized during the search of his house on Saturday, some of which were discovered in a locked safe along with compact discs with hand-written labels that read, “Young [Name] + [Name],” “Misc nudes 1,” and “Girl pics nude.”

And he said that when officials entered Epstein’s Manhattan home on Saturday, they found “the massage room was still set up in the same way it was 15 years ago, with a massage table and sex paraphernalia.”

“Your honor,” Rossmiller said, “This is not an individual who has left his past behind.”

Prosecutors also told the judge that their office took “extraordinary efforts to keep the nature of this investigation covert” because they feared Epstein would flee if he became aware of their efforts.

Weingarten, one of Epstein’s attorneys, told the judge that there had been “no complaints” about his client’s conduct in the years since the Florida case and repeatedly called the conduct in question “ancient.” He also laid out the crux of Epstein’s defense: the existence of the non-prosecution agreement that Epstein, he said, believed would be a “global resolution” to the matter.

Prosecutors in New York, Weingarten alleged, charged his client over the same matters for which he struck the agreement in Florida, and “that should chill the blood of every defense attorney who makes a deal with the United States.”

At one point during the first proceeding Monday, Weingarten argued that Epstein’s conduct shouldn’t be considered sex trafficking or rape because it isn’t alleged to have included violence or threats, drawing pushback from the judge and prosecutors.

Weingarten allowed that “you may come to the conclusion that there was prostitution involved,” to which the judge asked: “If the women involved were under 18, isn’t that rape?”

Weingarten stammered, then said: “Well, that would be statutory rape.”

Later in the hearing, after the judge suggested Weingarten had undermined the seriousness of that type of conduct, Weingarten offered a clarification.

“I had a senior moment,” he told the judge, saying that he meant Epstein could not be accused of statutory rape if no penetration is alleged to have occurred.

Attorneys for alleged victims speak out

Attorney David Boies, who represents three women who have publicly shared allegations of abuse by Epstein, said the indictment was a correction to the 2008 agreement.

“This shows what could have been done and should have been done 10 years ago if it were not for political influence that Mr. Epstein and his lawyers brought to bear on the process,” Boies told CNN.

He would not confirm if his clients were the victims explicitly mentioned in the indictment. However, details laid out in the indictment match up with information they have submitted as part of lawsuits against Epstein and his associates over the past decade.

Robbie Kaplan, an attorney who is representing one of Epstein’s alleged victims in the Manhattan case, said Monday: “While it has been a long time coming, we are very grateful to the US Attorney’s Office for the SDNY for taking action to make sure that justice will be done.”

The case against him is being prosecuted by the public corruption unit of the Manhattan US Attorney’s office, which typically handles cases involving public funds or government officials. Berman declined to explain at Monday’s news conference why the office’s public corruption unit is handling the case.

Connections to high-powered figures

Acosta defended his handling of the Epstein case during his confirmation hearing in March 2017.

“At the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within a prosecutor’s office decide that a plea — that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes — is a good thing,” he said.

The Herald report also noted Epstein’s close connections to powerful figures, including Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.

A spokesman for Clinton said Monday that “President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York.”

In past years, Trump has spoken highly of Epstein.

“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.”

While public speculation since Epstein’s arrest has centered on whether others associated with him could face charges, prosecutors told a judge Monday that they don’t anticipate “any imminent superseding indictments” — or additional related charges — in this case.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

A senior administration official was cautious in assessing Acosta’s standing with the White House in the wake of Epstein’s indictment.

“We will wait and see what develops. This is obviously a significant event,” the official said about the Epstein case. “We need to see what comes of it.”

The official noted there was an internal administration review of Acosta’s handling of the Epstein case. But the official could not say whether that review had been completed.

CNN’s Eric Levenson, Shimon Prokupecz, Sonia Moghe and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.