American financier Jeffrey Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of sex trafficking as prosecutors accused him of luring dozens of girls as young as 14 to his luxury homes in New York and Florida and paying them for sex acts.
In a development that shows that the #MeToo movement is chipping away at the wall of protection that powerful men have constructed around themselves, financier Jeffrey Epstein, who has ties to influential people such as Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, has been charged with new counts of sex trafficking, accused of luring dozens of girls as young as 14 to his homes and paying them for sex acts.
The indictment charged Epstein with one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy. If he is convicted, he faces a maximum possible sentence of 45 years in prison.
Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday afternoon to both charges. Prosecutors had argued that he was a flight risk and should remain in jail. His bail hearing has been adjourned until July 11. Epstein was arrested at Teterboro airport in New Jersey on Saturday night after returning from Paris in his private jet.
The Jeffrey Epstein case is a sign of a deep, severe moral sickness in this country. Everyone who shielded him (including Alex Acosta and Donald Trump) are just as culpable for his crimes, and the fact that they remain in positions of power is an absolute disgrace.
Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) 7 juillet 2019
Prosecutors allege that Epstein, a 66-year-old hedge fund manager, paid underage girls hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and molested them at his homes in Florida and New York. The alleged crimes took place from the beginning of 2002 through 2005.
Epstein “intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18”, prosecutors said. He also paid some of his victims to “recruit additional girls to be similarly abused by Epstein”.
“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach,” prosecutors said.
Authorities found nude photos of girls who appeared to be minors during a raid of his Manhattan mansion, prosecutors said.
According to court records in Florida, authorities say at least 40 underage girls were brought into Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion for what turned into sexual encounters after female fixers looked for suitable girls locally and in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.
.@realDonaldTrump Labor Secretary @SecretaryAcosta gave child molester Jeffrey Epstein a sweetheart deal when Acosta was an US Attorney. Now it turns out Epstein may have molested more individuals.
Why is Acosta still Labor Secretary? https://t.co/iP67KNOd4i
Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) 7 juillet 2019
Some girls were also allegedly brought to Epstein’s homes in New York City, New Mexico and a private Caribbean island, according to court documents.
Epstein’s lawyer, Jack Goldberger, said his client will plead not guilty.
Prosecutors encouraged anyone who thought they had been a victim of Epstein or had any information about his alleged crimes to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.
Epstein has long been notorious for surrounding himself with young girls so much so that the media nicknamed his private plane “The Lolita Express”. He was cited in a 2016 lawsuit filed by a woman who alleged that Trump raped her in 1994 during a party at Epstein’s house when she was just 13. The lawsuit was later withdrawn. Trump has denied the allegations.
Many were watching to see if Trump’s name would appear in the indictment, which was unsealed Monday. The current charges, however, are in relation to alleged crimes dating well after the woman claimed her encounter with Trump took place.
At a press conference on Monday, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman addressed media speculation about who else might get caught up in the Justice Department dragnet and said that, in accordance with Justice Department policy,he would not be naming any individuals “affiliated or associated” with Epstein. “I urge you not to read anything into that, one way or another,” he told the assembled reporters.
Trump and Epstein were certainly friendly. In 2002, Trump told New York magazine that Epstein was a “terrific guy” who he had known for 15 years at the time. “He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump continued. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Epstein’s Saturday arrest comes more than a decade after US Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, who was then US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, made a then-secret plea deal with Epstein that let him get off with a light sentence and has since come under immense criticism.
Epstein first came under investigation in 2005 after police in Palm Beach, Florida received reports that he had sexually abused minors in his mansion there. Epstein has said in court filings that his encounters with alleged victims were consensual and that he believed they were 18 when they occurred.
By 2007, Epstein was facing a potential federal indictment for sexually abusing dozens of girls as young as 14 between 1999 and 2007, directing others to abuse them and paying employees to bring victims to him, according to court filings.
However, Epstein struck a deal in which he pleaded guilty to Florida state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under 18 for prostitution. He served a 13-month sentence in county jail, during which he was allowed to leave during the day to go to his office. He was required to reach financial settlements with dozens of his victims and register as a sex offender but was able to keep his multiple homes including one in Paris and his Bentley.
Acosta has defended the plea deal as appropriate under the circumstances, though the White House said in February that it was “looking into” his handling of the deal.
But the deal has been challenged in court by several of Epstein’s accusers, who say they were denied a chance to have their views about it heard, in violation of the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act. In February of this year, a US district judge in Florida agreed, ruling that the deal violated the law. He is now weighing whether to invalidate the deal.
Even so, the US Department of Justice said in a court filing last month there was no reason to cancel the agreement.
It was not immediately clear whether that case and the new case involved the same victims since nearly all have remained anonymous. Even so, the deal only applies to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida. The current case is being pursued by the Southern District of New York.
Further, there are no double jeopardy implications meaning Epstein cannot be tried twice for the same crime because Epstein’s guilty plea involved only state crimes, while the current case involves federal law.
A US Justice Department office is investigating whether government attorneys committed professional misconduct in the Epstein case.
Epstein’s arrest Saturday also came just days after a federal appeals court in New York ordered the unsealing of nearly 2,000 pages of records in a since-settled defamation case involving Epstein. In its decision, the court said that the public’s right to access the 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”.
It is unclear when the documents will be made public.
Brad Edwards, a lawyer who represents some of Epstein’s accusers, told Reuters on Sunday that he had taken many calls from “victims crying tears of joy” since news broke of Epstein’s arrest. “One just kept repeating that she was so happy he was finally off the streets,” Edwards said.