Jeffrey Epstein, the hedge fund billionaire and registered sex offender recruited girls as young as 14 to “engage in sex acts with him” in exchange for cash, according to an indictment filed this morning in the Southern District of New York. Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his home in Manhattan, New York, Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations,” the indictment states.
Epstein is charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy, according to the indictment. He pleaded not guilty Monday in Manhattan federal court.
Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, who has followed the case for several years, reported that Epstein was given a 2008 plea deal in Florida, which was approved by then-federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta , and was not only sealed, but kept from his alleged victims. Epstein served 13 months of an 18-month sentence as part of the plea, and Acosta is now Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration.
A massive investigative reporting project by the Miami Herald also found that in addition to keeping details of his crimes secret, the 2008 deal allowed Epstein to avoid more serious federal charges at the time.
Prosecutors are seeking to have Epstein held without bail. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Monday that by bringing charges against Epstein, authorities wanted to ensure that the victims “had their day in court.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Epstein Is Accused of Luring Teenage Girls Into His Homes for Massages
The indictment states that Epstein “intentionally sought out minors” and knew many of his victims were under 18. Between 2002 and 2005, Epstein used a network of minors in multiple states to help recruit other girls for sex acts, according to the indictment. Authorities said he would ask the girls, some as young as 14, to undress before giving him a massage.
“During the encounter, Epstein would escalate the nature and scope of physical contact with his victim to include, among other things, sex acts such as groping and direct and indirect contact with the victim’s genitals,” the indictment states, adding that Epstein would also masturbate during the encounters and “ask victims to touch him while he masturbated, and touch victims’ genitals with his hands or with sex toys.”
2. Epstein’s 2008 Plea Deal Was Widely Criticized
The so-called no-prosecution agreement, which the Herald reports was negotiated by Epstein’s attorney Jay Lefkowitz and Acosta, allowed Epstein to plead guilty to two charges of soliciting prostitution in Florida state court while receiving immunity from more serious federal sex-trafficking charges. The agreement was sealed by the court, even though the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office had identified more than 36 women as victims. Court documents show Epstein had a team of high-powered attorneys, including Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, who helped negotiate the deal.
Former Florida state prosecutor Bradley Edwards, who represents some of Epstein’s victims told the Miami Herald that “the damage that happened in this case is unconscionable. How in the world, do you, the U.S. attorney, engage in a negotiation with a criminal defendant, basically allowing that criminal defendant to write up the agreement?”
Two of Epstein’s alleged victims sued to have the plea nullified, since they said they were not informed of its terms in advance.
3. The Justice Department Opened an Investigation Into Epstein’s Plea Deal Earlier This Year
In February, the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility opened an investigation to determine whether department attorneys “committed professional misconduct” in the Epstein plea deal.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had requested the case be investigated. “Jeffrey Epstein is a child rapist and there’s not a single mom or dad in America who shouldn’t be horrified by the fact that he received a pathetically soft sentence,” Sasse said in a statement when the investigation was announced.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that a federal judge ruled that keeping the agreement under seal was a violation of the Crime Victims Rights Act. Judge Kenneth Marra wrote that Epstein broke federal law in 2008 using his employees “to find and bring minor girls to him. Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification but also for the sexual gratification of others.”
4. Epstein Has Been Linked to Bill Clinton & Donald Trump
According to the Associated Press, Epstein had been friends with Donald Trump and visited Mar-a-Lago before news of the 2008 deal became known, and Trump said in 2002 that Epstein was “a great guy.” The AP also says court records show former President Bill Clinton had flown on Epstein’s private jet several times.
5. Miami Herald Reporter Julie K. Brown Is Credited With Keeping the Epstein Story Alive
The Miami Herald’s reporting, led by award-winning journalist Julie K. Brown, did a series called “Perversion of Justice” in November, examining thousands of court documents in the Epstein case. She interviewed alleged victims, who questioned why Epstein’s punishment had been so light. “Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless. He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right,” Courtney Wild told the Herald. She was 14 when she met Epstein.
Brown said in a tweet that the victims were the ones who deserved the congratulations. U.S. Attorney Berman praised Brown and the Herald during a press conference Monday morning. “We were assisted by some excellent investigative journalism.”
Authorities encouraged any other girls who may have been abused by Epstein to come forward. “If you believe you are a victim of this man,” Berman said, pointing to a photo of Epstein, “we want to hear from you.”