Modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel was arrested in France Wednesday, accused of acting as an accomplice for Jeffrey Epstein and supplying him with underage girls for sexual exploitation.
Brunel, 74, was arrested at the Charles de Gaulle airport before he boarded a plane to Dakar, Senegal on December 16, 2020. Prosecutors in Paris told reporters he was being questioned as part of an investigation opened last year into “rapes, sexual assaults, the rape and sexual assault of a minor aged 15, the rape and sexual assault of a minor over 15 years, sexual harassment, association with criminals and the trafficking and exploitation of minors,” The Guardian reported. The Associated Press reported he had not been formally charged as of December 17, 2020.
Epstein was found dead in a jail cell in Manhattan in August 2019. He was awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. His death was ruled an “apparent suicide.” Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend, is jailed in New York awaiting trial on accusations of acting as an accomplice for Epstein. She has denied the allegations.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Brunel’s Arrest Was the ‘Best Christmas Present Ever,’ Said a Model Who Accused Him of Rape
Thysia Huisman was a former Dutch model and one of many women who accused Brunel of sexual assault in interviews with French investigators. She cried “tears of joy” when she learned of his arrest, the Associated Press reported. Huisman told investigators that Brunel drugged her and raped her in 1991 when she was 18 years old. Although she believes the statute of limitations passed for Brunel to be held legally accountable, she hoped speaking with investigators would encourage others to come forward.
“It sounds like he is not getting out,” Huisman said. “That’s great. Absolutely. Tears of joy.”
Huisman was one of about 12 people to be questioned in the French investigation, which began in August 2019. Eight of those who spoke to police said they were victims, and four said they were witnesses.
“Such great news,” Huisman told the Associated Press when learning of the arrest. “Best Christmas present ever.”
2. Epstein Reportedly Funded Brunel’s U.S.-Based Modeling Agency With a $1 Million Line of Credit
Epstein reportedly funded Brunel’s modeling agency, MC2 Model Management, with a $1 million line of credit years before he was accused of sexually abusing minors. The Miami Herald reported in December 2019 that the yellow sign of the modeling agency still appears in the second-floor window of its Lincoln Road location, although the business had been locked up for two years and the stream of aspiring models ceased.
The Daily Beast reported in October 2019 that Brunel was in the process of selling his assets at the time. A source told the publication the New York office of MC2 had sold its assets to The Identity Models in 2017, and that the Miami location was in the process of transferring assets to The Source Models, which was run by two MC2 executives. MC2 had a third location in Tel Aviv.
At the time of the report, Brunel’s Paris apartment had been searched by police weeks earlier. The investigation into Brunel had been opened about two months earlier, which occurred around the same time that Epstein’s body was found hanging in a New York jail cell.
3. Virginia Giuffre Said Epstein Bragged About Having Sex With More Than ‘1,000 of Brunel’s Girls
Virginia Giuffre accused Brunel of procuring sexual abuse victims for Epstein, saying Epstein claimed he had sex with more than 1,000 of “Brunel’s girls.” Giuffre has become one of the most outspoken of the women who say they were abused by Epstein. She also founded the NGO, Victims Refuse Silence, and advocates for victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking.
“Jeffrey Epstein has told me that he has slept with over 1,000 of Brunel’s girls, and everything that I have seen confirms this claim,” she said in a 2015 court filing, according to the Daily News.
Many of them did not speak English, and were coerced with drugs or prospects of a future in modeling, she said.
“It is my understanding that the girls had been persuaded to come by Brunel offering them illegal drugs or a career in modeling. Brunel was one of the main procurers of girls,” she said.
4. Brunel Has Denied Allegations Against Him & Sued Epstein for Damaging His Modeling Business
Brunel’s attorneys did not immediately provide statements to news outlets following his arrest. But in previous interviews, he denied any involvement in illegal activities. In December 2019, he told police he was available to provide information in their investigation, The Guardian reported.
The Miami Herald quoted a public statement Brunel made in 2015 denying allegations. The newspaper reported in 2019 that it was his only public statement at the time.
“I strongly deny having participated, either directly nor indirectly, in the actions Mr. Jeffrey Epstein is being accused of,” the statement said. “I strongly deny having committed any illicit act or any wrongdoing in the course of my work as a scouter or model agencies manager.”
In 2015, he filed a lawsuit against Epstein, saying that MC2’s association with Epstein made the modeling agency “almost worthless,” the Daily Beast reported.
“MC2 was worth millions of dollars; now, due to the illegal actions of Epstein, MC2 is almost worthless,” the lawsuit said.
5. Brunel Was Head of Karin Models in Paris Before He Was Banned Following Allegations of Abuse
Brunel became the head of Karin Models in 1978, and expanded the offices of the Paris-based modeling agency to Miami Beach and New York in 1995, the Miami Herald reported. He also became minority partner at Next in the 1990s.
“He claimed he had an uncanny eye for photogenic 14-year-olds — and that he discovered models Christy Turlington, Jerry Hall, Rebecca Romijn and Milla Jovovich — although other agents take credit, too,” the Miami Herald reported. “He spent recent years recruiting girls in the former Soviet Republics and at schoolyards and volleyball courts in farming towns in the southernmost state of Brazil, home of supermodels Gisele Bündchen and Alessandra Ambrosio, whose fame turned the area into a hot spot for scouts.”
Brunel was banned from Karin Models in Europe in 1999 following a BBC investigation into abuse in the industry, The Guardian reported. This prompted his move to the United States and the launch of MC2.