In Depth

Who is Jeffrey Epstein?

The US financier is facing sex trafficking charges involving underage girls

Self-proclaimed billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein has been denied bail while awaiting trial on charges of child sex trafficking.

The business mogul has been held at New York City’s Metropolitan Correctional Center since his arrest on 6 July over alleged sexual abuse and trafficking of underage girls, The Guardian reports. Some of those who claim to have been victims were as young 14 years old.

The 13-page indictment against Epstein alleges that he “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations”, between 2002 and 2005. If found guilty, he could face 45 years in prison.

This week, Manhattan federal court Judge Richard Berman rejected Epstein’s request to remain under house arrest prior to the trial, saying he was a danger to the community and “posed a flight risk”, the BBC reports.

The case has generated significant media interest worldwide, largely because of Epstein’s ties to powerful public figures including Prince Andrew, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump - with the reigning US leader attempting in recent weeks to downplay his relationship with the disgraced tycoon.

Early life

According to Town & Country magazine, Epstein started his Wall Street career as an options trader at investment bank Bear Stearns in 1976. In 1982, he founded his own firm, J. Epstein and Co., and “specifically marketed his services” to “those with assets worth more than $1bn”, operating the business out of the US Virgin Islands for tax reasons.

Epstein has claimed a net worth of billions in the past, but his dealings have been described as “mysterious” by a number of news outlets, including New York magazine.

There is “scant proof he holds a ten-figure fortune”, says Forbes, which has never included Epstein in its rankings of the World’s Billionaires. “The source of his wealth - a money management firm in the US Virgin Islands - generates no public records, nor has his client list ever been released,” the magazine reports.

Equally nebulous rumours about Epstein’s alleged inappropriate behaviour around underage girls began to surface soon after he became a fixture on the New York social scene. He is known to have held a series of star-studded parties in the 1990s that were frequented by, as Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff has recalled, “teenage girls” who were “not his daughters”.

Indeed, Trump commented on the rumours back in 2002, claiming Epstein was a “terrific guy” who was “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,” the future president told an interviewer.

First concrete allegations 

The Daily Beast reports that Epstein’s “sick world was unmasked in March 2005”, when the stepmother of a 14-year-old girl told the police that a wealthy man had molested the child.

“She’d received a call from a schoolmate’s mom, who overheard her own daughter discussing how [the victim] had met with a 45-year-old man and had sex with him and was paid for it,” the website says.

An investigation was launched, led by Palm Beach detectives, who eventually identified multiple girls whom Epstein was alleged to have abused.

According to police, Epstein is believed to have operated a paedophile ring trafficking dozens of underage girls “whom he groomed and then loaned out to powerful friends”, continues The Daily Beast. Prosecutors claim that the financier frequently had underage girls brought to his Palm Beach mansion and paid them to give him massages, during which he often subjected them to sexual abuse, Vox reports.

Epstein allegedly told many of the girls to go out and recruit other teenagers, in what lead investigator Joseph Recarey described as a “sexual pyramid scheme”. 

The 2008 prosecution

The case against Epstein was eventually referred to the FBI, and in 2008, after “years of investigation and legal wrangling”, he was brought before prosecutors on charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution, reports Vox.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein “could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life”, but instead a secret deal was signed, says the Miami Herald.

“Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal - called a non-prosectution agreement - essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes,” the newspaper continues.

He was also granted work release privileges that enabled him to go to a “comfortable office” for 12 hours a day, six days a week.

As GQ magazine notes, “fury doesn’t begin to describe the reaction” to the “extraordinarily lenient” plea deal, handed down by Miami’s then-top federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta.

Following significant public pressure over his handling of the 2008 case, Acosta stepped down earlier this month from his role as Trump’s labour secretary, a post that “ironically is responsible for combating sex trafficking”, points out The Guardian.

Current trial

In February this year, US federal Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that prosecutors under Acosta had “violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by hiding the non-prosecution agreement” from Epstein’s victims.

Although federal prosecutors subsequently decided not to invalidate the agreement, renewed interest in the case saw legal experts revisit the details outlined by the deal, which were found to limit “the scope of the agreement to only the Miami area”, NBC News reports. As such, the agreement would not protect him if he were alleged to have committed illegal acts in other parts of the country, the experts said.

Earlier this month, Epstein was arrested at a New Jersey airport, and charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. If convicted, he may not only face up to 45 years in prison but also the forfeiture of his Manhattan townhouse, according to the The New York Times.

US authorities have since found possibly thousands of photographs in Epstein’s home showing young women, and “at least one individual in those photos… has self-identified as a victim of the defendant”, prosecutor Alex Rossmiller told the judge during Monday’s bail arguments.

Rossmiller continued: “Just this morning, the government became aware that in a locked safe in the defendant’s mansion there were piles of cash, dozens of diamonds, and a passport appearing to be issued from a foreign country with a photo of the defendant and a name on that passport that is not the defendant’s name.”

The passport reportedly lists Epstein’s country of residence as Saudi Arabia, which “gives rise to the inference the defendant knows how to obtain false travel documents and/or assume other, foreign identities. This adds to the serious risk of flight posed by the defendant,” the prosecutor added.

Epstein’s defence team had proposed a bail package “which would have allowed him to return home accompanied by armed guards and a live-in, court-appointed trustee”, CNN reports - a scenario described by Judge Berman as “irretrievably inadequate”.


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