NEW YORK -- Billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, who once socialized with some of the world's most powerful people, was charged Monday with sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
The federal indictment was unsealed more than a decade after Epstein, now 66, secretly cut a deal with federal prosecutors in Florida to dispose of nearly identical allegations of sex trafficking and conspiracy. He could get up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
Epstein has been linked over the years to former President Bill Clinton; Britain's Prince Andrew, younger brother of Prince Charles; actor Kevin Spacey; director Woody Allen; and President Donald Trump, who in a 2002 interview described Epstein as "a terrific guy."
"He's a lot of fun to be with," Trump told New York Magazine at the time. "It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side."
Prosecutors said the evidence against Epstein included a "vast trove" of hundreds or even thousands of lewd photographs of young women or girls, discovered in a weekend search of his New York City mansion.
The cache of photos, some of which were discovered in a locked safe, also contained CDs with labels like "Girl pics nude," prosecutors said in a detention memo filed Monday.
Authorities also found papers and phone records corroborating the charges, and a massage room still set up the way accusers said it appeared, prosecutors said.
Epstein was arrested Saturday as he arrived in the U.S. from Paris aboard his private jet. He was taken into court Monday in a blue jail uniform and pleaded innocent.
His lawyers argued that the sex-crime allegations had been settled in 2008 with a plea agreement in Florida that was overseen by Alexander Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney in Miami at the time and is now Trump's labor secretary.
"This is ancient stuff," Epstein attorney Reid Weingarten said in court, calling the case essentially a "redo" by the government.
But U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of New York said that the nonprosecution agreement negotiated in 2008 is binding only on federal prosecutors in Florida, not on authorities in New York. He made an appeal to other women who may have been abused by Epstein to come forward.
The women "deserve their day in court," Berman said. "We are proud to be standing up for them by bringing this indictment."
Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein also agreed that the nonprosecution deal applies only to federal prosecutors in Florida, not those in New York.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller said that while there is some overlap between the Florida and New York cases, one of the counts is based entirely on New York victims.
CONCERN OVER BAIL
Epstein was jailed for a bail hearing, when prosecutors plan to argue that he should be denied bail as he has both the means and the motive to flee.
Prosecutors cited Epstein's "exorbitant wealth," including a New York mansion and two residences in the U.S. Virgin Islands -- one of them on his own private island. Epstein also has homes in Paris, New Mexico and Palm Beach, Fla. Prosecutors listed 15 cars, including a Range Rover and a Mercedes-Benz sedan, and two private planes, one of which is capable of international travel.
Prosecutors in New York are seeking the forfeiture of the New York mansion, a seven-story, 21,000-square-foot townhouse less than a block from Central Park. The home, formerly a prep school, is across the street from a home owned by Bill Cosby and has been valued at approximately $77 million.
The government said in court papers that prosecutors have "real concerns," based on past experience, that Epstein, if freed on bond, could attempt to "pressure and intimidate" witnesses, including his accusers and their families.
Federal prosecutors said that in the Florida case, Epstein intimidated several witnesses or their relatives, and his private investigator forced the father of one witness off the road. Florida prosecutors considered including an obstruction charge in the case against Epstein but ultimately opted against it.
Epstein also has a motive to flee because he "faces the very real prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison," the prosecutors' filing said.
"The defendant, a registered sex offender, is not reformed, he is not chastened, he is not repentant; rather, he is a continuing danger to the community and an individual who faces devastating evidence supporting deeply serious charges," the U.S. argued.
The government said flight logs showed Epstein has taken 20 international trips since January 2018, including multiweek overseas stays such as the one in Paris from which he was returning when he was arrested. He also has "no known immediate family," with no spouse or children, and thus no ties that would bind him to the U.S., prosecutors said.
The judge on Monday deferred the bail hearing to Thursday afternoon.
Epstein was accused in the indictment of paying underage girls hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and then molesting them at his homes in Palm Beach and New York from 2002 through 2005.
He "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, creating "a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit," prosecutors said.
Some of Epstein's accusers welcomed the indictment.
"The news of my abuser's arrest today is a step in the right direction to finally hold Epstein accountable for his crimes and restore my faith that power and money can't triumph over justice," Sarah Ransome said through her lawyer.
Some women have accused Prince Andrew and former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz of taking part in Epstein's sex ring. Buckingham Palace has vehemently denied any involvement by Andrew, and Dershowitz has said the accusations are lies.
Epstein's arrest came amid increased scrutiny of his 2008 nonprosecution agreement, which caused a furor in recent years as the details came to light. Many of the details were exposed in a series of reports by The Miami Herald.
Prosecutors had prepared a 53-page indictment at the time accusing Epstein of being a sexual predator, according to the Herald reports. But those charges were shelved after a deal was reached between the U.S. attorney's office in Miami and Epstein's lawyers.
The plea agreement granted Epstein immunity from federal prosecution and let him plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Federal prosecutors arranged for the plea deal to be kept secret from Epstein's accusers until it was finalized in court.
Under the deal, Epstein avoided a possible life sentence and served 13 months in jail, during which he was allowed out during the day to go to his office. The deal also required that he reach financial settlements with dozens of women and register as a sex offender.
Acosta has defended the agreement as appropriate, saying it ensured that Epstein would serve a prison sentence. However, the White House said in February that it was looking into his handling of the case.
The new charges were brought by the public corruption unit within the U.S. attorney's office in New York, which normally handles cases against politicians. Berman would not say why that was done.
Attorney General William Barr declined to comment on Epstein's case, saying he has recused himself from the matter.
The nonprosecution agreement is being challenged in court in Florida. A federal judge ruled earlier this year that Epstein's victims should have been consulted under the law about the agreement, and he is now weighing whether to throw it out.
Federal prosecutors in Florida recently filed court papers contending that the 2008 deal must stand.
"The past cannot be undone; the government committed itself to the [nonprosecution agreement], and the parties have not disputed that Epstein complied with its provisions," prosecutors wrote.
Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Sisak, Jim Mustian, Ali Swenson, Jocelyn Noveck, Curt Anderson and Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press; by Ali Watkins and Michael Gold of The New York Times; and by Christian Berthelsen of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 07/09/2019
Print Headline: Indictment accuses billionaire of abusing girls