Wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein was charged with the sex trafficking of “dozens” of underage girls in federal indictment unsealed Monday morning in New York.
Epstein, 66, is accused in the indictment of sexually exploiting many “minor girls” between 2002 and 2005 in New York and Florida, according to prosecutors, who urged any other women who were abused by Epstein to contact the FBI.
“They can’t take information from a case in 2002 or 2005 to get a search warrant today; there had to have been something for probable cause that contains evidence of a crime found now, so I’m interested in what that evidence is,’’ said Francey Hakes, a former federal prosecutor who once oversaw the Justice Department’s child exploitation crimes division.
Epstein faces a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison if convicted.
“The alleged behavior shocks the conscience,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, at a press conference, where he also said his office planned to ask a judge to detain Epstein pending trial without bail.
As much as many of Epstein’s victims still want him jailed, even prosecuting attorney Brad Edwards admits the non-prosecution agreement is unlikely to be overturned.
The US Justice Department is conducting its own probe of whether federal prosecutors were guilty of wrongdoing. A representative for Acosta’s Department of Labor told CNBC that “the office’s decisions were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures.”
The prosecutor noted that federal agents, while executing a search warrant, had seized “nude photographs of what appeared to be underage girls” from Epstein’s New York mansion on Saturday.
The fact that search warrants were issued shows that federal investigators have new evidence against Epstein beyond the sex cases he was given federal immunity for in Florida in 2008, legal experts told the Miami Herald.
The indictment says that “Epstein intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18, including because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age.”
Berman, the head of the U.S. Manhattan Attorney’s office, told reporters Monday that the deal Epstein signed with Acosta’s office is only binding on prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida, not on Berman’s office.
Public responses to the arrest
Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown, who has done original reporting on details of the alleged sex trafficking crimes of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein for the past several years, joined MSNBC Sunday morning to discuss the evidence against Epstein and the “rogues gallery” of rich, powerful, and famous people who are suspected to have used his services.
“I’ve felt a lot of pressure,” Brown said. “Needless to say, these are very powerful people and I think that they’re sweating a little bit, especially today. We don’t know how much, how deep this went, how far-reaching it went in government, but there have been a lot of names that I could see on these message pads [listing clients] on a regular basis as part of the evidence. We’ll have to wait and see whether Epstein is going to name names.”
“There are a lot of powerful people –men and women, by the way– who take advantage of poor vulnerable women, whether they are underage, or even women who are young and come to this country trying to make a life for themselves, and really it is up to authorities to nail these cases and start to go after them, but it has been spotty,” she also said.
Among those who were involved early on in the criminal investigation was Michael Reiter, Palm Beach’s then-police chief, who was subjected to intense political pressure to ease up on Epstein. He and the lead detective, Joe Recarey, appealed to the FBI after the Palm Beach County prosecutor, Barry Krischer, indicated he wanted to charge Epstein only with minor crimes.
“Thankfully, the authorities in New York have the courage to investigate and prosecute Epstein in the way that should have occurred when the crimes were first reported in Florida over a decade ago,’’ Reiter said.
Christine Pelosi, a Democratic National Committee official and daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warned conspicuously on Saturday evening that it is “quite likely that some of our faves are implicated” in the “horrific” sex-trafficking case against Jeffrey Epstein.
It was unclear exactly to whom Pelosi was referring, but Epstein has long been connected with high-profile figures, including Britain’s Prince Andrew and former President Bill Clinton. Court documents obtained by Fox News in 2016 showed that Clinton took at least 26 trips flying aboard Epstein’s private jet, known as the “Lolita Express,” and apparently ditched his Secret Service detail on some of the excursions. Records showed that President Trump may have flown on the jet at least once.
“Nice guy – uh, got a lot of problems coming up, in my opinion, with the famous island, with Jeffrey Epstein,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in 2015, referring to Clinton’s connections with Epstein. “A lot of problems.”
Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse released a statement Saturday calling for Epstein to be held without bail pending trial.
Trump banned Epstein from his Mar-a-Lago estate “because Epstein sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club,” according to court documents filed by Bradley Edwards, the lawyer who has represented several Epstein accusers.
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“This monster received a pathetically soft sentence last time and his victims deserve nothing less than justice,” Sasse said in the statement. “Justice doesn’t depend on the size of your bank account.”
But, finally, it looks like justice will be served to Epstein in the form of new sex-trafficking charges filed by the formidable U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.
A bond hearing later in the week will decide whether Epstein can go free while awaiting trial.
Charges of federal sex trafficking carry mandatory minimums of 10-15 years on each count. Mandatory means mandatory. In other words, short of a cooperation agreement with the government, which in the SDNY famously means full cooperation against all possible other subjects and targets. Epstein will serve at least 10-15 years in prison (possibly more depending on the number of counts) if convicted.
What should we make of reporting that Epstein’s prosecution is being overseen by the Public Corruption Unit of the SDNY? Short answer: It’s too soon to say. It could mean that a public official is being investigated or will be charged with Epstein. That could be a minor public figure or a major one. It could mean that SDNY is investigating misconduct in the plea that Epstein was given in 2008. Or it could mean none of those things.
So, there are many open questions and twists and turns that this case will follow. But, for now, in a world in which justice has seemed so elusive, I think we should take a moment to applaud the fact that it appears justice is being served to Jeffrey Epstein and for the many young victims of his horrendous crimes.