On Saturday, billionaire financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for the alleged sex trafficking of dozens of minors in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005. In a criminal indictment unsealed Monday, federal prosecutors claimed that Epstein lured underage girls, some as young as 14, to his luxurious homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach under the guise of paying them cash for massages. He then molested them and encouraged them to recruit other young girls to return with them. The victims who returned with new victims were paid a finder’s fee.
“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit, often on a daily basis,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement.
The hedge-fund manager and former friend of presidents Trump and Clinton faced similar charges a decade ago but escaped federal prosecution via a widely criticized, shockingly lenient plea deal. After a decade of legal efforts by many of his victims — and, more recently, increased scrutiny from lawmakers and the media — Epstein faces prosecution by the notoriously tough Southern District of New York and a long prison sentence if convicted.
Here is everything we know about the new case against Epstein, the developments that preceded and followed his arrest, and what the charges could mean for him and his friends.
A New Investigation Brings New Charges
According to the Daily Beast and Miami Herald, the Southern District of New York’s public-corruption unit, with an assist from the office’s sex-trafficking unit, has been investigating Epstein for months and conducting interviews with his victims. Arrested Saturday, Epstein now faces one count of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. The case is focused on victims he lured to his homes in both New York and Florida.
Epstein infamously avoided federal charges — and the potential lifetime sentence that could have come with them — a decade ago after he was accused of molesting dozens of underage girls at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. He was instead allowed to plead guilty to two counts of soliciting prostitution from a minor. Epstein was forced to register as a sex offender and sentenced to 18 months in prison, but he only served 13 months in all — and got to spend 12 hours a day at an office, six days a week, as part of his work-release privileges. In return, Epstein’s secret plea deal shielded him and four alleged accomplices from federal prosecution.
The new charges against Epstein carry a 45-year maximum sentence. Prosecutors are also seeking the forfeiture of his 21,000-square-foot townhouse on East 71st Street, where some of his alleged crimes took place. Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a press conference Monday that investigators also found “nude photographs of what appeared to be underage girls” at the Upper East Side home. The indictment implicates several of Epstein’s employees, who are accused of helping the billionaire arrange the encounters and ensuring “that minor victims were available for encounters upon his arrival in Florida,” according to the indictment.
The Details of Epstein’s Arrest and Arraignment
The 66-year-old former hedge-fund manager was arrested and taken into federal custody on Saturday afternoon at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he had just returned in his private jet after a few weeks in Paris. Epstein was then transferred to Manhattan Correctional Center to await his arraignment in federal court in New York on Monday.
Federal agents also executed search warrants for Epstein’s Manhattan home early Saturday evening, breaking down the door of his Upper East Side townhouse, according to witnesses. Federal agents do not appear to have raided Epstein’s other three homes, however, and it’s not clear why.
Prosecutors will attempt to keep Epstein detained until his trial. Berman called Epstein a “significant flight risk” given his “enormous wealth” and the seriousness of the charges.
More Victims and Witnesses Have Come Forward
Per the Miami Herald’s law-enforcement sources, the indictment against Epstein “includes new victims and witnesses who spoke to authorities in New York over the past several months.”
We’ll almost certainly never know how many girls Epstein molested or allowed to be molested by others. Police originally identified more than three dozen possible victims when they investigated in 2005 and 2006. The Herald has since identified nearly 80 girls molested by Epstein, most of whom were listed only as “Jane Doe” in court documents to protect their identities as minors. Most were girls between the ages of 13 and 16 when they were targeted by Epstein as far back as 2001. Many also came from low-income households and thus may have been more susceptible to the cash-for-massage ploy Epstein allegedly used to lure girls to his homes. Witnesses have also testified in subsequent civil-court proceedings that hundreds of additional victims were brought to Epstein from around the world.
The Lead-Up to a Long-Overdue Indictment
Epstein’s arrest came as a welcome surprise to many, but the momentum for new charges against him has been building since last year. In November, the Miami Herald published an explosive investigative report that revealed horrifying new details about Epstein’s crimes and their effects on his many victims. The report included on-the-record, firsthand accounts from four of those victims and exposed the secret plea deal Epstein’s lawyers negotiated with former prosecutor and current Department of Labor secretary Alexander Acosta.
The Miami Herald report prompted Nebraska senator Ben Sasse to prod the Justice Department to investigate the plea deal negotiated by Acosta. The deal, in which Epstein pleaded guilty to two state charges of soliciting prostitution from a minor, granted him and his potential accomplices immunity from federal charges. In February, the DOJ announced its inquiry into “allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved.” Also in February, a U.S. district judge ruled that because prosecutors did not inform victims of the plea or provide the opportunity to testify about it, the deal violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
But on June 25, the Department of Justice decided otherwise: Federal prosecutors announced they would not void Epstein’s non-prosecution deal. The next day, however, a federal appeals court in New York ordered the unsealing of almost 2,000 pages of records regarding a 2015 defamation case against Epstein.
How Do the New Charges Avoid Double Jeopardy?
If the reports of what Epstein will be charged with are accurate, there appear to be several ways that federal prosecutors are not running afoul of the U.S. Constitution by targeting Epstein with the same charges on the same facts for a second time. One law-enforcement source familiar with the case emphasized to the New York Post that the new indictment covers additional crimes not addressed in the earlier case, like Epstein bringing several victims across state lines between Florida and New York, as well as crimes he committed after the ones that led to his first arrest.
The Washington Post similarly reported on Sunday that
A person familiar with the matter said prosecutors do not have significant double jeopardy concerns or concerns about Epstein’s previous plea, meaning the charges probably involve new victims or new alleged wrongdoing.
How Does the Southern District of New York’s Reputation Factor Into the Case?
Writing for the Daily Beast, former SDNY prosecutor and current NBC legal analyst Mimi Rocah emphasized that her former office would offer no special treatment to Epstein nor offer him any cooperation agreements for implicating other powerful men unless he provided “some very valuable and verifiable information” in exchange:
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. In addition, in my experience as a prosecutor involved in trafficking cases in the SDNY, that office is not in the practice of giving slap-on-the-wrist deals to sex offenders and will prosecute the case fairly but with appropriate zeal. The fact that the FBI also reportedly executed a search warrant at Epstein’s New York residence suggests either that they had probable cause to believe there was more recent conduct that occurred there and/or that evidence from his past crimes was likely to be found there this many years later. That search could yield important new evidence.
Why Is the SDNY’s Public Corruption Unit Handling the Case?
Gene Rossi, a trial analyst for Law&Crime, suggested that the PCU provides flexibility to add more charges, like money laundering, corruption, or tax-related crimes, noting that he would be surprised if the sex-trafficking charges were the only charges. “The sky’s the limit,” he added.
But Rocah insisted it was “too soon to say” why the PCU got the case:
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.
Will There Finally Be a Cost for Acosta?
In 2008, federal prosecutors in Miami — led by former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta — drafted a 53-page indictment against Epstein, including charges that could have put him in prison for life. But Acosta made a deal with Epstein’s legal team that resulted in 13 months in jail and a non-prosecution agreement for any possible federal charges. According to a copy of the non-prosecution agreement, the likelihood of a federal charge had been high: The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office determined that from 2001 to September 2007, Epstein had conspired to persuade minors to engage in prostitution, conspired to transport minors across state lines for the purpose of illicit sexual conduct, and recruited a minor across state lines to engage in a commercial sex act.
According to the Miami Herald, Acosta met privately with one of Epstein’s lawyers, Jay Lefkowitz — a former colleague in D.C. — and gave Epstein’s legal team a bizarre amount of control over the plea deal’s terms. (Other Epstein lawyers included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr.) “Thank you for the commitment you made to me,’’ Lefkowitz wrote to Acosta after their meeting, referring to Acosta’s promise that he would not contact “any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants.” The deal was kept secret until it was finalized.
As the Trump administration’s secretary of Labor, Acosta has already faced calls for his resignation. With Epstein’s arrest over the weekend, the calls are getting louder, including messages from former senator Mike Gravel, Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Lieu, and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.
And according to a Bloomberg report on Monday, Acosta was already in hot water prior to the arrest of Epstein: “Corporate lobbyists and some White House officials have grown frustrated that Acosta hasn’t moved fast enough on deregulation and other business-friendly initiatives, [sources] said. No decision has been made on Acosta’s future in the administration, they added, though two people said that his time is short.”
Who Else Could Be Implicated?
Though Epstein has had a massive social network — as evidenced by the publication of his “little black book” by Gawker in 2015 — it’s unclear if, or how many of, his contacts will be in legal jeopardy after his indictment is unsealed on Monday. The Miami Herald has identified two possible enablers who “could be charged or named as cooperating witnesses”:
Among those potentially on the list: Ghislaine Maxwell, a 57-year-old British socialite and publishing heir who has been accused of working as Epstein’s madam; and Jean-Luc Brunel, who, according to court records, was partners with Epstein in an international modeling company.
For her part, Maxwell, whose social circle included such friends as Bill and Hillary Clinton and members of the British Royal family, has been described as using recruiters positioned throughout the world to lure women by promising them modeling assignments, educational opportunities and fashion careers. The pitch was really a ruse to groom them into sex trafficking, it is alleged in court records.
In an interview on MSNBC on Sunday, the Herald’s star reporter on the Epstein story, Julie K. Brown, expanded her thoughts on the possible consequences following the indictment:
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 — these message pads where they would call and leave Epstein messages, such as, “I’m at this hotel.” Why do you do that, unless you’re expecting him to send you a girl to visit you at your hotel?
So there are probably quite a few important people, powerful people, who are sweating it out right now. We’ll have to wait and see whether Epstein is going to name names.
For some people at the ends of the political spectrum on social media, Epstein’s arrest has played out like a partisan Rorschach test. Many right-wing personalities and members of the MAGA crowd have speculated that Epstein will name or otherwise expose and ruin Bill Clinton. The former president, who has himself been credibly accused of sexual misconduct and was friends with Epstein, has been previously scrutinized for the numerous trips he took on the financier’s private plane.
Accusations of sex crimes toward children have also been a central focus of some of the most bizarre (and contagious) conspiracy theories on the far right. And the fact that Robert Mueller led the FBI at the time of the original charges against Epstein has not gone unnoticed by those who still see the former special counsel as one of the president’s deep-state enemies. Speaking of which, there’s a Comey involved too:
Meanwhile, some #resistance diehards have suggested that Epstein’s arrest will lead to the surefire end, or at least the surefire justification for the end, of Trump’s presidency (thus succeeding where all of the previous scandals involving Trump have failed).
What About Trump?
Donald Trump — who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct or assault by more than 20 women — offered some now notorious, and notably specific, praise for Epstein to New York in 2002:
Epstein likes to tell people that he’s a loner, a man who’s never touched alcohol or drugs, and one whose nightlife is far from energetic. And yet if you talk to Donald Trump, a different Epstein emerges. “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump booms from a speakerphone. “He’s 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. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Trump’s connection to Epstein will certainly be subject to further scrutiny in the coming weeks, as will any of the pictures of them together.
Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre claimed in court documents that she was recruited to give Epstein massages while she was working as a towel girl at Mar-a-Lago. Giuffre, who was then 15, alleged that Epstein’s friend Ghislaine Maxwell had recruited her to be Epstein’s “sex slave.”
Another woman, identified in court records only as “Jane Doe,” alleged during Trump’s presidential campaign that he had raped her at a party at Epstein’s New York mansion in 1993, at the age of 13. A Trump lawyer denied her claim, and the woman later dropped the lawsuit because she was too afraid to go through with it, according to her lawyer, Lisa Bloom.
In her interview with MSNBC, Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown added:
They went to dinner parties at each other’s houses. Trump was also on his plane, probably not as much as a lot of other people because, you know, Trump had his own plane. But they had a lot of social relationships. And the other interesting thing is Trump had a modeling agency, and Epstein also had a stake in a modeling agency, which they suspect he used to bring in underage girls from overseas.
There is a comment in one of the court files where Epstein is quoted as saying, ‘I want to set up my modeling agency the same way Trump set up his modeling agency.’ I don’t know what that means, but it is curious he was trying to do something similar to Trump.
There have been unconfirmed claims that Trump has tried to distance himself from Epstein. According to court documents filed by a lawyer representing three of Epstein’s alleged victims, Trump banned his former friend from Mar-a-Lago because he “sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club.” But the same lawyer later said in an interview that he was unable to confirm that claim, though he did emphasize that Trump was cooperative and helpful as he built his case against Epstein.
The only thing that I can say about President Trump is that he is the only person who, in 2009 when I served a lot of subpoenas on a lot of people, or at least gave notice to some pretty connected people, that I want to talk to them, is the only person who picked up the phone and said, let’s just talk. I’ll give you as much time as you want. I’ll tell you what you need to know, and was very helpful, in the information that he gave, and gave no indication whatsoever that he was involved in anything untoward whatsoever, but had good information. That checked out and that helped us and we didn’t have to take a deposition of him in 2009.
Despite the 2002 comment in New York, a lawyer for Trump denied that he and Epstein had a social relationship, according to the New York Times. Another denial came in 2015 when Gawker published Epstein’s contact list, which contained what appeared to be every conceivable number for reaching Trump and his wife. “Mr. Trump only knew Mr. Epstein as Mr. Trump owns the hottest and most luxurious club in Palm Beach, [redacted], and Mr. Epstein would go there on occasion,” the lawyer said.
If Trump or His Administration Wanted to Interfere in the Case, Could They?
Yes. Attorney General William Barr could legally do so and has repeatedly shown a willingness to put loyalty to Trump above all else — though he did tell Congress he might recuse himself from Epstein-related cases since he worked for one of the firms behind Epstein’s controversial plea deal.
As of Tuesday, Barr has recused himself from matters involving fellow-cabinet member Alex Acosta, but would not recuse himself from the Epstein inquiry at-large.
And yes, Trump could pardon Epstein if he were so inclined.
What About Bill Clinton?
On Monday, the former president released a statement denying any knowledge of Epstein’s convicted and alleged sex crimes, and that they haven’t spoken in over a decade.
A Missed Opportunity to Expose Epstein’s Abuse
Vicky Ward, who wrote a 2003 profile about Epstein for Vanity Fair, revealed at the Daily Beast on Sunday that her profile had originally contained a highly credible allegation that Epstein had molested a 16-year-old girl, but it was cut from the published version by then-editor Graydon Carter. Ward said that Epstein — who had pointedly and repeatedly asked her, “What do you have on the girls?” during their interviews — denied the accusation and tried to discredit it in some unsettling ways:
He called Graydon. He also repeatedly phoned me. He said, “Just the mention of a 16-year-old girl… carries the wrong impression. I don’t see what it adds to the piece. And that makes me unhappy.”
Next, Epstein attacked both me and my sources. Letters purporting to be from the women were sent to Graydon, which the women claimed (and gave evidence to show me) were fabricated fakes. I had my own notes to disprove Epstein’s claims against me.
And then there was Epstein himself, who, I’d be told after I’d given birth, got past security at Condé Nast and went into the Vanity Fair offices. By now everyone at the magazine was completely spooked.
Ward said that Epstein spooked her too, enough so that she had a guard placed on her newborn twins after he had asked her what hospital they were being treated at. When the allegation of molestation was cut, she was devastated:
I began to cry. It was so wrong. The family had been so brave. I thought about the mother, her fear of the dark, of the harm she feared might come to her daughters. And then I thought of all the rich, powerful men in suits ready to talk about Epstein’s “great mind.”
In the end, she wrote, Carter said he believed Epstein over the mother and two daughters who had made the claim. Vanity Fair, in a statement to the Daily Beast, explained that “Epstein denied the charges at the time and since the claims were unsubstantiated and no criminal investigation had been initiated, we decided not to include them.”
Ward insisted that she does not blame Carter for making what he thought was the right call at the time, but that “it has often struck me that if my piece had named the women, the FBI might have come after Epstein sooner and perhaps some of his victims, now, in the latest spate of allegations, allegedly either paid off or too fearful of retribution to speak up, would have been saved.”
A Larger System at Work
In a Twitter thread over the weekend, author Summer Brennan worried that many following the Epstein case were missing an essential point about what his crimes reveal:
I’ve followed this story and individual for a long time. It needs to be understood that this is about much more than the actions of individual men, but a *system* of powerful men using underage girls as luxury goods to offer, trade, etc. There is a world in which this is the norm. A class of (mostly) uber-powerful men who think the rules do not apply to them. One of them is in the White House.
In the early 2000s, Epstein made a point of befriending prominent or upcoming scientists, journalists, famous actors, and politicians, most of whom were likely never shown this side of things, especially if they were women. Young women who *were* shown this secret world of exploitative male power, often victimized themselves, were given the impression that this was just the way things were and they had no power to change it. But it shouldn’t be that way.
Meanwhile Prince Andrew, one of the most prominent people directly implicated in all of this, walks around virtually unscathed.
So I do hope coverage of this story does not cop out and make it about the actions of a sick individual, but instead accurately depicts Epstein as what he was/is: a power broker in a world where this sort of behavior is the price of entry.
This post has been updated throughout to include additional analysis and information.