In death, as in life, Jeffrey Epstein remains surrounded in lawsuits, as prosecutors determine how to pursue possible criminal charges against his co-conspirators and lawyers representing his alleged victims file civil suits against his estate. “Victims deserve justice and will get it,” Attorney General William Barr said days after Epsteins death, following up on a statement from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York saying the investigation into the sex-trafficking-conspiracy charge will continue. Meanwhile, celebrity lawyers like David Boies, Lisa Bloom, and Gloria Allred are representing multiple accusers suing “to be made whole for the lifelong damage he caused,” as Bloom put it.
Many questions remain. What about a will? Will Epstein’s assets be frozen? How might victims gain restitution after his death? Below is everything we know about the remaining legal issues surrounding the Epstein estate.
His Mysterious Will
On Monday, court documents filed in the Virgin Islands revealed that Epstein had a will, but it was signed only two days before his death. The document leaves all of Epstein’s holdings to a newly-created entity called The 1953 Trust, but it does not name the trust’s beneficiaries.
It does name a few people though. Darren Indyke and Richard Kahn are the will’s executors. Venture capitalist Boris Nikolic is named as the “successor executor,” who would fill in if Indyke and Kahn are unable to fulfill their responsibilities. It’s a job that Nikolic does not want. “I was not consulted in these matters and I have no intent to fulfill these duties, whatsoever,” he told Bloomberg.
The will puts the value of Epstein’s estate at just over $577 million, with more to come. While that total includes cash, investments, and real estate, it does not include the value of his art collection, which is still being appraised.
Why would Epstein create a trust? Patrick D. Goodman, a UCLA probate law expert told the Times it could have been an attempt to ensure secrecy. “It avoids prying eyes because the trust is private,” he said. Goodman also told the paper that Epstein’s wealth can’t move to the trust until his debts are paid. That includes potential damages awarded to victims.
But it’s not just his victims who could claim a piece of the pie. A Florida-based firm called Morse Genealogical Services has put up the site epsteinheirs.com, looking for “unknown children of the late Jeffrey Epstein” who could file a claim against his estate. The website reads: “If you believe you may have given birth to a child fathered by the late JEFFERY EPSTEIN who recently committed suicide, or that he may have been your biological father, please contact us immediately, without delay!!”
Are NDAs Invalidated After His Death?
Epstein frequently made his employees and contractors — from the construction workers who built his island mansion to his caretaker in Palm Beach — sign nondisclosure agreements forbidding them to discuss any activity they saw on his property. But in an interview, Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown stated that these employees are no longer held to secrecy upon his death. In June, she also noted that NDAs signed by victims who had previously settled with Epstein prohibited them from discussing the financial details of their award, not the details of the alleged abuse. Attorney David Boies told the Washington Post in June that he was representing two alleged victims who had signed NDAs.
What About Cases Against Epstein’s Co-Conspirators?
Attorney General William Barr said that alleged co-conspirators involved with the financier “should not rest easy” following his death. “Let me assure you that case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein,” he told a law-enforcement group in New Orleans.
On August 12, FBI and Customs and Border Protection agents docked at Epstein’s Little St. James island, reportedly looking for evidence left by Epstein’s inner circle on the private island. According to the Miami Herald, the co-conspirators that the Southern District of New York will most likely focus on are “[Ghislaine] Maxwell, Sarah Kellen Vickers, Adriana Ross and Lesley Groff — all of whom allegedly helped run Epstein’s operation in the mid- to late-2000s.” The sex-trafficking-conspiracy charge leveled against Epstein is most likely the one that will be used to pursue his co-conspirators, according to a statement released by the SDNY the day of Epstein’s suicide.
In Florida, where Epstein signed a wrist-slap plea deal in 2007, there may soon be an avenue for accusers to go after his enablers: In February, a judge ruled that the plea agreement had violated victims’ rights. If the judge determines that it must be tossed out, it could allow victims to pursue action against Epstein’s associates in Palm Beach as well.
How Prosecutors Might Pursue Epstein’s Assets
According to a former prosecutor who spoke with the Miami Herald, the SDNY is able to go after individual assets through a civil-forfeiture proceeding if they determine that a property, like Epstein’s New York mansion, “was used to facilitate a crime or was the proceeds of criminal activity.” Under forfeiture laws, these assets would then be sold, with the proceeds routed to a fund within the Department of Justice that would prioritize payouts to victims. The July indictment targeted Epstein’s
$77 million Upper East Side townhouse as a holding to be confiscated, as Epstein allegedly abused several underage girls there between 2002 and 2005.
Though a criminal forfeiture at trial is no longer possible, there is precedent for authorities to confiscate his properties without a conviction. Per the Miami Herald:
In 2007, the Department of Justice brought a civil forfeiture action against the estate of the founder of Enron Corporation, CEO Kenneth Lay, who died of a heart attack while facing charges of engineering a massive fraud.
[Former federal prosecutor Jeff] Marcus said he thinks it’s likely that federal prosecutors will do the same in this case due to the number of victims and the vast extent of the estate.
If a civil forfeiture is filed, a federal judge in civil court would rule on the crimes laid out in the prosecution’s case using the standard of a “preponderance of evidence,” a lower threshold than that used to determine guilt in criminal cases.
What Civil Lawsuits Are Expected?
In a statement published by Fox News on August 10, Marc Fernich, a member of Epstein’s legal team, cited “greedy plaintiffs” as a reason for his client’s suicide — though Fernich’s perspective won’t stop lawyers representing accusers from dismantling the Epstein estate.
Gloria Allred said that the victims she represents are “feeling sick” but that she intends to find Epstein’s collaborators and file criminal charges against them: “The likes of them have to be accountable in a criminal case, because I think that without them he could not have accomplished what he did.”
A New York Law That Just Went Into Effect Allows More Victims to Sue for Damages
The passage of the Child Victims Act in January 2019 — designed to help victims sue abusers within the Catholic Church — created a one-year window for victims to sue for sex-abuse damages, regardless of when the alleged abuse may have occurred, and extended the statute of limitations for criminal charges against child-sex abusers. The law, which went into effect last week, will allow for a greater number of Epstein’s alleged victims to sue for monetary damages. “I think the Epstein case is emblematic of the possibilities that survivors of child-sex abuse will have beginning August 14,” New York state senator Brady Hoylman told NBC News. “Abusers currently out of reach because of New York’s archaic statutes of limitations will now be subject to civil suits, as well as their estates.”
Several Epstein Accusers File Suits Following His Death
The Child Victims Act was quickly put into use by Epstein accuser Jennifer Araoz, who says Epstein raped her when she was 14 and 15. On Wednesday she filed a lawsuit against Epstein’s estate, alleged madam Ghislane Maxwell, and three unidentified Epstein household staffers. The complaint says Maxwell and the staffers “conspired with each other to make possible and otherwise facilitate the sexual abuse and rape of Plaintiff.”
Two more women filed a suit against Epstein’s estate and his “recruiter” on Thursday, seeking $100 million in damages. The suit alleges that the recruiter lured the two women who were 18 and 20 at the time, to Epstein’s Manhattan mansion where he would “sexually touch them against their will and force them to watch him masturbate.”
Their attorney, Lisa Bloom, said she’s talking with five other victims:
Attorney Roberta Kaplan has also said she intends to sue on behalf of an unidentified woman who was 14 when Epstein recruited her into his sex-trafficking ring around 2002.
This post was updated after more Epstein accusers filed suits last week.