Declaring him a danger to young girls, a federal judge on Thursday denied wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s request to be released from jail during his trial in New York on sex trafficking charges.
Rather than free Epstein to the posh Manhattan mansion where prosecutors say he abused dozens of underage girls from 2002 through 2005, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman ordered the accused serial sexual predator to remain incarcerated at the Manhattan Correctional Center.
Epstein had offered to collateralize any asset in his self-estimated $559 million personal fortune to guarantee his bail, and promised to pay for his own private security force to keep him essentially imprisoned in his own home if Berman released him from jail. But Berman, swayed by the personal accounts of two women who said in court Monday that Epstein abused them when they were teenagers, said that no amount of private security could protect Epstein’s accusers as adequately as a jail cell.
“I am not suggesting that a different bail package would be appropriate because I doubt that any bail package can overcome danger to the community,” said Berman, who referred to Epstein’s bail proposal as “irretrievably inadequate.”
The judge also worried that stacks of cash and dozens of diamond stones found during a raid of Epstein’s home gave him the look of a man who might leave at a moment’s notice. And he said Epstein’s private plane and Paris residence gave him ample resources to flee.
Martin Weinberg, part of the legal defense team that argued ahead of Thursday’s decision that Epstein’s wealth was being unconstitutionally used against him, said afterward that Epstein may challenge the ruling.
“I have not read the court’s decision yet,” Weinberg said as he walked away from the hearing, a gaggle of reporters and photographers circling him. “We will be contemplating an appeal after reviewing it.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Berman’s ruling was received as a victory by Epstein’s accusers, who have grown by the dozens since federal prosecutors in South Florida set aside a federal sex trafficking investigation 12 years ago and granted a plea deal that allowed Epstein to serve just 13 months in a Palm Beach County jail — and leave six days a week on work release for his West Palm Beach office.
The deal was crafted in secret under Miami’s then-U.S. attorney, Alexander Acosta, who announced plans to resign as U.S. Secretary of Labor effective Friday after Epstein’s July 6 arrest at Teterboro Airport. Since then, prosecutors say, they have been trying to chase down leads from new witnesses and accusers.
Early this week, Berman took the unusual step of allowing two of Epstein’s accusers to testify during a hearing over Epstein’s continued detention. It was the first time any of his alleged victims were able to address him in a criminal court proceeding.
Courtney Wild, who was introduced to Epstein in Palm Beach when she was 14, told Berman that Epstein is a “scary person to have walking the streets.” Annie Farmer, who said she was recruited at 16 by an employee of Epstein’s in New York and later flown to his ranch in New Mexico, said he was “inappropriate” with her and that his release would frighten other victims into remaining silent.
“For the past decade, Epstein’s child victims have been betrayed by the criminal justice system. His indictment in New York marked an important reversal in that betrayal, and the decision to deny him pretrial release is another significant step in helping to erase the scars that victims still carry as a result of that betrayal,” Jack Scarola, attorney for a number of Epstein’s accusers, said after Thursday’s hearing.
“For Epstein’s victims and for all of us, the world is a significantly safer place with Jeffrey Epstein behind bars.”
Epstein’s secret plea deal and the previously untold stories of four Epstein accusers were highlighted last year in the Miami Herald’s investigative series Perversion of Justice. In bringing charges against Epstein, Geoffrey S. Berman (no relation to the judge), the U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District, credited investigative journalism for helping investigators bring a new indictment.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Local Reporting Makes a Difference
In her year-long investigation of Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown tracked down more than 60 women who said they were victims of abuse and revealed the full story behind the sweetheart deal cut by Epstein’s powerhouse legal team.
Since the Herald published ‘Perversion of Justice’ in November 2018, a federal judge ruled the non-prosecution agreement brokered by then South Florida U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta was illegal, Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges in New York state, Acosta resigned as U.S. Secretary of Labor, and Epstein killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell.
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Epstein, who has pleaded not guilty, entered the courtroom just past 11:30 a.m. wearing a navy blue jail uniform, orange sneakers, and a scowl on his face. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted on the charges brought against him.
He sat mostly emotionless as Berman explained his decision.
Epstein’s effort to persuade Judge Berman to release him was an uphill climb from the start. Federal law dictates that defendants accused of sex trafficking minors be presumed to be a danger to those around them. And while he noted that Epstein is innocent until proven otherwise, Judge Berman said in his ruling that prosecutors had proven that Epstein remained a threat.
He pointed out that Epstein, a registered sex offender, kept sexually explicit images of young women that prosecutors say they found during a raid of his Manhattan mansion following his arrest. Berman also cited the core of the allegations against Epstein: that he created a sexual pyramid scheme by paying dozens of underage girls to give him massages that escalated through coercion into sex acts at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, then had those girls recruit more girls.
Berman also noted in his ruling that this week, Brad Edwards, an attorney for several Epstein accusers, alleged that Epstein continued to engage in sexual behavior at his office during work release hours away from the Palm Beach County Jail. (The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office disputes Edwards’ claim.)
“Mr. Epstein’s alleged excessive attraction to sexual conduct with or in the presence of minor girls — which is said to include his soliciting and receiving massages from young girls and young women, perhaps as many as four times a day — appears likely to be uncontrollable,” Berman wrote in his 33-page ruling.
Berman attached to his ruling emails that show Epstein considered pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in South Florida a dozen years ago while negotiating a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors. He also wired $350,000 to two possible co-conspirators named and granted immunity in the 2008 agreement following the November publication of Perversion of Justice.
Epstein, 66, had offered to post any bond that Berman wished, and to include his brother’s own $100 million estate as collateral. He said he would live in isolation in his mansion, to be monitored by GPS and security cameras.
But Judge Berman said Epstein’s access to a private plane, multiple cars and the kind of wealth that allowed him to keep $70,000 and 48 diamonds in a safe at home made him an obvious flight risk if freed on bail. Prosecutors also swayed Berman by describing an expired 1980s passport they found in the same safe that included a picture of Epstein, an alias and a Saudi residential address.
Epstein’s attorneys said the Austrian passport was an old decoy acquired by the wealthy Jewish businessman at a time when terrorist hijackings and kidnappings were commonplace in the Middle East and Jewish victims were especially vulnerable. In a letter Thursday morning, they clarified that Epstein does not have dual citizenship in any other country, and claimed that stamps documenting travel in the fake passport were marked before Epstein acquired the travel document.
They’d hoped to convince Berman that treating Epstein as a flight risk simply because of his wealth would be unconstitutional
“To be sure, wealthy defendants do not deserve preferential treatment,” his attorneys wrote in a Tuesday letter to the judge. “But they certainly shouldn’t be singled out for worse treatment ... on the basis of their net worth.”
Berman was not swayed. He rejected Epstein’s bail request, and tentatively set a follow-up conference for July 31.
As Epstein’s attorneys ponder an appeal, prosecutors will resume the process of seeking a conviction.
Duncan Levin, a New York defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said Epstein’s attorneys will likely now turn their focus back to an argument that a non-prosecution agreement he signed in 2008 with prosecutors in South Florida prevents his prosecution in New York. He said they may also seek to leverage any information Epstein — a former friend of former President Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump — might have on other people given that the U.S. attorney’s public corruption unit is handling the case.
“There are always two roads to go down: fight or capitulate. You can sometimes do both,” said Levin, who is not involved in the case. “It’s likely the first step is to litigate whether this indictment should be dismissed. But if he loses that litigation, there may be nowhere else to turn but to think about cooperating.”
Josephine Bradlee is a freelance journalist based in New York.