Florida

Epstein accusers finally face him in court; safe held passport with his photo, fake name

Two women who say they were molested by Jeffrey Epstein as teenagers stepped forward at his bail hearing in New York federal court on Monday, telling the judge that releasing the accused sex trafficker on bail would pose a threat to them and to other women who were abused by him.

Facing Epstein in court for the first time, Courtney Wild and Annie Farmer stood about four feet from the defense table, where Epstein, dressed in a dark blue prison jumpsuit and orange sneakers, appeared stunned, shaking his head at one point during their emotional plea to Senior U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman.

“He is a scary person, he should not be walking the streets,’’ said Wild, 31, who was groomed by Epstein, starting when she was 14, to perform sex acts on him and others and also directed to lure other underage girls to his waterfront mansion in Palm Beach.

Berman, who said he would issue his ruling at 9 a.m. Thursday, invited the accusers to speak, something they were deprived of doing by federal and state prosecutors during Epstein’s 2008 sentencing on prostitution charges in Florida.

U.S. attorneys for the Southern District of New York are asking that Epstein be held in custody, contending that the multimillionaire money manager has the financial means to flee, is a danger to the community and has a history of coercing and threatening victims, witnesses and their families.

Epstein attorney Martin Weinberg, however, argued that there is no proof that Epstein was behind the aggressive tactics used by private investigators in Florida 11 years ago who followed Epstein’s victims and, at one point, drove so aggressively that a parent was forced off the road.

Weinberg added that his client had “disciplined himself’’ and has led a law-abiding life in the 14 years since his arrest in Florida.

Berman, who has authored a number of articles about child abuse, was not convinced, pointing out that studies show pedophiles and sex offenders often return to their established ways after as long as 15 years, and in fact, the rate of recidivism grows as time passes.

“These crimes are the most difficult to evaluate,’’ Berman said, “because in sex crimes victims very rarely come forward.’’

In another twist, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller announced that FBI agents, in addition to finding nude and semi-nude photographs of possible minors in Epstein’s home safe, also discovered a pile of cash, dozens of diamonds and an expired passport bearing Epstein’s photograph but an alias. The passport, issued from a foreign country, listed Epstein as a resident of Saudi Arabia, Rossmiller said.

“Frankly there is a lot of material we are still working through,’’ Rossmiller said of the evidence found in a raid last week at Epstein’s Manhattan mansion.

The prosecutor added that in the week since Epstein was arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, additional witnesses and victims have spoken to prosecutors. Rossmiller said the federal sex trafficking case against Epstein is expanding by the day.

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Bradley Edwards leaves the courthouse with Epstein accuser Courtney Wild (left of Edwards) and attorney Sigrid McCawley on Monday, July 15, 2019. EMILY MICHOT emichot@miamiherald.com

Epstein, 66, faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted. His arrest followed the Miami Herald’s publication of a series, Perversion of Justice, that detailed a lenient plea agreement granted in 2008 by federal and state prosecutors in Florida and for the first time offered detailed first-person accounts from Epstein’s accusers, the Palm Beach police chief and the lead detective who handled the case.

The New York charges ignited a political firestorm, and led to the resignation Friday of U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney in South Florida when Epstein’s plea deal was negotiated.

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On Monday, Epstein offered to post whatever the judge demanded, up to his entire $500 million fortune, in order to be freed on bail from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan while awaiting trial.

The testimony from Epstein’s accusers came as a surprise to observers in the room. When Berman asked if any of Epstein’s alleged victims were in attendance, Wild and Farmer announced themselves, and Berman said he would allow them to speak should they wish — granting Epstein’s accusers their first chance to face him in court.

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David Boies and Bradley Edwards speak to the news media alongside two of Jeffrey Epstein’s accusers following the Epstein bond hearing Monday, July 15, 2019, which will be continued Thursday. In addition to Courtney Wild, Annie Farmer also spoke to the court about her alleged abuse by Epstein. EMILY MICHOT emichot@miamiherald.com

Farmer, now 40, said she met Epstein in New York when she was 16, and that he flew her to New Mexico. She declined to speak in detail about her interactions with Epstein, except to say that he was “inappropriate.”

Neither got a chance to confront Epstein a dozen years ago, when he was last facing charges related to his alleged sexual assaults on teen girls. A review of tens of thousands of court records shows that federal prosecutors, led by Acosta, agreed to keep their deal with Epstein secret from the victims. A federal judge in January ruled that the arrangement was illegal because it violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.

Local and federal investigators in South Florida looked into allegations from dozens of girls in the mid-2000s, but let Epstein sign a non-prosecution agreement that granted him and others immunity from federal sex trafficking charges. He was allowed instead to plead guilty to lesser state charges involving solicitation of a minor.

Epstein ultimately served 13 months of an 18-month sentence, during which he was allowed to leave his Palm Beach County jail six days a week for 12 hours a day to travel to his West Palm Beach office.

Now facing charges in New York, Epstein wanted Berman to release him Monday to live in isolation and under electronic monitoring inside the imposing Manhattan townhouse where he’s also been accused of abusing underage girls.

“What the defendant is asking for is special treatment to build his own jail,’’ Rossmiller said, scoffing.

Prosecutors added that Epstein has failed to reveal adequate information about his finances. One financial institution told authorities that Epstein is worth more than $500 million, and as an example of his vast fortune, Rossmiller said Epstein has $100 million in one account alone.

“Certainly the first question for a defendant of this tremendous means is how much money does he have, where is it, what are the accounts, is it in foreign accounts, how much is in diamonds or art? These are all details that would be necessary for the court to even begin to consider this type of application,’’ Rossmiller said.

Prosecutors also argued that Epstein, if freed, could try to intimidate or coerce witnesses. In court documents Friday, they said bank records showed that Epstein wired $350,000 to two people named in the South Florida non-prosecution agreement as possible co-conspirators in the days following the Miami Herald’s publication of its Perversion of Justice investigative series. The recipients were not named.

“The payment of an employee and the payment of a friend is not ‘witness tampering’ because the Miami Herald wrote an article,” Weinberg said. Rossmiller noted that the payments happened to be made to two of only four named alleged co-conspirators in the Florida case, questioning whether that was coincidental.

Jeffrey Epstein is arrested on arrival from Paris

Weinberg further argued that Epstein’s crimes in Florida were already litigated and disposed of, and that the behavior alleged in 2006-2008 did not fit the definition of sex trafficking.

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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“It’s not like he’s an out-of-control rapist,” Weinberg said.

“The question is ‘how do you know that?’ “ the judge responded.

Berman also dwelled on Epstein’s sex offender registration, asking questions about Epstein’s 2011 petition to ease his sex registration requirements in New York. At the time, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor in the office of New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance argued that Epstein’s registration level should be reduced, from level 3 — the most serious — to level 1.

Berman said he reviewed a transcript of the hearing and found it curious, pointing out that the judge at the hearing also found it unusual.

Berman read from the transcript, referring to a comment from Judge Ruth Pickholtz, who presided over the 2011 hearing. “I have to tell you, I’m a little overwhelmed because I have never seen a prosecutor’s office do anything like this,’’ Pickholtz said.

Vance has since said it was a mistake.

Berman wanted to know whether Epstein, or anyone, had tried to alter his sex offender status in any other jurisdiction where Epstein owns property. Epstein’s lawyer said no.

Following the hearing, lawyers for the accusers met with reporters outside the courthouse.

“The most powerful testimony in there was not from any other lawyers; it was from two brave women who had to step forward and talk, and it took a lot of courage for them to do that,’’ said attorney David Boies. He represents Annie Farmer, whose allegations predate those in the indictment.

Added Bradley Edwards, who represents Courtney Wild: “Having pornographic trophies is not the best way to rehabilitate oneself.’’

Miami Herald reporter Daniel Chang contributed to this report.
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Julie K. Brown is a member of the Miami Herald’s Investigative Team, specializing in criminal justice. She was the winner a 2014 George Polk Award for her investigations into corruption and abuse in Florida state prisons.
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