The New Mexico ranch. The Paris townhouse. The two Caribbean islands.
Jeffrey Epstein is willing to leverage it all if a federal judge will agree to release him from a New York jail cell and allow him to await trial on child sex trafficking charges from the Manhattan mansion where he’s accused of abusing dozens of girls.
The wealthy sex offender — whose light sentence a decade ago in South Florida has for some come to define the inequities of the U.S. judicial system — has been called an extreme flight risk by federal prosecutors. Facing up to 45 years in prison amid allegations that he molested dozens of underage girls in the mid-2000s in his Manhattan and Palm Beach residences, Epstein has an estimated $559 million fortune that gives him innumerable ways to escape the country, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
But Epstein has pleaded not guilty. And he says he’s willing to put up nearly all his personal wealth as collateral to show that he’ll remain in the country. In fact, a dozen years after Epstein used an army of attorneys and investigators to pressure federal and state prosecutors in South Florida to back away from a similar federal sex trafficking case, defense attorneys say prosecutors want to unconstitutionally use Epstein’s wealth against him.
“To be sure, wealthy defendants do not deserve preferential treatment,” Epstein’s attorneys wrote in court filings Tuesday. “But they certainly shouldn’t be singled out for worse treatment ... on the basis of their net worth.”
Thursday’s highly anticipated ruling on whether to release Epstein on bail looms a dozen years after federal prosecutors in South Florida agreed to sign a non-prosecution agreement that set aside a 53-page indictment and allowed Epstein to plead guilty to lesser state charges.
Accused back then of manipulating dozens of girls into nude massages and sex acts in Palm Beach, Epstein ultimately served just 13 months of an 18-month sentence at the Palm Beach County Stockade, and was allowed to leave for his West Palm Beach office six days a week. This week, an attorney for one of Epstein’s accusers said a woman has come forward following his arrest to allege that Epstein had “improper sexual contact” with her at his office while on work release, which itself was against the rules of the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.
The Miami Herald detailed Epstein’s unusual plea deal last year in an investigative series, Perversion of Justice, that also uncovered dozens more Epstein accusers and gave voice for the first time to women who said they were abused in his Palm Beach mansion. After arresting Epstein July 6 at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, prosecutors in New York said their efforts were greatly assisted by investigative journalism.
Since his arrest, more than a dozen new accusers have spoken out, according to attorneys and prosecutors.
Epstein, 66, now faces charges that could land him in prison for the rest of his life. The wealthy sex offender, who has pleaded not guilty, has offered to post just about any bond Senior U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman wishes and to foot the bill for private security guards and a GPS monitoring system if allowed to live in isolation in his $77 million mansion during his trial.
But prosecutors say Epstein’s money makes him dangerous. They say that Epstein “suspiciously” wired $350,000 to two people named as co-conspirators in Epstein’s 2008 non-prosecution agreement in the week after the Miami Herald published Perversion of Justice in November. And in court filings Tuesday, prosecutors explained that a raid on Epstein’s Manhattan mansion not only turned up nude photos of possibly underage girls, but also a safe with $70,000 in cash, 48 diamonds and a “large” diamond ring.
Additionally, they said the safe included a foreign passport that listed an alias and an address in Saudi Arabia.
Epstein’s attorneys countered Tuesday in their own submissions to Judge Berman that Epstein secured the passport from Austria during the mid-1980s because, at the time, terrorists were regularly hijacking planes and Epstein, being wealthy and Jewish, felt a heightened sense of insecurity. “The passport was for personal protection in the event of travel to dangerous areas, only to be presented to potential kidnappers, hijackers or terrorists should violent episodes occur,” his attorneys wrote, arguing that prosecutors had failed to prove that Epstein ever used the document.
Late Wednesday, prosecutors fired back. They said the passport had stamps showing travel to France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.
“The government further notes that the defendant’s submission does not address how the defendant obtained the foreign passport and, more concerning, the defendant has still not disclosed to the court whether he is a citizen or legal permanent resident of a country other than the United States,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe.
Epstein, whose bond hearing is at 11:30 a.m., may have a difficult time convincing Berman to release him.
The judge seemed to shoot down arguments by Epstein’s attorneys Monday when they said Epstein had been a model citizen since being released from jail in Palm Beach County. Berman, a licensed social worker, said he knew of a study that showed recidivism was a greater risk for sex offenders at 15 years of good behavior than at five years. During the hearing, Berman also allowed two Epstein accusers to speak about their encounters with him. It was the first time any of those who say they were sexually abused by Epstein have been allowed to testify against Epstein in court with him in the room.
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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Berman has previously rejected bail offerings similar to the one made by Epstein’s attorneys, who have told the judge that Epstein would agree to live in isolation in his Manhattan mansion and pay for his own private security.
Harry H. Rimm, a New York trial lawyer and former federal prosecutor, participated in a 2016 case where Berman denied bail to a wealthy money launderer who had pushed to be released to his high-rise Manhattan condo. Following his 2016 arrest in Miami, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, offered to finance his own house arrest.
Berman didn’t go for it, questioning whether Zarrab was trying to use his wealth to buy a more comfortable jail cell.
“A lot of the pieces of the proposal made by Epstein were already made and shot down by Judge Berman in the Zarrab case,” said Rimm, who was appointed by the court to serve as Zarrab’s ethics counsel. Rimm said Berman found in the ruling that the use of private security guards ‘fostered inequity and unequal treatment in favor of a very small group of defendants” with significant means.