New York (AFP) - A woman who says Jeffrey Epstein raped her when she was a teenager sued for damages Wednesday as US media reported the disgraced financier's prison guards were asleep instead of checking on him before his apparent suicide.
Jennifer Araoz, now 32, filed a lawsuit against Epstein's estate, former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell and three other unidentified accomplices under a New York law that has just taken effect.
In the filing, seen by AFP, Araoz said she was recruited at 14 by a stranger outside her high school who said Epstein could help her financially and boost her career.
Araoz said Epstein, who was found dead in his prison cell on Saturday as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges, showered her with gifts and then began demanding massages.
She added that the convicted sex offender, who hobnobbed with numerous politicians and celebrities over the years, repeatedly sexually assaulted her before raping her on her final visit to his house when she was 15.
Araoz filed the lawsuit in a state court in Manhattan, in the first known civil case against the wealthy hedge fund manager's estate under New York state's new Child Victims Act.
She said Epstein's crimes were facilitated by Maxwell -- a British-born socialite and daughter of the late, disgraced fraudster and media mogul Robert Maxwell -- and three other women she described as the "recruiter," "secretary" and "maid."
"For years I felt crushed by the power imbalance between Epstein, with his enablers, and me," she wrote in a New York Times column.
"I'm angry he won't have to personally answer to me in the court of law. But my quest for justice is just getting started," Araoz added.
The law, which extends the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sex abuse, is expected to trigger a wave of lawsuits against Epstein and accused abusers in separate cases.
According to prosecutors, Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage teens, some as young as 14, at his homes in Manhattan and Florida, between 2002 and 2005.
He denied the charges but faced up to 45 years in jail if found guilty.
Epstein, a multi-millionaire who counted Britain's Prince Andrew and Donald Trump as friends, was charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.
The FBI and Justice Department is investigating how America's most high-profile remand prisoner apparently managed to take his own life just weeks after an earlier reported suicide attempt.
- 'Sex slave' -
Two employees of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York failed to check on Epstein, 66, for three hours and then falsified prison logs to cover up their error, The New York Times reported.
The employees were meant to be inspecting Epstein's cell every 30 minutes but dozed off, several unnamed law enforcement and prison officials familiar with the matter told the newspaper.
The revelations came a day after the warden of the high-security facility was temporarily reassigned and two guards put on administrative leave by the Bureau of Prisons, pending an investigation.
US newspapers reported that Epstein had apparently been taken off suicide watch and left without a cellmate, against protocol, while the guards were working overtime due to major staff shortages at the jail.
Epstein's death came a day after a court released documents in which alleged victim Virginia Giuffre said Epstein used her as a "sex slave" and that she was forced to have sex with well-known politicians and businessmen.
Even though Epstein's death ended his criminal prosecution, US Attorney General Bill Barr has said prosecutors would pursue cases against anyone else involved in his alleged crimes.
FBI agents raided Epstein's private Caribbean island on Little St. James in the US Virgin Islands Monday.
Maxwell, 57, has always denied allegations against her and has never faced criminal charges. She settled a defamation lawsuit with Giuffre in 2017.
Her recent whereabouts had been unknown, but Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reported Wednesday that she had been living with a boyfriend in Manchester-by-the-sea in Massachusetts. He denied it to news website Axios.
Epstein was convicted in Florida in 2008 of paying young girls for massages but served just 13 months in jail under a secret plea deal struck with the then state prosecutor.