(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK, SAYING:
"Today we announce the unsealing of sex-trafficking charges against Jeffrey Espstein."
He was an American billionaire whose list of friends read like a who’s-who of the rich and powerful: Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew, to name just a few.
But in 2019 it was revealed that behind the walls of financier Jeffrey Epstein’s lavish homes – which included palatial estates in the Caribbean, New York, Florida and New Mexico – lurid crimes of sexual abuse had allegedly taken place for years, against girls as young as 13.
And although Epstein would plead not guilty to criminal charges of sex-trafficking, the scandal that grabbed headlines around the world ultimately forced a top Trump official to resign, Prince Andrew to withdraw from public duties and Epstein to kill himself in a New York City jail cell while awaiting trial.
It would also see the power dynamic begin to shift to those once silenced – the more than 20 women who claimed in 2019 that they were lured by Epstein and his accomplices into horrific acts.
(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) EPSTEIN ACCUSER JANE DOE 15, SAYING:
"Epstein took my sexual innocence in front of a wall of framed photographs of him shaking hands and smiling with celebrities and political leaders. I was only 15 years old."
Their voices emboldened by a #MeToo era that busted open the locked doors of privilege to reveal the hidden abuses of powerful men.
Epstein’s prior record, it seemed, had not been enough to prevent more of his alleged offenses from occurring.
In 2007, amid claims he brought more than 30 underage girls to his Palm Beach home for sex, he avoided federal criminal charges by accepting a secret plea deal for which he got a mere slap on the wrist - serving only 13 months in the county jail, with the freedom to leave for work six days a week, and registering as a sex offender.
The deal was approved by Miami’s then top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta.
By 2019, Acosta had risen to a top job in the Trump administration as Secretary of Labor.
The fresh accusations now shone an unfavorable light on Epstein’s prior deal, forcing Acosta to step down.
(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) ALEXANDER ACOSTA, SAYING:
"I called the president this morning, I told him that I thought the right thing was to step aside."
He would not be the only one other than Epstein to be disgraced. Britain’s Prince Andrew – who stayed at Epstein’s New York home after the billionaire had been labelled a sex offender – was himself accused of taking part in Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking scheme.
American Virginia Giuffre, who appeared in a BBC interview, said she was forced by Epstein to have sex with Andrew when she was 17, claims Andrew has repeatedly denied.
But Queen Elizabeth’s second son didn’t do himself any favors in a BBC interview of his own.
Appearing cold to the alleged victims and self-serving in his defense – he claimed he was, “too honorable” to end his friendship with Epstein – Andrew’s interview backfired, prompting organizations to distance themselves from him and leading the Prince to announce he would halt his public duties for the foreseeable future.
As for Epstein himself … questions linger.
Most notably – who may have helped him allegedly procure young girls.
(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) WILLIAM SWEENEY, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, NEW YORK FIELD OFFICE, SAYING:
"The girls were recruited in a variety of ways, usually by employees of Epstein's and sometimes by fellow victims."
His death by hanging, while ruled a suicide, led to conspiracy theories he was murdered.
Two prison guards, accused of failing to check on him the night he died, were charged with falsifying records that they had – both have pled ‘not guilty’ and face trial in April.
And although his death closes the criminal case against him, Epstein’s victims press on – targeting his $577 million estate with civil lawsuits and hoping their voices empower other alleged victims of abuse to continue to come forward.