Jeffrey Epstein’s death on Saturday ended the high-profile criminal prosecution of him, but it is likely to accelerate the complicated battle over his millions, as victims who might no longer see their day in court seek damages for alleged abuse.
There are still many unknowns about Epstein’s wealth and how he made his money. In his request to be released on bail last month, he claimed to have a net worth of over $559 million, with $57 million in cash and multiple homes, including a private island and a $56 million mansion in New York City. In court, Federal District Judge Richard M. Berman warned that those disclosures were unverified and unaudited.
It’s not yet clear whether Epstein had a will or who his next of kin are. He wasn’t married, and he was not known to have any children. His brother Mark Epstein, with whom he was connected through real estate, has sought to distance himself. “Other than the obvious relationship of being brothers, the only other relationship between Jeffrey and I is as landlord/tenant,” Mark Epstein told the Wall Street Journal.
Following Jeffrey Epstein’s death, attorney Lisa Bloom, who is representing several of his alleged victims, called on the administrators of Epstein’s estate to “freeze all his assets and hold them for his victims who are filing civil cases.”
“Give his entire estate to his victims,” she tweeted Sunday. “It is the only justice they can get. And they deserve it. And on behalf of the Epstein victims I represent, I intend to fight for it.”
Give his entire estate to his victims. It is the only justice they can get. And they deserve it. And on behalf of the Epstein victims I represent, I intend to fight for it. https://t.co/gB5ejtk7VN
— Lisa Bloom (@LisaBloom) August 11, 2019
But that legal fight is likely to be difficult and lengthy.
“Epstein’s not around to defend himself, but the lawyers for the estate certainly will,” says David Ring, an attorney in California who represents victims of sexual abuse. He is not involved in any case related to Epstein. “I don’t think they’re going to just part with his estate and say, ‘Well, here you go, it’s all yours.’ They’re going to put up a fight, along with his heirs and whoever was in his will.”
And any pursuit of assets is also complicated by the fact that Epstein had significant assets in multiple states across different jurisdictions, and there might not be a complete record of all of his holdings.
“That gets really complicated,” Ring says. “It doesn’t mean they’re not going to recover the money, it’s just going to take a while. And it’s going to take a lot of maneuvering.”
Epstein, 66, died by apparent suicide while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy. In a statement after his death, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said “our investigation of the conduct charged in the Indictment—which included a conspiracy count—remains ongoing.”
Epstein’s attorneys had argued that last month’s indictment was an unnecessary “do-over” of a 2007 plea agreement. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday about the planned civil suits against Epstein’s estate.
Last week, Leslie Wexner, the billionaire behind Victoria’s Secret, accused Epstein of having “misappropriated vast sums of money from me and my family” when he was responsible for managing their personal finances. The accusation raised further questions about Epstein’s financial dealings.
Epstein had previously settled several civil suits over alleged abuse. But even more are expected now. As women who say they were abused by Epstein continue to seek justice after his death, some are planning to file civil suits against his estate.
Attorney Stan Pottinger says he is planning to file civil suits against Epstein’s estate on behalf of “several” victims who say they were abused by Epstein in New York. Pottinger said he had planned to file those suits before Epstein’s death, due to a New York state law that will take effect Wednesday, allowing victims of child sexual abuse to sue an abuser no matter when the abuse took place.
But such lawsuits have taken on a new sense of urgency, now that the criminal case against Epstein has ended.
“We’re representing the interests of victims who were abused at one level, and now feel as though there’s a second level of mistreatment in the untimely and unfair death of the person who had originally abused them,” Pottinger tells TIME. “None of our clients are happy to see Epstein’s death, least of all the way it occurred.”
Attorney Roberta Kaplan told Reuters she is filing a civil suit on behalf of a woman who said she was recruited to engage in sex acts with Epstein around 2002, when she was 14.
Meanwhile, it’s possible federal prosecutors could go after Epstein’s assets, as well.
Sharon Cohen Levin, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York who specialized in asset forfeiture, says prosecutors could decide to bring charges against other people related this case. But they could also decide to pursue civil forfeiture action against some of Epstein’s assets — such as his New York mansion or private island — if there is evidence they were used to facilitate a crime or if they were proceeds of a crime.
If prosecutors pursue civil forfeiture of Epstein’s assets, victims could then petition the Department of Justice for a share of the value.
“I think [prosecutors] are going to probably be moving as quickly as they possibly can,” Levin says.