Jeffrey Epstein: Billionaire charged with sex trafficking and abusing girls as young as 14, unsealed indictment reveals

Chris Stevenson

Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein has been charged with sex trafficking of underage girls, with the financier facing allegations that he abused dozens of underage girls at his homes in New York and Florida.

The indictment, unsealed in a Manhattan court room, charges Mr Epstein with two counts: sex trafficking and conspiracy.

Mr Epstein is accused of seeking out minors, some as young as 14 years old, and paying them hundreds of dollars to engage in sex acts.

The indictment also states that Mr Epstein allegedly paid would-be victims to recruit additional to ensure a “steady supply of new victims to exploit”.

“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach,” the indictment alleges.

Prosecutors say that between at least 2002 and 2005 Mr Epstein ”sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls”.

According to the indictment Mr Epstein was allegedly aware that many of his victims were younger than 18 “because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age”.

Mr Epstein is set to appear in court later today and his lawyers say he will plead not guilty to all charges.

Prosecutors were likely to argue he is a flight risk and should remain in jail instead of being released on bail pending trial.

The former hedge fund manager’s friends have included President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew.

Mr Trump told New York magazine in 2002 that Mr Epstein was a “terrific guy”.

“He’s a lot of fun to be with,” the president said at the time. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

Mr Epstein was arrested on Saturday at an airport near New York City after his private jet touched down from France.

According to the newly-unsealed indictment, girls would be encouraged to give Mr Epstein nude or partially nude “massages” that would then escalate to “include one or more sex acts”.

Prosecutors allege that sometimes Mr Epstein would personally reach out to girls to schedule such encounters and at other times employees – one in Manhattan and two in Palm Beach – would be directed to do it.

When Mr Epstein would travel by private jet from New York to Palm Beach, an employee or associate would “ensure that minor victims were available for encounters upon his arrival in Florida,” according to the indictment.

Federal authorities want Mr Epstein to forfeit his New York mansion as part of the case.

The latest case comes more than a decade after the Miami US attorney's office abandoned a 50-page indictment alleging sexual abuse by Mr Epstein.

In 2005 police opened an investigation in Palm Beach after it received reports that Mr Epstein had allegedly sexually abused minors in his mansion there. Mr Epstein denied wrongdoing.

In a 2008 plea deal that the businessman struck with Mr Trump’s current labour secretary – and then federal prosecutor - Alexander Acosta, Mr Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges. The deal meant he avoided possibly being charged with federal sex trafficking charges.

After the deal, Mr Epstein served 13 months in jail where he had would be allowed to work in an office during the day.

Several of Mr Epstein’s accusers challenged this Florida deal in court, who say they were denied a chance to have their views heard, violating the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act.

In February of this year, a US district judge in the state agreed, ruling that the plea agreement violated the law in that prosecutors should have informed the financiers accusers of the deal at the time.

Democrats in the House of Representatives confronted Mr Acosta about his role in the deal earlier this year, during a hearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee on a routine budget matter.

Mr Acosta argued that his office’s efforts ensured that Epstein faced jail time and had to register as a sex offender.

“I understand the frustration,” Mr Acosta told the subcommittee. “I think it’s important to understand that he was going to get off with no jail time or restitution. It was the work of our office that resulted in him going to jail.”

Federal prosecutors filed court papers in the Florida case last month saying that Mr Epstein’s 2008 deal, known as an NPA, must stand.

“The past cannot be undone; the government committed itself to the NPA, and the parties have not disputed that Epstein complied with its provisions,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.

They acknowledged, however, that the failure to consult victims “fell short of the government’s dedication to serve victims to the best of its ability” and that prosecutors “should have communicated with the victims in a straightforward and transparent way.”

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report