Sex trafficking charges against Epstein could rock Trump's Cabinet

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

Former hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was arrested Saturday on a complaint by the Public Corruption Unit of the Southern District of New York, with an assist from the FBI’s sex trafficking division. The 66-year-old pleaded not guilty Monday to charges he sexually abused and exploited dozens of minor girls between 2002 and 2005, as part of an investigation with consequences that could reach the White House.

Epstein was charged by federal prosecutors in Florida in 2007 for, as the Miami Herald put it in its award-winning reporting on the case, “assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day.” He received what observers consider unusually lenient treatment by the U.S. attorney in Miami at the time, Alex Acosta. Acosta is now secretary of labor, and calls have been mounting for his resignation since the Herald’s series appeared last year.

In February, a federal judge ruled that Acosta’s office broke the law by failing to notify Epstein’s victims of the plea deal. Epstein pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges in state court and in exchange received federal immunity both for himself and “any potential co-conspirators.” The potential co-conspirators were not identified in the agreement. The billionaire served only 13 months in the private wing of a Palm Beach County, Fla., jail and was allowed to come and go from the facility for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, on work release. After his release, while on probation, he took numerous trips on his private jet.

Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: Getty Images

“Perhaps now Epstein’s victims will see real justice,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who has pushed for the reopening of the case. “But true accountability is still glaringly absent for Alex Acosta, who approved this serial pedophile’s permissive plea deal. If the DOJ will not adequately review and account for the miscarriage of justice that Acosta authorized, Congress must step in and provide that vigorous oversight.”

“[President Trump’s] Labor Secretary [Acosta] gave child molester Jeffrey Epstein a sweetheart deal when Acosta was an US Attorney,” wrote Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., on Twitter. “Now it turns out Epstein may have molested more individuals. Why is Acosta still Labor Secretary?”

Epstein’s waterfront mansion in Palm Beach, where the alleged sex acts occurred, is less than a mile from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. Records show that Trump flew on Epstein’s private jet on occasion, and they have been photographed together at social events.

“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” said Trump in a 2002 New York magazine profile of Epstein. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in 1997. (Photo: Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

A lawyer for Trump denied any connection between the president and Epstein. A lawyer representing three of the alleged victims said that Trump was helpful in building a civil lawsuit against Epstein.

“The only thing that I can say about President Trump is that he is the only person who, in 2009 when I served a lot of subpoenas on a lot of people, or at least gave notice to some pretty connected people, that I want to talk to them, is the only person who picked up the phone and said, let’s just talk,” said the lawyer in an interview with New York Magazine. “I’ll give you as much time as you want. I’ll tell you what you need to know, and was very helpful, in the information that he gave, and gave no indication whatsoever that he was involved in anything untoward whatsoever, but had good information. That checked out and that helped us and we didn’t have to take a deposition of him in 2009.”

Timothy O’Brien, a Trump biographer, wrote Monday that the arrest is a “worry” for the president.

“The financier was a member of Trump’s Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago, and the men dined at one another’s homes,” wrote O’Brien. “Trump flew on Epstein’s plane at least once. According to [Miami Herald reporter] Julie Brown, Epstein is quoted in court papers as saying he wanted to set up his modeling agency — which prosecutors believe he used to get access to underage girls — ‘the same way Trump set up his modeling agency.’”

One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre, said in court documents that she was recruited to give him private massages while she was working at Mar-a-Lago. She did not accuse Trump or the Mar-a-Lago staff of being involved in her recruitment.

The current White House occupant is not the only president with ties to Epstein. Former President Bill Clinton flew on Epstein’s private plane dozens of times and visited his island. Prince Andrew of Britain also has ties to the hedge fund magnate, but has denied any involvement in sex trafficking.

The Miami Herald reported Sunday that at least two people could be charged or named as cooperating witnesses: “Ghislaine Maxwell, a 57-year-old British socialite and publishing heir who has been accused of working as Epstein’s madam; and Jean-Luc Brunel, who, according to court records, was partners with Epstein in an international modeling company.”

Attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has denied accusations he dug up dirt on victims in the Florida case and tried to portray the teenagers as unreliable witnesses. Dershowitz and former special counsel Ken Starr — who investigated Clinton for lying about his sexual encounters with White House intern Monica Lewinsky — were among the attorneys who defended Epstein leading up to the 2008 sweetheart deal.

According to the latest indictment, Epstein “enticed and recruited, and caused to be enticed and recruited, minor girls to visit him” at his Manhattan mansion and Palm Beach estate “to engage in sex acts with him, after which he would give the victims hundreds of dollars in cash.

“Moreover, and in order to maintain and increase his supply of victims, Epstein also paid certain of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused by Epstein. In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit.”

Prosecutors allege that some victims were as young as 14. Former Southern District of New York prosecutor Mimi Rocah wrote Sunday that Epstein is unlikely to receive an Acosta-style deal in this case.

“Charges of federal sex-trafficking carry mandatory minimums of 10-15 years on each count” wrote Rocah. “Mandatory means mandatory. In other words, short of a cooperation agreement with the government — which in the SDNY famously means full cooperation against all possible other subjects and targets — Epstein will serve at least 10-15 years in prison (possibly more depending on the number of counts) if convicted.”

At a press conference Monday, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman urged anyone who felt they might have been a victim of Epstein to reach out to the FBI. Berman also said prosecutors would seek to have Epstein detained until the trial due to his access to private planes and the amount of time he spends living abroad. He added that a search of Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse resulted in agents finding nude photos of what appeared to be underage girls. One of the prosecutors who worked on the case was Maurene Comey, daughter of former FBI Director James Comey.

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