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A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the top law enforcement officer in the U.S. Virgin Islands alleges that multimillionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually trafficked hundreds of young women and girls on his private island, some as recently as 2018, aided by a web of shell companies to carry out and conceal his crimes.
The allegations, if validated, broaden the scope of Epstein’s sexual trafficking, and shed new light on the tactics Epstein used to hide his illicit activities.
The lawsuit seeks forfeiture of the islands, valued by managers of Epstein’s estate at more than $86 million, because of their use in alleged crimes.
“This lawsuit focuses on conduct that happened here in the Virgin Islands in violation of Virgin Islands law,” Attorney General Denise George said during a news conference. “The conduct described in our complaint ... betrays the deepest principles and values of the government and the people of the Virgin Islands.”
Epstein, who was found dead in a Manhattan jail cell last Aug. 10, allegedly brought girls as young as 11 to his private island, known as Little St. James, and maintained a database to track their availability and movements, the lawsuit said.
George, who became attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands last April, alleged that Epstein used “a complex web” of shell companies to hold properties, including Little St. James and Great St. James, at which the former financier engaged in human trafficking, forced labor, sexual servitude and other criminal behavior.
Through at least six corporate entities, Epstein “carried out and concealed his criminal conduct,” she said, adding that a toll-free, 24-hour hotline had been established (800-998-7559) for victims and the public to report on Epstein’s activities.
“We do need your help to see that justice is done now,” she said.
Most of the Virgin Island companies were created in 2011 and 2012, soon after Epstein registered as a sex offender in the Virgin Islands following his 2008 guilty plea to state prostitution charges in Palm Beach County, the lawsuit said.
That 2008 plea came about after Epstein received a controversial non-prosecution agreement from then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta. The deal shelved a federal sex trafficking indictment that could have put Epstein away for life. Instead he served a year in the Palm Beach County stockade, enjoying liberal work release privileges.
The lawsuit adds to the criminal allegations against Epstein, who had been charged by Manhattan prosecutors in July with sexually exploiting dozens of women and girls in New York and Florida.
In August, Epstein was found dead in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he had been awaiting trial on the same allegations that had been sidetracked a decade earlier. It was categorized as a suicide by hanging. While napping and shopping online, corrections officers failed to check on Epstein regularly on the night he died, and then allegedly lied about their own negligence. Two officers have been criminally charged.
Prior to his death, Epstein and his attorneys had denied the criminal charges. Epstein’s attorneys had said previously that he had not broken the law since his 2008 conviction in Florida. In an interview with the Herald in November, Mark Epstein said he believed his older brother did not kill himself nor had he engaged in sex trafficking since the 2008 conviction, and since had relations only with women 18 or older.
But the lawsuit filed Wednesday alleged that Epstein not only sexually trafficked women and young girls after his Florida conviction — he intended to expand his illicit operation in the Virgin Islands for years to come by purchasing Great St. James, the island closest to Little St. James, to conceal his conduct from public view and to evade oversight by the police.
Using Little St. James, the lawsuit said, “Epstein and his associates could avoid detection of their illegal activity from Virgin Islands and federal law enforcement and prevent these young women and underage girls from leaving freely and escaping the abuse.”
Epstein’s shell companies also were used to hold private airplanes and helicopters that Epstein used to transport young women and girls to and from the Virgin Islands, the lawsuit said.
“The Epstein case highlights how sex traffickers — like all organized criminal enterprises — thrive on the secrecy provided by anonymous shell companies,” said Clark Gascoigne, executive director of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition, a group calling for greater transparency about true owners of shell companies. “Opaque ownership structures make it difficult — if not impossible — for law enforcement to track individuals” behind human trafficking.
George said she was “early in the stage of what we are going to be doing” and would not disclose if the alleged victims in the Virgin Islands were brought from South Florida or elsewhere to the Epstein properties. Her focus, she said, was that crimes were committed on Epstein’s islands.
It’s unclear why George chose now to bring the civil enforcement action, and why her suit leaves out important details in the Epstein saga. His company, Southern Trust, was able to win a huge 10-year tax break from the island’s Economic Development Commission in February 2013. It was after he was required to report his travel plans as a sex offender, and in exchange he promised to hire locally and create a huge data-mining operation for the pharmaceutical industry.
There is no proof that those conditions ever were met, though the head of the Economic Development Authority, Kamal Latham, told the Herald late last year that Epstein was audited annually and confirmed a site visit in 2018. Latham declined to make public any audits or records.
Flight logs and other sources cited in the lawsuit established that between 2001 and 2018, Epstein’s companies were used to transport underage girls and young women to the Virgin Islands, then take them via helicopter or private boat to Little St. James, where they would be abused and trafficked, the lawsuit said.
Girls between the ages of 12 and 17 years old were lured and recruited on the pretext of modeling opportunities, careers and contracts, the lawsuit said.
As recently as 2018, air traffic controllers and airport workers reported seeing Epstein leave his plane with young girls, some of whom appeared to be between the ages of 11 and 18 years old, according to the allegations.
One 15-year-old victim was forced to have sex with Epstein and others and then tried to escape by swimming off Little St. James, the lawsuit said, but Epstein and others organized a search party and found the girl.
They kept the girl captive and confiscated her passport, the lawsuit said.
Another victim, first hired to give massages to Epstein, was forced to perform sex acts at Little St. James, the lawsuit said. When she attempted to escape the private island, Epstein and a search party found her, returned her to his house and suggested they would physically restrain her if she did not cooperate, the lawsuit said.
Little St. James, which Epstein’s companies bought in 1998, is described in the lawsuit as the “perfect hideaway and haven for trafficking young women and underage girls for sexual servitude, child abuse and sexual assault.”
The secluded private island is about two miles from St. Thomas and has no other residents. It can be visited only by private boat or helicopter as there is no public or commercial transportation available or bridge to allow public access.
In 2016, the lawsuit alleges, Epstein’s companies used a straw buyer to cloak the former financier’s identity and purchase Great St. James for more than $20 million. By then, Epstein was a convicted sex offender. Recent reporting by McClatchy and the Miami Herald details how Epstein used trickery in its purchase.
Buying Great St. James afforded Epstein privacy for his illicit activities, and prevented those held against their will on Little St. James from escaping or finding help, the lawsuit said.
The two islands owned by Epstein’s estate are also considered environmentally sensitive, with native coral and protected wildlife. Virgin Islands authorities repeatedly issued citations and assessed thousands of dollars of fines for violations of the U.S. territory’s construction code and environmental protection laws, the lawsuit said, but the fines had little effect in curbing or stopping Epstein’s illicit conduct.
Epstein “flagrantly disregarded the law,” the attorney general said.
The lawsuit said Epstein’s estate continues to attempt to prevent or limit Virgin Islands authorities from conducting random inspections on Little St. James and Great St. James, and that employees of Epstein’s companies were required to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from cooperating with law enforcement.
Epstein estate executor Darren Indyke, his longtime attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.
Monitoring a registered sex offender with his own private islands and the resources to fly victims in and out on private planes and helicopters also posed a challenge for Virgin Islands law enforcement, the lawsuit said.
Registered sex offenders in the Virgin Islands are required to make periodic personal appearances to verify and update their information, the lawsuit states.
At his last verification in July 2018, the lawsuit said, Epstein refused to allow Virgin Islands investigators, accompanied by U.S. Marshals, from entering Little St. James beyond its dock — claiming that the dock was his “front door.” Instead, the lawsuit said, Epstein arranged to meet with investigators at his office on St. Thomas.
The lawsuit charges Epstein’s estate, his companies and other individuals identified only as John and Jane Does with eight counts of human trafficking; two counts of child abuse and neglect; two counts of aggravated rape; two counts of second-degree rape; two counts of unlawful sexual contact; two counts of prostitution and keeping a house of prostitution; one count of sex offender registry violation; two counts of fraudulent conveyance; and one count of civil conspiracy.