FBI agents have raided Jeffrey Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean, in a further sign the death of the wealthy financier will not halt scrutiny into his alleged sex trafficking crimes.
Mobile phone footage, broadcast by NBC news, showed agents arriving on Little Saint James, in the US Virgin Islands, on Monday morning.
Two senior law enforcement officials confirmed to NBC the FBI had started searching Epstein’s private island home.
They said the search was being directed by the Epstein taskforce, led by the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York.
Kelly Quinn, the owner of Salty Dog Day Sails, who was running a sailing charter in the area, told the broadcaster: “We were just trying to look at pretty fish and swim with turtles and here we are in the middle of an FBI raid. This has been something on our radar for years. We’re all really curious why it’s happening now.”
The raid came two days after the billionaire was found dead in a New York City jail cell, having apparently taken his own life.
William Barr, the US attorney general, has reassigned the warden of the federal jail where Epstein died pending the outcome of investigations into what he called "serious irregularities".
In addition to temporarily transferring warden Lamine N’Diaye to the Bureau of Prisons’ regional office, the department has placed two members of the Metropolitan Correctional Centre’s staff who were assigned to the unit where Epstein died on leave.
Already some irregularities have been discovered, according to a person familiar with the matter, including that checks on Epstein that were supposed to be made every 30 minutes weren’t done for several hours leading up to when he was found dead.
Also, Epstein’s cell-mate had been removed and not replaced in apparent violation of rules, the person said.
In the aftermath of his death, accusers expressed anger Epstein would not be forced to face them in court.
They sought reassurances authorities would continue investigations into others who might have been involved in a trafficking ring that targeted young girls for sexual abuse.
Mr Barr said on Monday that “any co-conspirators should not rest easy. Victims deserve justice and will get it.”
Geoffrey S Berman, the Manhattan US attorney, said in a statement: "To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment – which included a conspiracy count – remains ongoing."
David Weinstein, a white collar criminal defence attorney with Hinshaw & Culbertson and former federal prosecutor in Miami, previously told the Guardian that Epstein's death could actually lessen potential issues with evidence. This could explain the timing of the raid.
“The evidence that they’ve seized from him directly, the only person who can contest the seizure [as unlawful] could be Epstein or somebody who lived with him,” Mr Weinstein said.
“Now that he’s dead, he can’t challenge that – all of that becomes fair game.”
The Manhattan US attorney’s case against Epstein for alleged sexual abuse of girls as young as 14 includes charges of sex trafficking and sex-trafficking conspiracy. Language in the indictment alleges Epstein “worked and conspired with others, including employees and associates who facilitated his conduct” in luring girls to his Manhattan and Palm Beach homes between 2002 and 2005.