Jeffrey Epstein: the sex offender hiding in plain sight
‘Financier’ accused of sexually abusing underage girls apparently never saw arrest coming
Jeffrey Epstein in a photo provided by the New York State sex offender registry, on March 28, 2017. Photograph: New York State Sex Offender Registry via The New York Times
Jeffrey Epstein liked to stack the meetings at his 71st Street townhouse – one of Manhattan’s largest private homes – so that a visitor might encounter writer Deepak Chopra on the way in and Israeli politician Ehud Barak or the former Miss Sweden on the way out.
In between, they could expect Epstein to take phone calls with Larry Summers, Woody Allen and other notables from his eclectic universe. The conversation might range from currencies to Saudi gossip and private jet decor.
Behind his desk sat framed photos of powerful friends that Epstein, a Coney Island native and college dropout, had collected: Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Steve Bannon and an arm-in-arm portrait with his latest prize, Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.
“It feels very choreographed,” says a business associate who visited recently. “It was illustrative of him just wanting to project his wealth.”
The artifice crumbled last Saturday when Epstein was intercepted by federal agents and arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey after flying in on a private jet from Paris. He is accused of trafficking and sexually abusing dozens of underage girls at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, Florida.
Now acquaintances in his interconnected circles of high finance, global politics, philanthropy and elite academia are wondering why they tolerated a convicted sex offender in the #MeToo era of heightened awareness.
Observers are also questioning the size of Epstein’s claimed billion-dollar fortune and just how it was amassed. In addition to his homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach and Paris, there is a sprawling ranch in New Mexico and a private Virgin Island, where Epstein hosted friends including Britain’s Prince Andrew.
Epstein apparently never saw the arrest coming. Days before, the 66-year-old – often described as a “financier” – texted contacts to say he would soon be in New York to meet up. At his court appearance on Monday, he still sported thick locks fit for a Roman coin. But he was wearing prison garb and looked haggard as he sat, hands folded, and, in a soft voice, pleaded “not guilty”.
Prosecutors offered an arresting preview of the case to come: claims of hundreds – perhaps thousands – of pictures of nude young girls kept in a locked safe, a lurid “massage” room and a network of recruiters to bring in underage girls.
‘A terrific guy’
Overnight, the enigmatic money manager had become radioactive. Trump, who in 2002 called Epstein “a terrific guy”, insisted they had long been on the outs. Flight logs suggest that Clinton rode repeatedly on Epstein’s jets – including an Africa tour with actor and accused sexual abuser Kevin Spacey.
The son of a Brooklyn parks department employee, Epstein gained access to a different world by teaching maths at Manhattan’s elite Dalton School in the 1970s. One student was the daughter of Alan “Ace” Greenberg, the Bear Stearns chairman, who offered the brilliant young teacher a job. After five years, Epstein left the firm.
He set up his own money management firm, J Epstein & Co, insisting he would only serve billionaires. Les Wexner, the retail mogul who owns Victoria’s Secret among other brands, was his only known client. Epstein left no tracks in the financial markets, traders say. He once worked with Steven Hoffenberg, later convicted of running a Ponzi scheme. Epstein’s recent business associate worries that the host was probing for non-public information to use to his advantage as he veered from charming to abrupt. “Is he talented, or has he just read upper-class society really well?” this person wonders.
Epstein has always been open about his lust for women – preferably young ones – even after pleading guilty in 2008 to state charges of soliciting prostitution after a controversial 2007 “non-prosecution” agreement with federal prosecutors in south Florida.
He first came under scrutiny after a Palm Beach woman called police in 2005 to report that a man in a mansion had abused her 14-year-old stepdaughter. A phalanx of defence lawyers, including Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr negotiated an unusual plea deal: Epstein served a 13-month jail sentence, much of it in his private office under a work-release programme.
The federal prosecutor in the case, Alexander Acosta, also gave immunity to co-conspirators alleged to have helped recruit vulnerable girls. Acosta defended the deal but stepped down on Friday as US labour secretary.
Since then, Virginia Roberts Giuffre has alleged in a civil suit that Epstein and his long-time companion, Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the disgraced publisher Robert Maxwell, used her and other young women as a means to extract favours from and blackmail powerful people, something they deny.
In 2011, a Manhattan prosecutor surprised a judge there by asking to reduce Epstein’s sex offender status from the highest level to the lowest, which would have spared him a lifetime listing on the state’s sex offender registry. “I have never seen a prosecutor’s office do anything like this,” the judge said, rejecting the move.
Epstein’s latest arrest comes after a Miami Herald report last year about the 2007 deal, and the secrecy around it. In a hushed courtroom on Monday, the author of that piece, Julie K Brown, was audible as Epstein was led in to face justice. “I can’t believe it!” she gasped. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019