• U.S.
  • Crime

Here’s What to Know About the Sex Trafficking Case Against Jeffrey Epstein

14 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier previously convicted as a sex offender, was arrested July 6 on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges over allegations that he paid girls as young as 14 for sex and used them to recruit other young girls between 2002 and 2005.

A criminal indictment unsealed July 8 in Manhattan federal court claims Epstein sexually exploited dozens of minor girls starting in 2002. Epstein is said to have abused girls in his homes in both New York and Palm Beach, Fla. At both locations, Epstein recruited victims to give him “massages” that quickly turned sexual, prosecutors said. Epstein paid his victims hundreds of dollars in cash, according to the indictment.

Epstein, 66, allegedly sought out minors and was aware that many of his victims were under 18 because “in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age,” prosecutors wrote.

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

Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking on July 8. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 45 years if convicted.

“The alleged behavior shocks the conscience,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, during a press conference on July 8 in which he detailed the allegations against Epstein. The Public Corruption Unit of U.S. Attorney’s Office is handling the case, with assistance from the FBI and the human trafficking officials from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The arrest comes as Epstein recently received increased scrutiny surrounding a lenient plea deal he struck in 2008 after being accused of sexually abusing underage girls that allowed him to avoid federal prosecution.

Here’s what to know about the sex crimes case against Epstein.

Who is Jeffrey Epstein?

After starting out as a math teacher at Dalton School in New York City, Epstein worked at investment bank Bear Stearns for six years until he opened his own firm, J. Epstein and Co., in 1982 to manage funds for very wealthy clients.

Epstein’s wealth and the source of his money became difficult to track after he opened his own firm. But it went far—Epstein owns properties in Palm Beach; Stanley, N.M. and Paris, along with a private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, prosecutors said. And then there’s his $77 million New York City mansion, which is the largest townhouse in Manhattan, according to the New York Times. J. Epstein and Co.’s offered services to people with assets of more than $1 billion.

He has conducted his business from the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for tax reasons and has owned the island Little St. James for more than 20 years.

What are the new allegations against Epstein?

The Miami Herald, which in November published a deep investigative report into how Epstein avoided federal prosecution in 2008, reports that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan was investigating Epstein for months prior to unsealing the indictment. According to the Herald, the indictment included new victims and witnesses who came forward in the last several months to speak with officials in New York.

Now, Epstein faces one count of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. The current case focuses on victims who were allegedly abused in his New York mansion and Palm Beach estate and looks at his allegedly predatory behavior over the four-year period between 2002 and 2005. An attorney for Epstein did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment that Epstein would lure girls to both properties under the guise that they would provide him “massages,” that would “become increasingly sexual in nature.”

Epstein is accused of paying girls hundreds of dollars after the sexual encounters and creating a network where minors were always available to him by paying his victims to recruit other girls. According to the indictment, Epstein’s employees also scheduled the sexual encounters and recruited girls.

“This allowed Epstein to create an ever-expanding web of new victims,” Berman told reporters on July 8.

Federal agents recovered “nude photographs of what appeared to be underage girls” when they executed a search warrant at Epstein’s mansion in New York on July 6, Berman said.

On July 10, a woman not previously included in the indictments against Epstein, said he raped her when she was 15 in an interview with NBC’s Today show.

Jennifer Araoz, now 32, said a woman brought her to Epstein’s house several times when she was 14, where Epstein would pay her $300 after each visit, which involved general conversations about her life and what her goals were. Araoz said she eventually went to Epstein’s house on her own––and things changed. Like many other women who have accused Epstein of sexually abusing them, Araoz said he asked her to strip down to her underwear and give him massages.

In 2002, Araoz said, Epstein ordered her to remove her underwear and grabbed her. “He raped me, forcefully raped me,” she told Today. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”

On July 16, Brad Edwards, an attorney representing some of Epstein’s accusers, alleged that Epstein also had “improper sexual contact” with female visitors to his office during a previous 13-month jail sentence, when he was granted work-release privileges and allowed to work from his office during the day.

“He was in his office most of the day, and what I can tell you is he had visitors, female visitors,” Edwards said at a press conference on July 16. “I don’t know that any of them were underage. And the female visitors were there not for business and engaged in very similar conduct to that which was described in the Palm Beach police report. It was sexual in nature.”

An attorney for Epstein did not respond to TIME’s request for comment on the allegations from Araoz or Edwards.

Who are Epstein’s famous connections?

Epstein’s arrest has brought his many high-level connections into scrutiny. Epstein counts many famous figures in his social circle, including President Donald Trump—who once referred to him as a “terrific guy” —Prince Andrew and former President Bill Clinton, who took trips on his private jet.

Trump told New York magazine in 2002 that Epstein was “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,” he said.

On July 17, NBC News’ TODAY released newly unearthed video footage from 1992 that shows Trump welcoming Epstein into his Mar-a-Lago estate. The two men laugh and point as they appear to discuss the women dancing in front of them at a party. In another clip, Trump is shown dancing with several women — at one point, grabbing a woman by the waist, pulling her toward him and patting her buttocks.


Trump and Clinton have defended themselves since the new allegations against Epstein broke—and denied knowing anything about his crimes.

“I had a falling out with him a long time ago,” Trump told reporters on July 9. He described Epstein as a “fixture of Palm Beach.” “I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years. I was not a fan of his.”

Clinton, who praised Epstein as a “committed philanthropist” through a spokesperson in the 2002 New York story, denied knowing anything about his criminal behavior in a statement on July 8.

Clinton “knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York,” spokesperson Angel Ureña said in a statement. Ureña said Clinton took four trips on Epstein’s private jet, including one to Europe, one to Asia and two to Africa.

Epstein also reportedly has links to Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second-oldest son, and the two have been previously photographed together. A royal spokesperson did not immediately return TIME’s request for comment on their connection.

The spotlight is also falling on Les Wexner, head of L Brands corporation, which is the parent company of Victoria’s Secret. Epstein’s money management firm handled Wexner’s finances for years, and the two built a close relationship, Bloomberg reports. A spokesperson for Wexner told TIME that he severed ties with Epstein nearly 12 years ago.

Trump’s former Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has also come under scrutiny for the way he handled Epstein’s plea deal negotiations as the U.S. Attorney in South Florida in 2008. Acosta resigned as Labor Secretary on July 12, following calls from top Democrats for him to step down after Epstein was arrested.

Acosta defended himself in a news conference on July 10, saying that his office took over the case after the Palm Beach state attorney’s office “was ready to let Epstein walk free.” The day before, he issued tweets calling the crimes Epstein is accused of “horrific.”

“No jail time, nothing,” he said of the state attorney’s office. “Prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable, and they became involved.”

Acosta said his office decided to reach an agreement with Epstein in the hopes of avoiding trial, which he said would be a “roll of the dice.”

“The goal here was straightforward. Put Epstein behind bars, ensure he was registered as a sexual offender, provide victims with the means to seek restitution, and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was in their midst,” Acosta told reporters.

But critics cited the Herald report that authorities had compiled a 53-page indictment that laid out allegations that could have resulted in a lengthy prison term.

Epstein says he’s not a billionaire

In a single-page financial disclosure filed by Epstein’s lawyers on July 15, the money manager said he is not a billionaire, despite widespread reports to the contrary.

But he’s still very wealthy. Epstein’s net worth is more than $559 million, according to the disclosure made to Federal District Judge Richard M. Berman. In court, Berman cautioned that the disclosure was unverified and unaudited.

As of June 30, 2019, Epstein has about $56 million in cash and about $14 million in bonds. Epstein’s stocks are worth about $112 million and he has about $195 million in hedge funds and private equity, according to the disclosure document.

Epstein’s properties, which span from New Mexico to France, are also listed in the document. While prosecutors have said his New York City mansion is valued at $77 million, the property’s estimated worth is around $55 million, according to the Epstein’s filing, which says values come from a June 1, 2019 property tax bill. Epstein’s property in Palm Beach is worth about $12 million.

His remaining properties are valued as follows: $17 million for a New Mexico ranch, $8 million for a property near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and $85 million for property in the U.S. Virgin Islands––which reportedly includes the entirety of Little St. James Island.

Will Epstein make bail?

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said he needed more time to decide whether Epstein would be granted bail during a hearing on July 15.

At the bail hearing, prosecutors argued that Epstein should remain in jail until he’s tried on the charges that he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, saying that he is a flight risk and a threat to his accusers.

In addition, prosecutors said that investigators who raided Epstein’s New York mansion discovered an expired passport with his photograph and a fake name, along with “piles of cash” and “dozens of diamonds,” according to the Associated Press.

Two women who said they were abused by Epstein testified at the hearing, urging the judge not to grant him bail, warning that he is a safety risk. One of those women, Courtney Wild, who accused Epstein of sexually abusing her when she was 14, also spoke during Edwards’ press conference on July 16.

“If you’re a victim of Jeffrey Epstein, then you know what I know: He will never stop sexually abusing children until he’s in jail,” she said. “As long as the victims speak up, he isn’t going to get away this time.”

Last week, prosecutors told Berman that several more women had come forward to claim that Epstein abused them when they were underage. Prosecutors also said Epstein had paid two people, including one former employee, a sum of $350,000 in what they believe to be an attempt to influence them. The payments came in the last year, they said.

Attorneys for Epstein said their client should be allowed to remain at his Manhattan residence while awaiting trail, under electronic monitoring, at the bail hearing. They argued Epstein had not committed further crimes since he made his guilty plea in 2008 and said they would file a motion to dismiss the case.

Berman said he would likely announce his decision on Epstein’s bail on July 18.

When was Epstein first accused of sexual misconduct?

Epstein was first accused of sexual misconduct in 2005, when a woman told Palm Beach police that she believed he had molested her 14-year-old stepdaughter, according to a 2007 New York magazine report. The girl’s story was similar to allegations that would later pour out against Epstein—she told police that she was recruited to give Epstein a massage and that he sexually abused her during that encounter. In April of 2005, police began a probe at Epstein’s home and found a telephone message for Epstein with the girl’s name on it. They also found other names and phone numbers of other girls in Epstein’s trash.

Over the next year, police tried to bring charges of multiple counts of unlawful sex acts with a minor against Epstein and two of his assistants, according to a Miami Herald timeline of Epstein’s case. The state attorney for Palm Beach, Barry Krischer, referred the case to a grand jury, the Herald reports. In July of 2006, the FBI began a federal investigation into Epstein and started interviewing potential victims and witnesses that November.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote a 53-page indictment in 2007, while Epstein’s legal team negotiated a plea deal.

How did Epstein strike a plea deal in 2008?

Epstein’s arrest comes a little more than a decade after he struck a plea deal that allowed him to plead guilty to lesser state charges after he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls at his Palm Beach home.

By avoiding federal prosecution, Epstein was sentenced to just 18 months in prison after he pled guilty on two counts of soliciting prostitution from a minor. Of that sentence, Epstein served only 13 months and was allowed to spend six days a week at an office for 12 hours a day under a work-release privilege. He was also required to register as a sex offender and reach financial settlements with the dozens of victims who came forward in the case.

The now-infamous deal was overseen by Alexander Acosta, Trump’s former Secretary of Labor, whose actions on the case were detailed in a Miami Herald series last year. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra of Florida said he is considering invalidating the deal, noting that Epstein’s victims should have been consulted about it under federal law. Acosta resigned from his post on July 12, amid criticism over his handling of Epstein’s case.

Because Epstein’s prior guilty plea involved state crimes, the current case can avoid double jeopardy because it involves federal crimes, the Associated Press reports. Epstein’s lawyers argued in court that the new charges would involve allegations that were brought up in the Florida case.

Acosta, who has been criticized for how he handled the case, has defended himself, saying the plea deal was appropriate at the time. The White House said earlier this year that it would look into how he oversaw the deal.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com