Prosecutors have vowed that Jeffrey Epstein’s death will not stop the child sex abuse investigation that led to his arrest last month.
The new sex trafficking and conspiracy charges alleged that he paid girls as young as 14 for sex and used them to recruit other girls between 2002 and 2005. Federal prosecutors in New York filed new charges in the case amid growing anger over the 2008 deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty in Florida to lesser charges and serve just 13 months in prison, during which he was allowed to leave custody for 12 hours a day, six days a week to work from his private office.
The 2008 deal also shielded any potential co-conspirators from prosecution, effectively ending the investigation at that time. But Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who is pursuing the investigation, has argued that the Florida deal does not apply to his office.
Hours after Epstein’s death from apparent suicide Saturday, Berman issued a statement addressing Epstein’s accusers saying, “we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the Indictment—which included a conspiracy count—remains ongoing.”
Attorney General William Barr echoed Berman’s statement. He promised an investigation into the circumstances of Epstein’s death—Epstein was removed from suicide watch at the New York City jail where he was being held just days after he was discovered semiconscious with marks around his neck. He also added: “Any co-conspirators should not rest easy.”
But who are the potential co-conspirators? And where does the Epstein investigation go from here?
One likely focus for prosecutors may be Epstein’s former girlfriend and longtime friend Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite whom Virginia Giuffre—one of Epstein’s alleged victims—accused of acting as his “madame” and “co-conspirator” in recently released court documents from a 2015 defamation lawsuit she brought against Maxwell. Within the documents, Giuffre, sometimes referred to as Virginia Roberts, alleged Maxwell was “one of the main women” whom Epstein used “to procure under-aged girls for sexual activities.” Within the suit, Giuffre alleges that Maxwell recruited her to have sex with Epstein and his associates when she was underage.
On Wednesday morning, Epstein accuser Jennifer Araoz also filed a lawsuit against Epstein’s estate, Maxwell, and three unnamed female employees of Epstein’s. In the suit, she alleges that Epstein repeatedly assaulted her in his New York City home, including raping her in 2002. Araoz also alleges Maxwell and Epstein’s three employees “conspired with each other to make possible and otherwise facilitate the sexual abuse and rape of Plaintiff.”
Maxwell’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. Epstein’s lawyers did not return messages seeking comment.
What happens to the Epstein case now?
There’s a lot the public still doesn’t know about the U.S. Attorney’s new case against Epstein. Juliet Sorensen, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago and a clinical professor of law at Northwestern University, said that while Epstein’s indictment paints a narrative of his conduct, “it leaves a lot of questions as to who else knowingly participated.”
Crucially, the federal prosecutors in New York say that Epstein didn’t act alone—and conspired with others to commit sex trafficking, including “his employees and associates.” The indictment also specifies three of his employees who allegedly conspired to help him in the “sex trafficking of minors.” They are not named, but two of them are described as assistants. All of them were accused of “scheduling sexual encounters with minor victims.”
Epstein’s death may actually make charges against people in Epstein’s orbit more likely as prosecutors seek to hold someone responsible for the abuse, says Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.
“The government’s going to feel more compelled than ever to get some of these secondary people that were part of this conspiracy,” he tells TIME.
But an individual‘s mere awareness that Epstein was abusing underage girls wouldn’t be enough to pursue conspiracy charges against that individual, legal experts say. Those targeted with these charges would also need to have helped criminal activity occur.
Any potential co-conspirators are “responsible for the same underlying crime as Epstein, as long as they knew about the criminal activity and helped to make it succeed,” says Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Illinois who is now an attorney at Thompson Coburn LLP.
Then there are the lawsuits. While Epstein’s death ended his criminal prosecution, it likely accelerated a battle over his estate. In court filings, Epstein said he was worth at least $559 million. Victims could seek damages for abuse, and Lisa Bloom, an attorney representing several of Epstein’s alleged victims, tweeted on Sunday that the administrators of Epstein’s estate should give “his entire estate to his victims.” Araoz’s lawsuit filed Wednesday is one of the first since Epstein’s death.
Allegations against Ghislaine Maxwell
Former prosecutors tell TIME that Maxwell is a likely target for any investigation into alleged co-conspirators. Per a 2002 profile of Epstein in New York magazine, the British socialite has been connected to Epstein for decades, and she is mentioned in several lawsuits.
Maxwell’s lawyers did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment. However, Maxwell has repeatedly denied the allegations, both in public and in the recently released court documents. In 2011, Maxwell released a statement in response to media speculation that read: “The allegations made against me are abhorrent and entirely untrue and I ask that they stop.”
Sorensen says that, based on media reports, Maxwell seems to be the most obvious person authorities would target when investigating alleged co-conspirators of Epstein. “She appears to have had something of a unique relationship with Mr. Epstein,” she says.
Sorensen says depending on the evidence, it’s possible the U.S. government has already charged Maxwell and the charges are under seal.
Maxwell, a U.K. citizen, is believed to be abroad, although it’s not clear where she is. If she is not in the United States, charging Maxwell becomes “a question of international law,” Sorensen explains.
However, even if investigators conclude that Maxwell did recruit underage girls for Epstein, that doesn’t necessarily mean a criminal charge will be brought, Mariotti cautions. Prosecutors would need to be confident they had the evidence to convince a jury that Maxwell knew about the underlying crime: that Epstein was abusing the girls.
Could Epstein’s famous friends be investigated?
Epstein was famous for the famous company he kept. In the 2002 New York profile, Epstein said, “I invest in people—be it politics or science. It’s what I do.” He reportedly socialized with well-known scientists, philanthropists, and socialites.
Recently released court documents from Giuffre’s suit have brought more attention to the powerful men in Epstein’s orbit, some of whom Giuffre accuses of having sex with underage girls. Nearly all have made statements strenuously denying the allegations.
“This is somebody who knew a lot of people and had a lot of connections,” Sorensen says. “But it goes without saying that that doesn’t translate into criminal liability for those individuals.”
Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York and an MSNBC legal analyst, explains that in order to charge someone who allegedly participated in a prostitution ring, “there’s so many different pieces of evidence you would need… to charge them criminally, especially federally… there’s so much more that we don’t know.” Rocah adds that it’s not a federal crime to have sex with a minor—though there could be liability under state criminal laws.
Akerman adds: “I think the real problem here is what kind of corroboration is there going to be.”
Among the people connected to Epstein is President Donald Trump, who told New York in 2002, “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy.” Trump continued: “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” Trump told reporters on July 9, after Epstein was charged again, that he and Epstein had “a falling out” a long time ago, and added, “I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years.”
Former President Bill Clinton also knew Epstein, according to the 2002 New York profile. Per a statement from Clinton spokesman Angel Ureña, Clinton traveled to Europe, Asia, and twice to Africa in Epstein’s private jet. The statement said they hadn’t spoken in “well over a decade.”
In court documents that were part of the defamation lawsuit unsealed Aug. 9, Giuffre said that Trump never had sex with any of the women, but that Epstein told her they were friends. Giuffre also noted that she remembered Maxwell telling her that she and Clinton flew in a “huge black helicopter.”
Epstein was also connected to Britain’s Prince Andrew, whom he reportedly met in the 1990s through Maxwell.
In the court documents, Giuffre said Maxwell directed her to have sex with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, billionaire Glenn Dubin, since-deceased MIT scientist Marvin Minsky, modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel and Prince Andrew. She also said she was sexually trafficked to former Maine Sen. George Mitchell. Giuffre also alleged she was forced to have sex with “another prince,” an owner of a “large hotel chain,” and a “well-known prime minister.” In the documents, Giuffre also alleges that she was directed to have sex with lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said in a statement, “It is emphatically denied that The Duke of York [Prince Andrew] had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts [Giuffre]. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation.”
A spokesperson for Richardson also denied the allegations in a statement, and said he had never met Giuffre: “These allegations and inferences are completely false. Governor Richardson has never even been contacted by any party regarding this lawsuit.”
A spokesperson for the Dubin family denied the allegations in a statement: “Glenn and Eva Dubin are outraged by the allegations against them in the unsealed court records and categorically reject them.”
Mitchell also denied the allegations: “The allegation contained in the released documents is false. I have never met, spoken with or had any contact with Ms. Giuffre.”
Dershowitz denied the allegations in a statement: “I never met Virginia Roberts [Giuffre]. I never had sex with an underage person. I never socialized or had sex with any woman connected to Jeffrey Epstein.” He also alleged Giuffre was “pressured” to name him for financial gain.
A person who answered the phone at Brunel’s modeling agency told TIME “no comment.” Brunel’s lawyer, Joseph Titone, declined to comment. According to the Guardian, Brunel issued a statement in 2015 that said, “I strongly deny having participated, neither directly nor indirectly, in the actions Mr Jeffrey Epstein is being accused of. I strongly deny having committed any illicit act or any wrongdoing in the course of my work as a scouter or model agencies manager.”
Minsky’s widow, Gloria Rudisch, denied he had sex with Giuffre or any other girls, telling the New York Post that the couple had visited Epstein a few times, but that she was always with her husband.
Could other former employees face charges?
The 2019 indictment from the Southern District of New York is not the first time Epstein’s employees have faced legal scrutiny.
At least four of Epstein’s employees have been named in lawsuits and criminal filings related to the financier—although none have been charged.
In the case that led to Epstein’s controversial 2008 plea deal, federal prosecutors said he used employees to find and bring minor girls to him.
As part of the deal, they also agreed not to prosecute any “potential co-conspirators,” including but not limited to the four employees: Sarah Kellen, Adriana Ross, Lesley Groff and Nadia Marcinkova.
Groff denied that she “knowingly booked travel for anyone under the age of 18” and said “she had no knowledge of the alleged illegal activity whatsoever,” in a statement from her lawyer, Michael Bachner.
“She is shocked and deeply distraught by the accusations and revelations concerning her former employer,” Bachner said.
Marcinkova’s lawyers responded to requests for comment by saying that she “has been severely traumatized. She needs time to process and make sense of what she has been through before she is able to speak out. We have no further statement at this time.”
Kellen did not answer calls to a phone number listed for her in public records and Ross did not respond to a request for comment sent to an email listed for her in public records.
On Monday, lawyers representing some of Epstein’s victims filed a brief arguing the immunity provision of the non-prosecution agreement should be rescinded because Epstein had died, which would effectively open the path to prosecuting any alleged co-conspirators in the Southern District of Florida. On Wednesday, Epstein’s lawyers responded and argued the agreement should stay intact. As of now, it still stands.
However, despite the earlier plea deal for Epstein, his assistants could still be charged as co-conspirators in the New York case if they knowingly helped Epstein traffic girls in New York City, Akerman explains.
Despite the earlier plea deal for Epstein, his assistants could still be charged as co-conspirators in the New York case if they knowingly helped Epstein traffic girls in New York City, Akerman explains.
“Normally, when the U.S. Attorney’s office enters into a deal, it really only binds that district,” Akerman says. But, there would have to be some connection to New York City for conspiracy charges to be brought against the women, he adds.
The three unnamed employees in the recent 2018 indictment, who are accused of conspiring to help Epstein in the “sex trafficking of minors,” could also face prosecution. It’s unclear whether these employees include any of the four women whom federal prosecutors agreed not to prosecute under Epstein’s earlier plea deal.
Even if these three unnamed employees may have helped Epstein carry out crimes, it’s not clear that they will be charged now, Sorensen points out. The employees relied on Epstein for their livelihood.
“So at least when it comes to prosecutorial discretion, you can make a pretty good argument that the bigger fish should be charged and the smaller fish should not,” she says.
- How the Anti-Vax Movement Is Taking Over the Right
- What Happens Next in Ukraine Could Change Europe Forever
- There's So Much More To Say About Bill Cosby
- Death Doulas Used to Be Rare. The COVID-19 Pandemic Changed That
- What It Feels Like to Be a Muslim Woman Auctioned Online by India's Right Wing
- America's First Openly Trans City Council President Wants to Heal Minneapolis
- The World's Farmers Need to Prepare for Serious Cash Crop Disruption