How hedge fund mogul Jeffrey Epstein escaped a hefty jail sentence despite overwhelming evidence of sex crimes with dozens of young girls. Conchita Sarnoff and Lee Aitken on how the fear and intimidation experienced by victims during pre-trial proceedings, combined with a ferocious, protracted campaign to undermine the prosecution, culminated in a set of charges that became a virtual slap on the wrist.
It is proving difficult for hedge fund manager and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to avoid the glare of media scrutiny – British tabloids most recently cried foul over the shabby royal comportment of Prince Andrew in agreeing to be the guest of an acknowledged pedophile. But the larger mystery surrounding Epstein, who completed a 13-month sentence for soliciting prostitution from a minor in 2010, has remained unsolved: How did the hedge fund mogul manage to finesse the kinds of sex-crime allegations typically associated with a hefty prison sentence?
Solicitation of prostitution
In March 2005, a woman contacted Palm Beach police, concerned that her 14-year-old step-daughter had been taken to Epstein’s mansion by an older girl and been paid $300 after stripping and massaging him. She had told him that she was 18 years old. She undressed but had left on her underwear. By 2011 at least 40 girls aged 13 to 17 had come forward with similar stories, some saying Epstein sexually assaulted them during the massage.
Police started an 11-month undercover investigation of Epstein, followed by a search of his home. Subsequently, they alleged that Epstein had paid several escorts to perform sexual acts on him. Interviews with five alleged victims and 17 witnesses under oath, phone messages, a high school transcript and other items they found in Mr. Epstein’s trash and home allegedly show that some girls were under 18, although some maintained to him at the time that they were of proper age. A search of Epstein’s home found numerous photos of girls throughout the house, some of whom had been interviewed earlier by the police. He had set up a system of young women recruiting other women for his massage services. Two housekeepers stated to the police that Epstein would receive massages every day whenever he stayed in Palm Beach. In May 2006, Palm Beach police filed a probable cause affidavit saying that Epstein should be charged with four counts of unlawful sex with minors and one molestation count. His team of lawyers included Gerald B. Lefcourt, Alan Dershowitz and later also Kenneth Starr. Epstein passed a lie detector test in which he was asked whether he knew of the under-age status of the girls. They also questioned the credibility of the teenage accusers, based in part on their MySpace postings and information obtained by private investigators.[not in citation given
Instead of following the recommendation of the police, the prosecutors considered the evidence weak and presented it to a grand jury, an uncommon procedure in non-capital cases. The grand jury returned only a single charge of felony solicitation of prostitution to which Epstein pleaded not guilty in August 2006.
In June, 2008, after pleading to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution, Epstein began serving an 18-month sentence. Following his release he was required to register as a sex offender
He served 13 months in jail of his 18-month sentence as a convicted sex offender in the state of Florida for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution. He is a registered sex offender and remains under investigation by the FBI over allegations of involvement with underage girls and for money laundering.
After the accusations became public, several parties returned donations they had received from Epstein, including Eliot L. Spitzer, Mark A. Green, Bill Richardson, and the Palm Beach Police Department. Harvard announced that it would not return any money.
On June 18, 2010, Epstein’s former butler, Alfredo Rodriguez, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for trying to sell a journal that he said recorded Epstein’s activities. Special Agent Christina Pryor reviewed the material and agreed it was information “that would have been extremely useful in investigating and prosecuting the case, including names and contact information of material witnesses and additional victims.”
On February 6, 2008, an anonymous Virginia woman filed a $50 million civil lawsuit in federal court against Epstein, alleging that when she was a 16-year-old minor in 2004-2005, she was “recruited to give Epstein a massage.” After being brought to his Palm Beach mansion, she claims that he exposed himself and had sexual intercourse with her, and paid her $200 immediately afterward. A similar $50 million suit was filed by a different woman in March 2008 who was represented by the same lawyer. Several of these lawsuits were dismissed and all other lawsuits were settled out of court. He has so far made 17 out-of-court settlements, and some cases are ongoing.