Jeffrey Epstein due in court after sex trafficking arrest
NEW YORK – Eleven years after letting Jeffrey Epstein off lightly with a once-secret plea deal, the U.S. government is taking another run at putting the wealthy sex offender behind bars with new sex-trafficking charges that law enforcement officials say involve allegations dating to the early 2000s.
Epstein, arrested over the weekend, is expected to make his first court appearance on the new charges Monday in New York City. Prosecutors are likely to argue that he is a flight risk and should remain in jail instead of being released on bail pending trial.
One law enforcement official told The Associated Press the case deals with allegations that Epstein, a 66-year-old hedge fund manager who once hobnobbed with some of the world’s most powerful people, paid underage girls for massages and molested them at his homes in Florida and New York.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the pending case. Court documents related to the case have been kept under seal, and no official announcement of Epstein’s arrest has been made.
Epstein’s lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Epstein, whose friends have included President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Great Britain’s Prince Andrew, was arrested Saturday at an airport near New York City after his private jet touched down from France.
A task force of federal agents and New York City police officers met the plane at Teterboro Airport and took Epstein into custody, law enforcement officials said. He is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal jail near the Manhattan courthouse where he is due to appear on Monday.
Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein said there’s almost no chance Epstein will be allowed to go home after the hearing. Under federal court rules, prosecutors can keep a defendant locked up for three extra days while preparing for a bail hearing without needing a reason. If that happens in Epstein’s case, it would mean a bail hearing on Thursday.
“The government is clearly seeking to have him detained,” Weinstein said.
“The guy is a millionaire or a billionaire. He has unrestrained assets,” he added. “If they let him out on a bond, he may take off, go to a jurisdiction where they don’t have extradition and they may never get him back.”
Epstein’s arrest, first reported by The Daily Beast, came amid increased scrutiny of the 2008 non-prosecution deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty to lesser state charges while maintaining a jet-set lifestyle, which includes homes in Paris and the U.S. Virgin Islands and a pricy Bentley.
Under the deal, overseen by former Miami U.S. Attorney and current Trump labor secretary Alexander Acosta, Epstein avoided a possible life sentence and served 13 months in jail after pleading guilty to Florida charges of soliciting and procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution. It also required he reach financial settlements with dozens of his victims and register as a sex offender.
Acosta has defended the plea deal as appropriate under the circumstances, though the White House said in February that it was “looking into” his handling of the deal.
The deal, examined in detail in a series of reports in The Miami Herald, is being challenged in Florida federal court. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra of Florida ruled earlier this year that Epstein’s victims should have been consulted under federal law about the deal, and he is now weighing whether to invalidate the deal.
Federal prosecutors recently filed court papers in the Florida case contending Epstein’s deal, known as an NPA, must stand.
“The past cannot be undone; the government committed itself to the NPA, and the parties have not disputed that Epstein complied with its provisions,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.
They acknowledged, however, that the failure to consult victims “fell short of the government’s dedication to serve victims to the best of its ability” and that prosecutors “should have communicated with the victims in a straightforward and transparent way.”
The victims in the Florida case have until Monday to respond to the Justice Department’s filing.
It was not immediately clear whether that case and the new case involved the same victims since nearly all have remained anonymous. Even so, Weinstein said, the deal only applies to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida. The current case is being pursued by the Southern District of New York.
Further, there are no double jeopardy implications because Epstein’s guilty plea involved only state crimes, while the current case involves federal law.
According to court records in Florida, authorities say at least 40 underage girls were brought into Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion for what turned into sexual encounters after female fixers looked for suitable girls locally and in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.
Some girls were also allegedly brought to Epstein’s homes in New York City, New Mexico and a private Caribbean island, according to court documents.
Epstein’s arrest Saturday also came just days after a federal appeals court in New York ordered the unsealing of nearly 2,000 pages of records in a since-settled defamation case involving Epstein.
— Sisak reported from Orlando, Florida. Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Curt Anderson and Tom Hays contributed to this report.