Jeffrey Epstein, billionaire long accused of molesting minors, is charged

Epstein was arrested in the New York area and was in federal custody.

In this July 30, 2008, file photo, Jeffrey Epstein appears in custody.
In this July 30, 2008, file photo, Jeffrey Epstein appears in custody. –Uma Sanghvi / Palm Beach Post via AP

Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire New York financier long accused of molesting dozens of young girls, has been charged by federal prosecutors with sex trafficking, two people with knowledge of the case said Saturday night.

Epstein was arrested in the New York area and was in federal custody. He was expected to appear before a federal magistrate Monday.

Epstein had avoided federal criminal charges in 2007 and 2008 in a widely criticized plea deal after he was accused of paying dozens of underage girls for sexual massages in Florida.

Before then, Epstein, a former hedge-fund manager, had been friendly with Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.

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He pleaded guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting prostitution, served 13 months in a county lockup and registered as a sex offender. His extraordinary jail arrangement allowed him to get out of the Palm Beach County Stockade six days a week to work out of his office.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which brought the charges against Epstein, declined to comment Saturday night.

Defense lawyers for Epstein could not immediately be reached for comment.

Women who said they were Epstein’s victims have repeatedly assailed federal prosecutors for reaching the nonprosecution agreement with him more than a decade ago.

Jack Scarola, a lawyer for two of the women, said he had not yet been informed of the arrest.

“But given his extensive pattern of past criminal conduct and the apparent addictive nature of his aberrant behavior, an arrest comes as no surprise,” Scarola said Saturday night.

The new charges against Epstein were first reported Saturday night by The Daily Beast.

In the Florida investigation, the authorities found that Epstein paid cash to dozens of girls, some of them as young as 14 or 15, to give him nude massages that often ended in masturbation, oral sex or, in at least one case, rape.

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Some of the girls were runaways or foster children; Epstein would ask some girls to recruit others to bring to his properties. The encounters took place from 1999 to 2005.

According to court records, in a 2007 interview with the FBI, one girl shared that at age 15 she began visiting Epstein and gave him massages — both in her underwear and then nude — for $200 each.

Over time, the encounters became increasingly sexual. Epstein also got the underage girl to bring other girls who worked with her at a local strip club.

The plea deal that protected Epstein from federal charges was signed by the top federal prosecutor in Miami at the time, R. Alexander Acosta, who is now President Donald Trump’s labor secretary.

In February, a judge in Florida ruled that the prosecutors led by Acosta violated federal law when they failed to disclose Epstein’s nonprosecution agreement to his victims. The agreement was negotiated in secret while victims were told prosecutors were still pursuing a possible federal criminal case.

Acosta has defended the handling of Epstein’s case, saying the plea deal sent Epstein to jail and guaranteed that he would register as a sex offender.

But lawyers for his victims have fought for years against a punishment they saw as too lenient.

The case received new public scrutiny after an investigative report published by the Miami Herald in November quoted four of Epstein’s victims, who are now adults, on the record for the first time.

One of the victims, Courtney Wild, now 31, was wearing braces when she first met Epstein. “Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless,” Wild told the Herald. “He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right.”

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Investigators had identified more than 30 victims. The Herald said it located about 60.

In February, the Justice Department said it had opened an investigation into the nonprosecution agreement. The inquiry is reviewing whether prosecutors committed professional misconduct in their handling of the Epstein case.