Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein has been indicted on federal sex trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking charges for allegedly abusing dozens of underage girls at his mansion in Manhattan, where an "extraordinary volume" of nude photos apparently showing minors were found during a weekend raid, and estate in Palm Beach, Florida, according to court documents obtained by News 4 Monday.
Epstein, a politically connected Florida financier who owns an island in St. Thomas, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Manhattan federal court later Monday. Wearing a blue jump suit and sporting slightly disheveled hair, the 66-year-old briefly smiled at one of his three defense attorneys before the plea.
Asking that Epstein be held without bail, prosecutors said he poses an "extreme flight risk," citing his private island, personal jets and history of intimidating witnesses. The 66-year-old faces up to 45 years in jail -- essentially a life sentence, prosecutors said, "so we think he has every incentive to try and flee."
Epsteins attorneys argued he had no criminal record since 2008 and no complaints; they also said the case involved no allegations of violence, coercion or deception, saying, "There may have been prostitution -- but that doesn't mean the person involved ia a rapist or a sex trafficker." They also argued the risk of flight was overstated and pitched cash bond and passport surrender or ankle monitoring to ensure he would remain in New York pending trial.
A judge ordered Epstein continue to be held behind bars until a bail hearing, which has been scheduled for Thursday.
Earlier Monday, prosecutors described a tangled web of alleged underage sex -- and efforts to keep the pipeline of girls flowing -- in a graphic news briefing where they alleged Epstein recruited girls as young as 14 to have sex with him from at least 2002 to 2005. They accused him of giving the girls hundreds of dollars in cash and said he allegedly paid certain victims to recruit additional girls to "maintain and increase his supply of victims," the indictment said.
Those court papers allege Epstein knew the victims were minors, and that he conspired with employees and associates who scheduled sexual encounters for him both in New York and in Palm Beach.
Epstein was taken into custody Saturday at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport as he returned from Europe and has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, which is also the federal prison lodging ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and notorious Mexican drug lord "El Chapo."
Describing his alleged behavior as the kind that "shocks the conscience," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman vowed at a morning news briefing that his office wouldn't rest until "perpetrators of these types of crimes are brought to justice."
"While the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, the victims – then children and now young women – are no less entitled to their day in court," Berman said. "My office is proud to stand up for these victims by bringing this indictment."
The government is seeking Epstein's Upper East Side townhouse, where investigators were seen traveling in and out over the weekend, as forefeiture. Prosecutors described a vast trove of lewd photography discovered in that home during the execution of a search warrant; they said it included hundreds and perhaps thousands of nude photos of young women who appear to be underage.
Neighbors and passersby, meanwhile, expressed disgust at his alleged crimes.
“It's a different justice when you’re a billionaire, I’m sure," said Pauline Kelley. "It’s just outrageous and fortunately some of his victims are coming forward now."
Federal authorities also ask anyone who feels she may have been a past victim to call 1-800-CALL FBI.
"We want to hear from you, regardless of the age you are now, or whatever age you were then, no matter where the incident took place," FBI Assistant Direct William Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. "The bravery it takes to call us might empower others to speak out about the crimes committed against them. It is important to remember there was never, nor will there ever be an excuse for this type of behavior. In the eyes of the FBI, the victims will always come first."
A registered sex offender, Epstein, now 66, reached a 2008 deal that ended a federal investigation that could have landed him in prison for life. Instead, he was allowed to plead guilty to lesser state charges that resulted in a 13-month jail sentence and required financial settlements to dozens of his victims.
The agreement was overseen by former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, who is now President Donald Trump's labor secretary. In the face of intense criticism, Acosta has defended the plea deal as appropriate under the circumstances. That deal only addressed prosecution in the Southern District of Florida, potentially leaving open a door for charges in other locations.
Court documents show at least 40 underage girls were brought into Epstein's Palm Beach mansion for what turned into sexual encounters. Authorities say he had female fixers who would look for suitable girls, some local and others recruited from Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.
An attorney representing four of the girls in the 2008 case said they will continue to fight for all of his co-conspirators to be held accountable.
"With his money, Epstein was able to buy more than a decade of delay in facing justice – but fortunately he wasn’t able to postpone justice forever," said attorney Paul G. Cassell.
Epstein, a wealthy hedge fund manager who once counted as friends former President Bill Clinton, Great Britain's Prince Andrew and Trump, who was his neighbor in Palm Beach at the time, has maintained a home in New York City, a ranch in New Mexico and a private Caribbean island. Some of the girls were brought to those places as well, court documents show.