Seeing Jeffrey Epstein dressed in navy prison garb and slumped at a courtroom table, it was hard to imagine that he once rubbed shoulders with presidents and a prince.
Mr Epstein, a New York financier with a jet-setting life and famous friends in the worlds of business, politics and academia, is now facing as much as 45 years in prison after New York prosecutors filed sexual abuse charges against him. He has pleaded not guilty.
The case, nudged along by investigative work by the Miami Herald newspaper, promises an ultimate reckoning for Mr Epstein after years of legal pursuit. It also threatens to draw in his social contacts, including Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, while also shining a harsh light on a top Trump cabinet official.
Who is Jeffrey Epstein?
Mr Epstein, 66, was born in the Coney Island neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York. His father worked for the parks department. He took science classes at the Cooper Union and New York University but never earned a degree.
He was teaching mathematics at the elite Dalton prep school in Manhattan when his fortunes changed. Impressed by his talents, a parent recommended he go into banking. Mr Epstein was soon hired by Ace Greenberg, the chairman of Bear Stearns, where he went to work in 1976. He left — abruptly, according to some reports — in 1981 and launched his own firm, J. Epstein & Co, the following year. The pitch was that Mr Epstein’s firm would only manage money for billionaires. His Gatsby-esque transformation was complete.
Where does his money come from?
The question has confounded journalists for decades, even as Mr Epstein’s wealth has been undeniable. In a motion to deny bail on Monday, prosecutors noted he had six residences, including a private island, a $77m mansion in Manhattan that is reputed to be the city’s largest and a $12m estate in Palm Beach, Florida. They said he had 15 vehicles, including seven Chevrolet Suburbans and a Hummer, as well as two private jets he owned through corporate entities. More of his financial details may become available in the coming days after Mr Epstein’s lawyers file a report with the court in connection with his bail hearing.
He has been frequently referred to as a “billionaire”. But Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney who brought the two-count sex trafficking of minors indictment against Mr Epstein, declined to confirm that label when asked at a news conference on Monday. The mystery has been heightened by the absence of the sorts of breadcrumbs big money managers typically sprinkle across Wall Street as they move in and out of assets. His company, now called Financial Trust Co, is incorporated in the US Virgin Islands, where corporate disclosures are more sparse than in the mainland US.
Leslie Wexner, the founder of L Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, is the only client of Mr Epstein identified with any certainty. The links between the two include Mr Epstein’s Manhattan mansion. In 1989 Mr Wexner purchased the building for some $13.2m, but by the mid-1990s Mr Epstein was telling the press he owned it. Property records show no transaction until 2011, when the deed transferred to an entity controlled by Mr Epstein, who signed as both the buyer and seller. No purchase price is listed.
What is he charged with?
Mr Epstein is accused of sexually abusing “dozens” of underage girls from 2002 to 2005, luring them to his homes in New York and Florida, and paying them each hundreds of dollars after he had molested them. Some of his alleged victims were paid to recruit others so he could maintain “a steady supply of new victims to exploit”, according to the charges. Mr Berman, the Manhattan US attorney, said on Monday that the alleged conduct “shocks the conscience”.
Prosecutors also said they found a “vast trove of lewd photographs” in a raid of the Epstein mansion in Manhattan on Saturday. Mr Berman said some of the photographs appeared to be of “underage girls”. In a locked safe, agents found CDs labelled “Girl pics nude”, according to a court filing by prosecutors. “The defendant, a registered sex offender, is not reformed, he is not chastened, he is not repentant,” they wrote in the filing.
Mr Epstein’s lawyer, Reid Weingarten, said the photos were “ancient” and that the subjects were of age. Mr Weingarten allowed that his client may have been involved in prostitution, “and a lot of it”, but never resorted to coercion, violence or intimidation.
Why wasn’t he charged federally before?
Mr Weingarten argued in court on Monday that prosecutors were trying to “re-do” a case from 2007 and 2008 in Miami, which ended with a controversial non-prosecution agreement that allowed Mr Epstein to avoid federal charges.
Alexander Acosta, now Donald Trump’s labour secretary but then the US attorney in Miami, let Mr Epstein plead guilty to state prostitution charges that resulted in a jail sentence of 13 months and required him to register as a sex offender for life.
At the time Mr Epstein was represented by powerful lawyers such as Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, and Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who investigated Mr Clinton in the 1990s.
Mr Acosta kept the plea deal hidden from Mr Epstein’s victims in that case, violating a federal victims’ rights law, a judge ruled in February this year. The judge, Kenneth Marra, said in his ruling that Mr Epstein had “sexually abused more than 30 minor girls” from 1997 to 2007.
Mr Berman said on Monday that the deal Mr Acosta struck only bound the US attorney’s office in Miami, not his own. Mr Weingarten said the new charges “should chill the blood of every defence attorney that makes a deal with the United States”.
Who else could get dragged into this?
Mr Epstein’s arrest threatens to heap embarrassment, and worse, upon a gilded cast of friends and associates he has collected over the years. In 2002, speaking to New York Magazine, Donald Trump uttered these words that are now coming back to haunt him:
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Mr Trump is not the only US president in Mr Epstein’s orbit. That same year, Mr Clinton took a week-long trip to Africa aboard his Boeing 727 jet. The trip was ostensibly to promote democracy and good governance programmes.
In a statement tweeted out on Monday night, a spokesman for Mr Clinton said: “President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York . . . He’s not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade.”
Mr Epstein’s relationship with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, has been a long-running headache for the British royal family. The two are believed to have been introduced in the 1990s by Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell.
In a civil court filing, Virginia Roberts Giuffre claimed when she was 17 she had sex with Prince Andrew on three occasions, under pressure from Mr Epstein, who ordered her to “give the prince whatever he required”. Buckingham Palace has strenuously denied this, calling such allegations “categorically untrue”. An old photo emerged of the prince with his arm around Ms Roberts Giuffre’s waist.
The suit went on to claim that Mr Epstein used under-aged women as a means to ingratiate himself with powerful people and to gain potential blackmail information against them.
Ms Roberts Guiffre also has accused Ms Maxwell of helping Mr Epstein procure young women. Ms Maxwell has never been charged with wrongdoing and denied the claims, accusing Ms Guiffre of lying. Ms Roberts Guiffre sued for defamation and the case was settled in 2017.
Thousands of pages of records from the case are set to be released in the coming weeks after a federal judge ordered their unsealing.
Then there is Mr Dershowitz. Not only did he represent Mr Epstein but Ms Roberts Giuffre claimed she was forced to have sex with him on his client’s order. Mr Dershowitz has denied this, and says that the unsealing of documents in the case will clear him.