It might not have been a moment of truth for Jeffrey Epstein as much as it was for Judge Richard Berman and the Department of Justice. The case on bail seemed fairly straightforward on Monday — Epstein is being charged with serial sexually predatory acts, and he has upward of $500 million in resources with which to abscond and avoid life in prison, plus an anecdotal track record of intimidation. Usually, that would prompt a remand — if the judge thought the case was sound. Berman’s hesitation on Monday seemed significant in that regard.
At least for now, it’s sound enough for Berman:
A judge denied bail Thursday for jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges after prosecutors argued the jet-setting defendant is a danger to the public and might flee the country.
The federal judge’s ruling means Epstein will remain behind bars while he fights charges that he exploited dozens of girls in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.
“I doubt that any bail package can overcome danger to the community,” U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said Thursday.
Epstein’s attorneys had tried turning that argument on its head after Monday’s initial arraignment. They argued in a subsequent motion that denying him bail would be akin to punishing Epstein for being wealthy:
The wealthy sex offender — whose light sentence a decade ago in South Florida has for some come to define the inequities of the U.S. judicial system — has been called an extreme flight risk by federal prosecutors. Facing up to 45 years in prison amid allegations that he molested dozens of underage girls in the mid-2000s in his Manhattan and Palm Beach residences, Epstein has an estimated $559 million fortune that gives him innumerable ways to escape the country, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
But Epstein has pleaded not guilty. And he says he’s willing to put up nearly all his personal wealth as collateral to show that he’ll remain in the country. In fact, a dozen years after Epstein used an army of attorneys and investigators to pressure federal and state prosecutors in South Florida to back away from a similar federal sex trafficking case, defense attorneys say prosecutors want to unconstitutionally use Epstein’s wealth against him.
“To be sure, wealthy defendants do not deserve preferential treatment,” Epstein’s attorneys wrote in court filings Tuesday. “But they certainly shouldn’t be singled out for worse treatment … on the basis of their net worth.”
That would be a better argument if anyone could get a handle on Epstein’s net worth — and how he accrued it. The Miami Herald continues its in-depth reporting on the case by detailing financial records showing that Epstein has managed to hide some of that wealth by keeping it in offshore accounts. It’s still an open question just how much he has on tap:
Now, documents obtained by McClatchy and Miami Herald provide a more detailed — but still very limited — look at Epstein’s wealth. They also underscore the challenge his accusers and the U.S. legal system might face in seeking restitution if he is convicted of the federal sex trafficking charges filed last week. …
The client profile gives a glimpse into Epstein’s wealth, referencing two separate accounts with money kept in a bank. One listed more than $880,507 in the account in 2006/2007, while another bank account under Epstein’s name held almost $3.46 million at a high point over that period. This pales in comparison to the claimed value of his holdings — reported by his attorneys in court as $559 million — but suggests he had the ability to keep money in far-flung places. A check of the bank coding in the profile shows that Epstein banked at the time with HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA in Geneva.
The Epstein documents were among 13.4 million leaked to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. ICIJ assembled a team of international journalists to investigate what became known as the Paradise Papers when published in October 2017.
In short, Epstein’s financials are a Byzantine mess. It’s impossible to know whether prosecutors can lock down enough of those sources to keep Epstein from getting the cash to flee into a comfortable, non-extradition exile. That’s almost certainly the argument that they will make with Berman today.
However, none of that is new. Epstein’s fabulous wealth and massive resources were well known on Monday. So too was his track record of aggressively pursuing potential witnesses and even investigators before his 2007 plea deal ended the investigations into his sex trafficking. The threat to potential witnesses was significant enough that two of the victims showed up at the bail hearing to beg Berman to keep Epstein behind bars until the trial.
So why did it take three days to think about it? Berman had to be looking at the DoJ’s attempt to get around the 2007 non-prosecution agreement and the viability of the defense claim that a new trial would be a form of double jeopardy. Andrew McCarthy warned that it’s not a slam-dunk for the DoJ to reopen the case, as courts could take a dim view of the claim that a plea deal in one district on a multi-jurisdictional case only binds that district to non-prosecution.
If Berman thought that the DoJ’s case is weak on that point, he might have felt compelled to give Epstein bail on the basis that successful prosecution is in doubt. Today’s decision doesn’t necessarily endorse the DoJ’s position; we can expect further motions to throw out the indictment as well as the products of the search that was prompted by the indictment. Having Epstein behind bars for those arguments does make it easier for victims to come forward, especially those who might have been victimized after the plea deal — which would unequivocally not be covered by that agreement.
Prosecutors hinted at more charges on the way, although without hinting at the time frame of the allegations:
At a hearing Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller said the government’s case against Epstein is “getting stronger every single day” as more women contact authorities to say he sexually abused them when they were minors.
Needless to say, Berman took the safe route on bail … in more ways than one.