Billionaire Epstein arrested for sex-trafficking minors -- will he name names? CNN: 2002-5; Update: Indictment drops

The first time Jeffrey Epstein faced charges for sexual abuse of minors, he got a sweetheart deal from prosecutors. This time around, the billionaire hedge-fund tycoon may not be so lucky — and neither may be the people with whom he pals around. Epstein will appear in federal court after getting arrested over the weekend on a whole new set of charges that sound depressingly familiar:

Billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for allegedly sex trafficking dozens of minors in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005, and will appear in court in New York on Monday, according to three law enforcement sources. The arrest comes about 12 years after the 66-year-old financier essentially got a slap on the wrist for allegedly molesting dozens of underage girls in Florida.

For more than a decade, Epstein’s alleged abuse of minors has been the subject of lawsuits brought by victims, investigations by local and federal authorities, and exposés in the press. But despite the attention cast on his alleged sex crimes, the hedge-funder has managed to avoid any meaningful jail time, let alone federal charges.

The new charges allege that Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage girls in a now-familiar scheme: paying them cash for “massages” and then molesting or sexually abusing them in his Upper East Side mansion or his palatial residence in Palm Beach. Several employees and associates allegedly recruited the girls for Epstein’s abuse, and some victims eventually became recruiters themselves, according to law enforcement. The girls were as young as 14, and Epstein knew they were underage, according to police.

How depressing is this familiarity? The charges sound like the same potential charges that then-US Attorney Alex Acosta, now Secretary of Labor, dealt away in allowing Florida to undercharge Epstein instead. However, the Washington Post reports that they’re not the same charges, because the new indictment involves new criminal conduct discovered since Epstein’s plea deal:

Prosecutors could face significant challenges if the new case is premised on conduct that was covered as part of Epstein’s plea deal, no matter how unsavory it might be. But if investigators discovered wrongdoing they did not know about previously or that was not covered by the plea — even if it occurred years in the past — they would be allowed to bring new charges.

A person familiar with the matter said prosecutors do not have significant double jeopardy concerns or concerns about Epstein’s previous plea, meaning the charges probably involve new victims or new alleged wrongdoing. …

The precise nature of the charges — and how they differ from the previous allegations to which Epstein, now 66, pleaded guilty in 2008 — could not immediately be learned. Epstein attorney Martin Weinberg did not respond to a request for comment late Saturday. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, where Epstein is expected to appear in federal court this week, declined to comment.

The latest charges add a significant new wrinkle to the considerable political and legal saga surrounding Epstein. The wealthy financier — who counted among his friends President Trump and former president Bill Clinton — pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges in Florida of soliciting prostitution in a controversial arrangement that allowed him to resolve far more serious federal allegations of molesting young girls.

Some of this might involve crimes ignored in the first plea deal, which could at least theoretically still be tried. Double jeopardy does not attach to uncharged crimes in a plea deal, but plea deals negotiated by the kind of attorneys Epstein could afford can be complicated affairs. A Miami Herald investigation last year by Julie Brown into the Epstein plea deal uncovered more victims, younger victims, who never got a chance to fight for their day in court. That exposé embarrassed the Department of Justice and Florida officials, and that might have motivated them to give this another shot — assuming it can get past the plea deal.

On the other hand, this indictment might involve new criminal behavior. In the video below, the reporter who wrote that exposé explains that the statute of limitations would largely prevent some — but not all — of the potential victims of his previous schemes. It’s more likely that new victims have emerged since the elimination of the federal statute of limitations in 2002. If Epstein has continued to sexually prey on underage girls, then everyone involved in that sweetheart plea deal should resign their posts immediately, especially Acosta. They had an opportunity to put Epstein behind bars for at least several years; instead, they let him loose with a slap on the hand.

Epstein won’t be able to deal himself out of this indictment, not in the current cultural and political mood. No one wants to end up as the next Alex Acosta, explaining to Congress why they let a wealthy political operator slide again on predation and trafficking of children. That is, Epstein will at least have to give prosecutors a lot more in return for any kind of (very limited) leniency. Facing a life sentence and ruinous lawsuits from victims, Epstein might start dishing dirt on those who preyed right along with them.

As Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown told MSNBC yesterday, they’re already “sweating it out right now.” They’re focused on the Trump angle, but that’s not the only Oval Office occupant with a connection to Epstein:

“I’ve felt a lot of pressure,” Brown answered. “Needless to say, these are very powerful people and I think that they’re sweating a little bit, especially today. We don’t know how much, how deep this went, how far-reaching it went in government, but there have been a lot of names that I could see on these message pads [listing clients] on a regular basis as part of the evidence.”

Brown continued: “These message pads where they would call and leave Epstein messages, such as, ‘I’m at this hotel.’ Why do you do that, unless you’re expecting him to send you a girl to visit you at your hotel? So there are probably quite a few important people, powerful people, who are sweating it out right now. We’ll have to wait and see whether Epstein is going to name names.” …

“Trump was also on his plane, probably not as much as a lot of other people because, you know, Trump had his own plane. But they had a lot of social relationships. And the other interesting thing is Trump had a modeling agency, and Epstein also had a stake in a modeling agency, which they suspect he used to bring in underage girls from overseas.”

The floodgate of accusations opened long ago with Trump, who has had over a dozen women accuse him of sexual misconduct of varying degrees since he began running for president four years ago. None of them have been underage, however, and one would think that the ground was ripe enough for those accusations to emerge even without any action against Epstein.

On the other hand, Clintonworld has to wonder how many of these stories might involve Bill once they start emerging. Epstein’s plea deal put a convenient end to inquiries about Bill’s friendship with the billionaire sex trafficker, but a new prosecution might reopen the subject to more scrutiny. Bill has largely avoided the #MeToo issue except for a recapitulation of the Monica Lewinsky affair during his book tour, but his reputation suggests that Epstein would have been a serious temptation to a man who didn’t have a track record of successfully resisting them.

Update: We’re still waiting for the indictment, but CNN reports that the activity covered by Epstein’s indictment is from 2002-5:

Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein is expected to be charged with having operated a sex-trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, allegations that have circulated around the politically connected financier for years, a law enforcement source tells CNN.

An indictment expected to be unsealed Monday will allege that between 2002 and 2005, Epstein ran a trafficking enterprise in which he paid hundreds of dollars in cash to girls as young as 14 to have sex with him at his Upper East Side home and his estate in Palm Beach, worked with employees and associates who would lure the girls to his residences and paid some of his victims to recruit other girls for him to abuse.

That would be before his 2008 plea deal, but after the end of the federal statute of limitations on sex trafficking.

Update: NBC’s New York affiliate got the first look at the 24-count indictment. It alleges a pattern of identical behavior in both Epstein residences in New York and Palm Beach — having employees recruit underage girls for naked or semi-naked massages, masturbation in their presence, molestation, and repeated episodes despite being told by the girls themselves of their ages. He also paid them to recruit other underage girls. It’s as bad as the Miami Herald painted it last year. The indictment doesn’t allege anything after 2005, however, and Epstein’s lawyers will no doubt argue that all this was resolved in the original plea deal.

One big note comes at the end:

If they go after all of Epstein’s property where these activities took place, his net worth is going to take a huge dive. They’d better make sure Epstein doesn’t make bail, or at least never gets out of their sight if he does. He’ll be on his way to a non-extradition country just as soon as he sees an opportunity for it.