In 2010, the year after he got out of a Florida prison, Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos dined at his Manhattan mansion with a British royal. The next year, Mr. Epstein was photographed at a “billionaire’s dinner” attended by tech titans like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. A page popped up on Harvard University’s website lauding his accomplishments, and superlative-filled news releases described his lofty ambitions as he dedicated $10 million to charitable causes.

Powerful female friends served as social guarantors: Peggy Siegal, a gatekeeper for A-list events, included him in movie screenings, and Dr. Eva Andersson-Dubin, a champion of women’s health, maintained a friendship that some felt gave him credibility. Mr. Epstein put up a website showing Stephen Hawking and other luminaries at a science gathering he had organized…

Though some institutions and prominent people, including Donald J. Trump, said they shunned him, Mr. Epstein’s tactics largely worked. Over the past week, as the scope of his alleged offenses, involving dozens of victims in the early 2000s, became clearer after a new indictment in New York, the story of Mr. Epstein and his social circles shows how some people were willing to welcome back — or at least give a pass to — a handsome rich man who had been convicted of a crime involving a minor.

Mr. Epstein’s social strategy proceeded from his legal one. The lenient agreement he reached with prosecutors — his plea involved one girl, a 17-year-old, and the crime was prostitution, which made it look like the teenager was in part to blame — gave others a reason to dismiss his wrongdoing, decide he had already paid his penalty or not question what had happened.