Billionaire a ‘danger to the community’
Billionaire and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has been refused bail on new sex trafficking and conspiracy charges relating to underage girls and will remain behind bars as he awaits trial.
Epstein, 66, had been seeking home detention in his $77 million Manhattan mansion but US District judge Richard Berman today ruled that would be "irretrievably inadequate".
"The government has established danger to others and to the community by clear and convincing evidence," Judge Berman said in a Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
"I doubt that any bail package can overcome a danger to the community."
Epstein is accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenagers as young as 14 and is facing up to 45 years in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
Martin Weinberg, a lawyer for the disgraced financier, declined to comment in court on the ruling.
Epstein - whose friends have included President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew - didn't react as the decision was announced and he was led back to a nearby jail where he's been held since his arrest on July 6.
Epstein's lawyers had argued that he should be allowed to remain at his home, fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet and with his building under police video surveillance. They insisted he wouldn't run.
But prosecutors vigorously opposed that proposal, saying the well-connected financier - who owns a private plane and a residence in Paris - was a significant flight risk. They also said he was seeking "special treatment" and trying to build his own private jail in a "gilded cage".
In refusing Epstein bail, Judge Berman pointed to the FBI raid on Epstein's mansion prior to his arrest where they found more than "a vast trove of lewd photographs" featuring underage girls in his home safe.
The search on his New York residence also turned up an expired Austrian passport with the sex offender's photo but a fake name and a Saudi Arabia residence along with "piles of cash" and "dozens of diamonds", a court heard last week.
In a court filing Wednesday, prosecutors disputed a claim by defence lawyers that there was no evidence he'd ever used it, saying the bogus passport contained stamps reflecting it was used to enter France, Spain, Britain and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.
Prior to Thursday's bail hearing, defence lawyers told the judge Epstein was given the passport by a friend after some Jewish-Americans were informally advised to carry identification bearing a non-Jewish name when travelling internationally during a period when hijackings were more common. They said he never used it and the passport stamps predated his receipt of the document.
"He is a lifelong American citizen. He has no other citizenship or legal permanent residency," the lawyers wrote.
Earlier in the week, Judge Berman said a document submitted to the court by Epstein's defence team assessed his fortune to be more than $500 million.
Assistant US Attorney Alex Rossmiller, who has repeatedly said Epstein's wealth would make it possible for him to flee, said what was so far known about Epstein's financials should "alarm" the court. He said authorities had also received information from a "financial establishment" about an account that contained $110 million.
According to Mr Rossmiller, the FBI found a suspected undisclosed cache of assets including "art and diamonds" in Epstein's home while executing a search warrant.
"How much money does he have? Where is it?" Mr Rossmiller said.
"How much of it is in diamonds or art?"
US lawyer for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, previously told reporters that authorities had seized evidence "including nude photographs of what appear to be underage girls" while executing the search warrant.
The indictment alleged the raid turned up a "vast trove of lewd photographs of young-looking women or girls", consisting of hundreds - possibly even thousands - of pictures.
Some of the images were located in a locked safe along with compact discs with handwritten labels which read: "Young (Name) + (Name)", "Misc nudes 1" and "Girl pics nude", according to a Department of Justice memorandum.
On Monday, prosecutors told the court that several more women have contacted them since Epstein's arrest to say he abused them when they were children.
Mr Rossmiller said "many individuals identifying themselves as victims and witnesses" have come forward and that prosecutors have been able to "dramatically expand" the scope of their investigation.
Two new accusers, Alice Farmer and Courtney Wild, were present at the hearing and told Judge Berman they would be afraid if Epstein was released.
Ms Farmer said she was 16 years old when she had the "misfortune" of meeting Epstein.
"He was inappropriate with me, and I would prefer not to go into the details about labelling that at this time," she said through tears.
Ms Wild also alleged she was also a victim of Epstein's and said he should remain behind bars "just for the safety of any of the girls out there who are going through what I went through".
"I was sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein starting at the age of 14," she said.
"He is a scary person to have walking on the streets."
Sigrid McCawley, an attorney who represents several alleged victims of Epstein, said after his bail was refused that "the freedom of these victims" could only be restored by "taking away the freedom of Jeffrey Epstein".
"They have been living in fear and intimidation since the day they were abused by him," Ms McCawley said.
The indictment alleges that from 2002 to 2005 Epstein engaged in a trafficking scheme, bringing underage girls to his Upper East Side mansion - a seven-storey, 1950-square-metre property less than a block from Central Park - and his palatial compound in Palm Beach, Florida, to engage in sex acts with him.
The indictment said Epstein used employees and assistants to arrange sexual rendezvous with multiple underage girls at his residences.
"He intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18," it read.
"When a victim arrived at the New York Residence, she typically would be escorted to a room with a massage table, where she would perform a massage on JEFFREY EPSTEIN."
The victims were allegedly told to undress before or during the "massage," according to the documents.
"EPSTEIN would escalate the nature and scope of physical contact with his victim to include, among other things, sex acts such as groping and direct and indirect contact with the victim's genitalia," the indictment continued.
According to prosecutors, he also paid some of his victims to "recruit additional girls to be similarly abused by Epstein".
"In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach," the indictment read.
Mr Berman said that the non-prosecution agreement that spared Mr Epstein from a heavy prison sentence on similar allegations a decade ago is binding only on federal prosecutors in Florida, where the deal was made, not on authorities in New York.
"This conduct, as alleged, went on for years and involved dozens of young girls, some as young as 14," Mr Berman said.
"The alleged behaviour shocks the conscience.
"While the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims - now young women.
"They deserve their day in court. We are proud to be standing up for them by bringing this indictment."
Epstein's arrest came amid increased #MeToo-era scrutiny of the 2008 non-prosecution deal that allowed him to plead guilty to lesser state charges while maintaining a jet-set lifestyle that includes homes in Paris and the US Virgin Islands and a Bentley.
Under the once-secret deal - overseen by Alexander Acosta, who was the US lawyer in Miami at the time and later Mr Trump's labour secretary - Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution. He avoided a possible life sentence and served 13 months in jail.
The deal also required that he reach financial settlements with dozens of his victims and register as a sex offender. Mr Acosta sensationally resigned following backlash over his involvement in the plea deal last week.