Shock discovery in billionaire’s mansion
A "VAST trove of lewd photographs" featuring underage girls has been found inside a billionaire's New York mansion where he is accused of abusing teenagers as young as 14, court documents allege.
Jeffrey Epstein, a 66-year-old financier whose friends have included President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew, was arrested at an airport in New Jersey, just outside New York City, after his private jet touched down from France on Saturday.
He was later charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy and is facing up to 45 years in prison if found guilty.
Mr Epstein appeared in Manhattan Federal Court on Monday afternoon, local time.
The hedge fund manager entered the room with dishevelled hair, wearing blue prison garb but no handcuffs, and pleaded not guilty.
The indictment unsealed on Monday alleges that from 2002 to 2005 Mr Epstein engaged in a trafficking scheme, bringing underage girls to his Upper East Side mansion - a seven-storey, 21,000-square-foot 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 Mr 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," the indictment 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 "message," 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 Epstein was remanded in custody until a bail hearing on Thursday, when prosecutors are expected to argue that the world traveller might flee - or try to intimidate witnesses - if released.
US lawyer for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman today told reporters that federal authorities had executed a search warrant on Mr Epstein's upper eastside New York mansion following his arrest over the weekend.
"Agents seized evidence, including nude photographs of what appear to be underage girls," he said.
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.
"The defendant, a registered sex offender, is not reformed … he is not repentant, rather, he is a continuing danger to the community and an individual who faces devastating evidence supporting deeply serious charges," the memo continued.
'BEHAVIOUR SHOCKS THE CONSCIENCE'
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."
Courtney Wild and Michelle Licata - who were among the victims in the 2008 criminal case brought against Mr Epstein in Florida - attended Mr Epstein's arraignment on Monday.
Ms Licata was just 16 when she claims a young woman brought her to Mr Epstein's Palm Beach estate and she was paid to give him a massage.
"He said, god, you're just so beautiful and sexy and gorgeous and it was making me feel really uncomfortable," Ms Licata in an interview with ABC News.
"Then he wanted me to rub his back, and he kept asking me to go lower and he was kind of talking to me."
Courtney Wild said she was still in middle school when Mr Epstein allegedly forced her into performing sex acts.
"I was 14, I had braces on," Ms Wild said.
"Like, I remember standing in his kitchen ... and he also had a lot of girls there all the time."
On Monday, the federal prosecutor urged other possible victims to contact the FBI.
Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of Mr Epstein's New York mansion. The home, formerly a prep school, is across the street from a home owned by Bill Cosby and has been valued at approximately A$110 million.
Mr Epstein's lawyer did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment.
Mr Berman said prosecutors would oppose his release on bail.
"He has enormous wealth. The charges are very serious and carry with them a maximum sentence of 45 years, which to someone of Epstein's age is basically a life sentence," Mr Berman said.
"So we think he has every incentive to try and flee the jurisdiction."
Mr 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 is now Mr Trump's labour secretary - Mr 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 has defended the agreement as appropriate, though the White House said in February that it was looking into his handling of the case.
The new charges were brought by the public corruption unit within the US attorney's office in New York. Mr Berman would not comment on why that was so, and cautioned against reading anything into it.
The deal, examined in detail in a series of stories in The Miami Herald, is being challenged in federal court in Florida. A federal judge ruled earlier this year that Mr Epstein's victims should have been consulted under the law about the agreement, and he is now weighing whether to invalidate it.
Federal prosecutors recently filed court papers in the Florida case contending Mr Epstein's deal, known as an NPA, must stand.
"The past cannot be undone; the government committed itself to the NPA, and the parties have not disputed that Epstein complied with its provisions," prosecutors wrote in the filing.
It was not immediately clear whether that case and the new charges involved the same victims, since nearly all have remained anonymous.
Mr Epstein's guilty plea involved only state crimes, while the current case involves federal law. As a result, his constitutional protection against double jeopardy does not apply.
According to court records in Florida, authorities say at least 40 underage girls were brought into Mr Epstein's Palm Beach mansion for what turned into sexual encounters after female fixers looked for suitable girls locally and in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.
- With wires