NEW YORK (CBSMiami/CNN) — Wealthy South Florida financier Jeffrey Epstein pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon to sex trafficking charges in his first court appearance in New York City.
Epstein, whose friends have included presidents and a prince, appeared before a judge Monday afternoon after being accused of sex trafficking and molesting underage girls.
The billionaire faces charges of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, including creating and maintaining a network and operation enabling him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls, and paying victims to recruit other underage girls.
The allegations date back to the early 2000s.
The court case comes 11 years after Epstein was let off lightly with a once-secret plea deal in an underage prostitution case.
Epstein will remain in jail until his bail hearing Thursday.
Earlier in the day, federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal indictment charging Epstein with having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls.
“Beginning in at least 2002 and continuing until 2005, Epstein is alleged to have abused dozens of girls by causing them to engage sex acts with him at his mansion in New York and estate in Palm Beach, Florida,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman at a Monday morning news conference.
The indictment states during that time, 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.
“The alleged behavior 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,” said Berman.
“If you believe you are a victim of this man, Jeffrey Epstein, or if you have evidence or information relating to the conduct alleged in the indictment today, we want to hear from you,” said Berman.
The number to call is 1-800-CALL-FBI.
Epstein, 66, was arrested Saturday aboard his private jet at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and is scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court on Monday.
Berman says his office is asking for Epstein to be held without bail.
“We are going to request detention [of Jeffrey Epstein] pending the trial in this case,” Berman explained. “We think [Epstein] is a significant flight risk & that’s why we are seeking detention pending trial. He has enormous wealth. We think he has every incentive to try to flee the jurisdiction. When you have two planes and you live much of the year abroad, we think that’s a real risk.”
The hedge fund manager previously evaded similar charges when he secured a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors in Miami. Instead of facing federal charges, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges in 2008 and served just 13 months in prison. He also registered as a sex offender and paid restitution to the victims identified by the FBI.
That arrangement has since come under intense public scrutiny as the result of a Miami Herald investigation that examined how it was handled by then-US Attorney Alexander Acosta, who now serves as labor secretary in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. In February, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the Department of Justice broke the law by failing to confer with Epstein’s victims.
The court document unsealed Monday describes a predatory pattern in which girls were taken to a room in Epstein’s New York mansion, where they were instructed to give him a massage, during which he would escalate his physical contact with his alleged victims — at times groping and fondling their genitals.
Epstein or his associates would pay each girl a sum in cash, and if a girl lured others to Epstein’s residences, he would pay both the “victim-recruiter” and the new girl hundreds of dollars, according to the indictment.
The case against him is being prosecuted by the public corruption unit of the Manhattan US Attorney’s office, which typically handles cases involving public funds or government officials.
Connections to high-powered figures
Acosta defended his handling of the Epstein case during his confirmation hearing in March 2017.
“At the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within a prosecutor’s office decide that a plea — that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes — is a good thing,” he said.
The Herald report also noted Epstein’s close connections to powerful figures, including Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump told New York magazine in 2002. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
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