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With plenty of help and seemingly little secrecy, well-connected financier Jeffrey Epstein allegedly recruited and sexually abused dozens of underage girls — some as young as 14. The elaborate human trafficking ring spanned his palatial mansions in Palm Beach, Florida, and Manhattan from at least 2002 and 2005.
But the 66-year-old didn’t face federal charges until this weekend, when he was arrested at a New Jersey airport and sent to a Manhattan jail on charges of sex trafficking minors and conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty to those charges Monday.
Federal prosecutors alleged in an unsealed indictment that Epstein paid the girls to show up at his estates and give him “massages,” during which he’d make them undress and touch him while he masturbated or while molested them. Sometimes, he gave the girls hundreds of dollars in extra cash to bring him more underage victims.
All of this was coordinated with the help of his associates and employees, according to court documents. In many instances, his employees scheduled “appointments” with the girls and even ensured he’d have a victim waiting for him in Palm Beach when he stepped off his private jet.
“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach,” according to the indictment, unsealed Monday.
The court documents don’t name any co-conspirators. But last time Epstein faced sex abuse charges (and avoided hard time in a plea deal), he also relied on his employees to maintain a steady supply of underage girls, according to prior investigative reporting from the Miami Herald.
It’s not clear how much the allegations in the Miami Herald’s investigation and Monday’s indictment overlap, although some of the allegations — including the recruitment process — mirror those made by women more than a decade ago.
Step 1: Have powerful friends
In luring his victims years ago, Epstein worked closely with socialites and fashion moguls to provide him with young girls, the Herald reported in November. They would allegedly groom young women into sex trafficking by promising them careers in fashion. Many of the girls didn’t speak English or were poor and desperately needed the money.
One man ran an international modeling agency that allegedly supplied Epstein with underage victims, although he’s denied any involvement. Epstein supplied the girls with housing in New York and paid for their visas, a former bookkeeper for the modeling agency said in a sworn statement to investigators.
Step 2: Make employees complicit
One female staff assistant to Epstein would greet girls at the side door of his Palm Beach estate when they showed up for their “appointments,” according to the Herald. Sometimes, the girls would receive a meal from Epstein’s chef before ascending to his master bedroom. When the girls massaged him, a person Epstein described as his Yugoslavian sex slave would look on or have sex with the girls to please Epstein.
As the Herald reported, several people witnessed Epstein brazenly hanging out with and abusing teenage girls. His assistant scheduled the appointments; his butlers watched them come and go from his Palm Beach estate.
Step 3: Force victims to engage in their own abuse
After abusing the girls, Epstein would allegedly turn around and ask them to bring him more young victims in exchange for cash.
One of Epstein’s recruiters and victims met him when she was 14 years old in 2002, according to the Herald. She’d go on to bring him dozens of girls, many of them around her age, that she’d find a malls and house parties.
Several girls were roped into similar arrangements, according to the Herald, because Epstein would pay his victims hundreds of dollars to find him more girls. He’d offer to help their future careers or he’d give them generous gifts in manipulating them.
The so-called “sex pyramid scheme,” as described by the Miami Herald, toppled in March 2005 when a 14-year-old girl told her parents that Epstein molested her. Her parents went to the police, and police soon discovered dozens of victims. For those alleged crimes, Epstein made a plea agreement with federal prosecutors to evade serious charges.
He pleaded guilty to state prostitution charges and was sentenced to 13 months in jail. During that sentence, he received a generous work-release deal that allowed him to spend most of his time working at his office in Palm Beach. His co-conspirators — including the assistant that scheduled the “appointments” — were granted immunity in the deal.
Cover image: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)