Geoffrey Berman 01
Prosecutors announce sex trafficking charges against multi-millionaire
02:58 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Two women who say they were sexually abused by multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein confronted him in Manhattan federal court Monday, arguing in the final moments of a two-hour hearing against granting him bail in a sex trafficking case because, as one put it, “he’s a scary person to have walking the streets.”

“I was 16 years old when I had the misfortune of meeting Jeffrey Epstein here in New York,” said Annie Farmer, her voice cracking, while Epstein stared at her just feet away, his gaze unwavering. “He was inappropriate with me.”

Her comments, along with those of another woman, Courtney Wild, capped a dramatic proceeding. Prosecutors disclosed that agents discovered a locked safe during a search of Epstein’s Manhattan home earlier this month, containing “piles of cash, dozens of diamonds” and a passport, now expired, that was issued by a foreign country, and displayed a photograph of Epstein with a name that isn’t his.

The passport listed his place of residence as Saudi Arabia, according to Assistant US Attorney Alex Rossmiller, a revelation that elicited an audible gasp from those in attendance in the courtroom.

US District Court Judge Richard Berman didn’t rule on bail, saying he would issue a decision Thursday.

Epstein, 66, is charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors related to alleged conduct that occurred between 2002 and 2005. He has pleaded not guilty.

He is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal detention center in lower Manhattan where, one of his attorneys said Monday, he is being kept in isolation.

Epstein is accused of running a sex-trafficking enterprise, in which he paid girls as young as 14 to have sex with him at his Upper East Side home and his estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Prosecutors say he used employees and associates to lure the girls to his residences, and then paid some of his victims to recruit other girls for him to abuse.

The case against Epstein appears to be escalating rapidly. Prosecutors said Monday that they learned last week about payments he made to possible witnesses late last year.

Even in the few days since his arrest, prosecutors said, they have heard from a number of individuals with allegations against him and have received other information that has enabled them to “dramatically expand the scope of our investigation.”

Defense and prosecution argue on bail

Jeffrey Epstein's attorneys have proposed he be held at his $77 million residence on the Upper East Side of Manhattan prior to his trial.

Epstein’s attorneys have asked the judge to allow their client to live at his Upper East Side mansion, one of the largest residences in Manhattan, pending trial.

His attorneys have also suggested related bail conditions, including having him pledge his home as collateral, ordering privately funded security at the residence and requiring a court-appointed, live-in trustee to monitor Epstein’s compliance with the proposed bail package.

Prosecutors have said they consider Epstein an “extreme” flight risk, citing his wealth, the gravity of the charges against him and his recent behavior, which they say included possible witness tampering through $350,000 in payments to two possible co-conspirators in the wake of a series of newspaper stories that alleged he sexually abused dozens of girls.

In court Monday, one of Epstein’s attorneys suggested the payments could have been “an act of generosity.”

The judge disclosed Monday that pretrial services had recommended Epstein’s detention, and prosecutors told the court that Epstein should not be allowed “special treatment to build his own jail” outfitted with security cameras and armed guards.

“A person who needs those conditions should be detained,” Rossmiller told the judge.

As the judge pointed out, the sex trafficking charge against Epstein carries the presumption that no combination of bail conditions could guarantee the defendant’s appearance in court or protect the public.

Monday’s hearing also shed slightly more light on Epstein’s finances. Prosecutors had said in filings that he is worth more than $500 million, and in court they disclosed that his bank records show just one of his accounts contains more than $110 million. They also said his Manhattan property, which has been valued as high as $77 million in court documents, contained diamonds and art “in abundance.”

Epstein’s attorneys, however, contended that his detention would impede his ability to mount a robust defense by restricting his access to his legal team.

And as they have repeatedly in the week since his arrest on July 6, they argued that a lenient plea deal he struck in Florida in 2007 that allowed him to avoid federal prosecution and instead plead guilty in 2008 to lesser state prostitution charges should apply in New York because it was made in consultation with senior officials at the Justice Department.

Asked by the judge for the names of the senior officials involved, Epstein attorney Martin Weinberg named several top-level DOJ employees, including Alice Fisher, who was the head of the criminal division at the time, and Mark Filip, who became deputy attorney general in 2008.

Weinberg suggested the officials had “endorsed the exercise of prosecutorial discretion that was at the heart of the” nonprosecution agreement.

But court filings in a related civil case show that DOJ weighed in only on the question of whether the case was valid for federal prosecution. Through a spokeswoman, Fisher on Monday described Epstein’s lawyers’ comments as a “mischaracterization.”

A person familiar with the DOJ discussions at the time said the suggestion of approval by the deputy attorney general’s office is “factually and legally mistaken.”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have disputed that Epstein’s agreement applies outside the Florida district, with Rossmiller pointing out Monday that there is a process for crafting a nonprosecution agreement to apply beyond the bounds of a single district, “and what they’re describing ain’t it.”

Weinberg also told the judge that what he described as Epstein’s observance of the restrictions placed on him by his sex offender registration, which he was required to make as a result of the Florida state plea, demonstrates that he has behaved himself in recent years.

“It’s not like he’s an out-of-control rapist,” Weinberg said.

“The question is: How do you know that?” the judge replied. Weinberg responded that “if he was unable to control his conduct, given the level of publicity, we’d know it.”

The judge, however, appeared skeptical, noting that it’s difficult to know whether a sex offender has relapsed because victims of sex crimes often don’t come forward.

And prosecutors seized on Weinberg’s comments.

“The defendant is asking the court to risk the safety of the community on the self-discipline of a man they appear to concede has a preference for underaged girls,” Rossmiller told the judge.

“This idea that he has disciplined himself is a concession that the defendant has a problem,” he said, “that he has an appetite for children.”