When Jeffrey Epstein first appeared in Manhattan federal court to face sex trafficking charges last month, gone were the trappings of a high-flying financier who had once counted the rich and powerful as his associates and for whom the whole world seemed a fantasy playground.
Epstein, whose navy blue jail scrubs and mussed-up hair gave him an air of fatigued dishevelment, pleaded not guilty to allegations that he “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls” between 2002 and 2005 at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida.
What came next was an unexpected twist for Epstein, who for years had been able to live freely despite the multitude of sex abuse allegations: his vast wealth couldn’t help him.
Epstein had offered to put up about $100m for bail. He requested house arrest, secured by armed guards he would pay for. The judge didn’t buy his argument.
“The government has established danger to others and to the community by clear and convincing evidence,” Manhattan federal court judge Richard Berman said. “I doubt that any bail package can overcome a danger to the community.”
Details about Epstein’s mysterious life will nevertheless remain important in the coming weeks, as a tranche of newly unsealed documents provided lurid details about his alleged abuse of young girls.
It was a journey that began in an unassuming corner of New York.
Epstein grew up in a gated community in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Coney Island. His parents were both children of immigrants. His dad picked up trash and his mother was a school aide. In high school, Epstein joined the math team. He wound up attending Cooper Union and New York University, but didn’t get a degree. Somehow, Epstein managed to land a teaching gig at the renown Dalton high school sans diploma. It was the mid-1970s. His flashiness raised eyebrows.
“Students at one of New York’s most esteemed prep schools were surprised to encounter a new teacher who pushed the limits on the school’s strict dress code, wandering the halls in a fur coat, gold chains and an open shirt that exposed his chest,” the New York Times reported.
More importantly, there were signs Epstein’s interactions with teenage girls were off. Eight former students told the Times that “his conduct with teenage girls had left an impression that had lingered for decades”. Epstein once showed up to a party where students were drinking alcohol, one former student recalled. “Most remembered his persistent attention on the girls in hallways and classrooms,” according to the newspaper.
None of the female former students interviewed by the Times recalled Epstein touching them without consent, and he was not accused of sexual misconduct in relation to his time at Dalton. One student was so uncomfortable, however, that they notified a school official.
While Epstein was reportedly dismissed for “poor performance”, he leveraged his Dalton connections for work on Wall Street. He quickly moved up the ranks of the now defunct investment bank Bear Stearns. The rise of options trading required a deep understanding of math, according to reports.
“For Epstein, breaking down such models was pure sport, and within just a few years he had his own stable of clients,” according to a 2002 New York magazine profile of Epstein. He amassed enough wealth to hire a limo and chauffeur.
Epstein opened his own firm in 1982. He would handle clients whose fortunes totaled $1bn or more. Among his clients was Leslie Wexner, who founded the Ohio-based Limited clothing stories.
Other high-profile men started to enter Epstein’s circle.
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Donald Trump said in an interview for the 2002 New York profile. “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.”
Bill Clinton traveled with Epstein in the moneyman’s private plane during a tour of Africa – with actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker.
“Jeffrey is both a highly successful financier and a committed philanthropist with a keen sense of global markets and an in-depth knowledge of 21st-century science,” a spokesman for the former president told New York. “I especially appreciated his insights and generosity during the recent trip to Africa to work on democratization, empowering the poor, citizen service and combating HIV/Aids.”
Epstein was also romantically linked to Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and daughter of deceased media mogul Robert Maxwell.
Allegations about Epstein behaving sexually inappropriately with minor girls started surfacing in 2005. While the accusations involved about 40 teenage girls, then Miami US attorney Alex Acosta agreed to a plea deal with Epstein in 2007.
Epstein pleaded guilty to state prostitution charges rather than more serious federal crimes. He served 13 months in jail and was required to register as a sex offender.
Civil litigation surrounding these allegations painted Maxwell as Epstein’s recruiter – a claim which she has staunchly denied. One of Epstein’s accusers claims that he coerced her into sexual relations with Prince Andrew – a claim which Buckingham palace has emphatically denied.
Despite this, Epstein continued on with his jet set life, traveling in private planes between his New York, South Florida, New Mexico, US Virgin Islands and Paris homes. Those properties were spectacular. His New Mexico ranch was a lavish complex, isolated out in the wilderness. His private island was luxuriously outfitted and the subject of much local gossip and speculation. And it was in these surroundings that he continued to live his life, despite his conviction for sex crimes.
It was Julie K Brown’s 2018 Miami Herald exposé that once again propelled allegations against Epstein into the public discourse.
Less than one year later, the Manhattan US attorney’s office indicted Epstein, claiming that he “enticed and recruited, and caused to be enticed and recruited, minor girls” to “engage in sex acts with him, after which he would give the victims hundreds of dollars in cash”.
“In order to maintain and increase his supply of victims,” prosecutors alleged, he also paid some to lure others. “This way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit,” prosecutors said.
Epstein’s alleged victims were lured under the guise of giving him massages which “would be performed nude or partially nude” and turn “increasingly sexual in nature, and would typically include one or more sex acts”.
Clinton and Trump distanced themselves from Epstein.
Following Epstein’s arrest, more details about his mysterious life emerged. He had an Austrian passport with his photo but a different name. Authorities found diamonds and cash when they searched his Manhattan home.
But things got even more bizarre. A shocking Times report claimed that Epstein wanted “to seed the human race with his DNA by impregnating women at his vast New Mexico ranch”. Epstein also wanted his head and penis to be frozen after his death, seemingly due to his interest in a sketchy science that aimed to revive frozen bodies in the future, the article said.
While Epstein’s life has come to an end, his legacy will live on – not characterized not by the privileged persona he worked so hard to cultivate, but by years of alleged abuse against vulnerable girls.
But now Epstein will not have to answer for his crimes, the full extent of which may never be known. Epstein cannot be questioned anymore.
For his victims that is a tragedy.
Jennifer Araoz, who accused Epstein of raping her when she was 15, probably spoke for many when she issued a statement laying bare her own burden: “We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed, the pain and trauma he caused so many people. Epstein is gone, but justice must still be served.”