Jeffrey Epstein's death: the end of the scandal?

Henry McDonald
Photograph: Jane Rosenburg/Reuters

How did Jeffrey Epstein fall from well-connected financier to disgraced sex offender?

Epstein, 66, grew up in Coney Island in Brooklyn and initially worked as a teacher for private schools in Manhattan, before starting a career in Wall Street. There is some mystery around exactly how he made his money but he became wealthy after forming his own company J Epstein&Co and linking up with powerful businessmen including Leslie Wexner, the founder of the company that owns the Victoria’s Secret lingerie brand.

Epstein befriended prominent figures in entertainment, politics, business and economics, but his jetset lifestyle started to unravel in 2005 when police in Palm Beach, Florida began investigating when a parent complained that he molested her 14-year-old daughter. The girl was allegedly paid to strip and massage Epstein at his Palm Beach mansion.

Related: Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theories run riot, with Trump’s help

Lawyers for Epstein brokered a much-criticised plea deal in Florida in 2008 that closed a federal inquiry involving at least 40 girls under 18 years of age. Under this arrangement, Epstein registered as a sex offender and pleaded guilty to state charges, which presented far less potential jail time than if he had faced federal charges.

Then, following a bombshell investigation published in November 2018 by the Miami Herald, Epstein was arrested last month and charged with sex trafficking. He pleaded not guilty and was preparing for trial when he died in prison on Saturday.

What were the charges levelled against him at the time of his death?

Epstein faced up to 45 years in prison on US federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. Court documents allege that Epstein recruited dozens of victims, some of whom he trained to recruit others, in an alleged arrangement lasting at least five years in the early 2000s. Some victims have alleged that Epstein or his associates assigned them for abuse by other men.

Epstein had pleaded not guilty to those charges and was awaiting trial next year. A judge denied a bail offer involving Epstein’s jet and real estate valued at tens of millions of dollars, ruling that Epstein was a “danger to others and the community”. He was held on remand at the Manhattan correctional centre in New York.

Who were his rich and powerful friends?

Epstein travelled to Africa with Bill Clinton on his private jet, became a friend of Donald Trump who once described Epstein as a “terrific guy”, hosted the Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz on his private island and socialised with Prince Andrew.

How have former friends reacted to the charges against Epstein?

Clinton has denied any impropriety in his dealings with Epstein, while Trump has said he distanced himself from Epstein in the early 2000s, a claim backed by contemporary accounts. Dershowitz has likewise denied wrongdoing. Another associate of Epstein, the former US senator George Mitchell, who brokered the Good Friday agreement, denied knowledge of Epstein’s alleged crimes.

Court papers unsealed this week in a 2015 defamation claim in the US by Virginia Giuffre against Ghislaine Maxwell, that was settled in 2017, have quoted one of Epstein’s accusers who alleges that he had ordered her to give Prince Andrew “whatever he required” and that the prince touched the breast of a young woman at Epstein’s mansion. Buckingham Palace has consistently denied he behaved inappropriately with any underage girls. A number of Epstein’s circle have since sought to distance themselves from their old friend. After Epstein’s arrest on sex trafficking charges, Trump said he was “not a fan of his”.

Is Epstein’s death the end of the case?

While Epstein’s death has derailed the case against him personally, three new investigations had been launched within 24 hours, by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the inspector general’s office of the justice department and the New York medical examiner.

Alleged victims called for investigations of alleged criminal activity by Epstein and associates to be carried forward. “Epstein is gone, but justice must still be served,” said Jennifer Araoz, who accused Epstein of raping her when she was 15. “I hope the authorities will pursue and prosecute his accomplices and enablers, and ensure redress for his victims.”

Jack Scarola, an attorney representing several of Epstein’s alleged victims, said: “While I’m sure none of the victims regret his death, all of them regret the information that died with him. The one expectation is that Epstein’s death not derail the investigation into the named and unnamed co-conspirators who still need to be brought to justice.”