Financier Jeffrey Epstein charged with federal sex trafficking crimes involving minors

Federal prosecutors on Monday unsealed new sex trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein, alleging the politically connected multimillionaire abused dozens of female minors at his Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, homes and enlisted his victims to expand a network of possible targets.

Epstein — who was arrested over the weekend and is expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan — had previously pleaded guilty to Florida state charges of soliciting prostitution to resolve allegations he molested dozens of girls. That arrangement has been widely criticized as too lenient. As part of the deal, he had to spend just more than a year in jail and was allowed to leave daily for work, and he never faced any federal exposure.

The new charges, described in a 14-page indictment brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, could lead to a much harsher penalty. Epstein is charged in a two-count indictment with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy, for crimes alleged to have occurred between 2002 and 2005. Each charge carries a penalty of no less than 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said prosecutors will seek to have Epstein detained pending trial, though they will likely encounter resistance from Epstein's legal team. The Justice Department is also seeking to seize Epstein's mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where some of the alleged crimes occurred.

The U.S. attorney's office said in a news release that Epstein created "a network and operation enabling him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls," and that he paid victims to recruit other underage girls. The indictment alleges his victims were as young as 14 years old.

Epstein, according to the indictment, recruited the girls to perform "massages," which would become "increasingly sexual in nature." He then paid the victims hundreds of dollars in cash for each encounter, according to the indictment.

The indictment also alleges that Epstein "actively encouraged certain of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly sexually abused," and that he "incentivized his victims to become recruiters by paying these victim-recruiters hundreds of dollars for each girl they brought to Epstein." Prosecutors alleged Epstein was trying to ensure he had a "steady stream of minor victims."

The indictment alleges Epstein knew the girls were under the age of 18 because, in some instances, they told him as much.

Epstein, now 66, is a financier who once counted among his friends President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton. His alleged victims have long claimed the criminal justice system treated him differently because of his wealth and political connections, and his treatment has come under significant media and legal scrutiny.

Epstein's alleged victims have sued in civil court. And The Washington Post and the Miami Herald, for example, have detailed in investigative reports how then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now Trump's labor secretary, shelved a 53-page federal indictment that could have put Epstein behind bars for life in favor of the deal that allowed him to plead guilty only to state charges. Acosta has defended the arrangement as guaranteeing that Epstein would go to jail.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility revealed earlier this year that it was probing whether the attorneys handling the case committed "professional misconduct."

In the new case, Epstein seems to be encountering a far more aggressive Justice Department. He was taken into custody over the weekend and jailed pending his court appearance Monday. Federal prison records show he was housed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. The federal detention center has a fearsome reputation; one inmate who spent time there and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba said the military detention facility was "more pleasant."

Prosecutors described in graphic detail Epstein's alleged crimes, explaining in the indictment how girls as young as 14 would arrive to one of his homes, be escorted to a room with a massage table and then be instructed to partially or fully undress. Epstein, the indictment alleges, would grope the girls and perform other sex acts.

Epstein sometimes scheduled meetings himself, but often he "directed employees and associates . . . to arrange for these victims to return to the New York Residence for additional sexual encounters with Epstein," according to the indictment, which says three employees, identified only as Employee-1, Employee-2, and Employee-3, helped arrange the encounters.

When Epstein flew from New York to Florida, an employee or associate would "ensure that minor victims were available for encounters upon his arrival," the indictment alleges.

It was not immediately clear whether any of those employees will face criminal charges over their alleged conduct, because Epstein's previous plea deal struck with federal prosecutors in Florida said his co-conspirators would not be charged in that case. The New York indictment references Epstein's conduct in Florida that was the basis of that earlier plea, but the new indictment appears to hinge principally on his alleged victims in New York.

Prosecutors could run into challenges if the new charges overlap with the conduct that was covered by Epstein's guilty plea, though a person familiar with the case said officials were not particularly concerned about that. While the indictment alleges Epstein abused dozens of girls, it describes the specific ordeals of three women who it says Epstein repeatedly abused over years.

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., who confronted Acosta about his role in the plea deal during a congressional hearing, said: "For too long, Jeffrey Epstein has walked free and avoided the consequences of his crime. There are still many questions to be answered. With that said, this indictment is a positive step toward putting this sexual predator away and giving justice to the survivors."

The Washington Post’s Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report.