The pathology described in Jeffrey Epstein's 14-page indictment is as much about money as it is about sex. Made public on Monday before the multimillionaire's New York courtroom appearance, the document tells the story of a 66-year-old sex offender who allegedly exploited dozens of girls younger than 18, and then used some of his fortune to compensate them. He has denied the charges.
Epstein made the girls massage him, then he paid them, the indictment alleges. He asked the girls to bring him new girls, then he paid both the recruiters and the new recruits. The children were as young as 14, according to the indictment, and he allegedly groped them, and masturbated in front of them, and used sex toys on them, and then he paid them on the spot. Cash. "Hundreds of dollars," the indictment reads, which must be an unfathomable sum to a 14-year-old, but which, to someone with Epstein's wealth, is the equivalent of a regular person molesting a child and then tossing her a shiny new dime.
The amount of money isn't the point, but if it were, can you imagine what a cheapskate you'd have to be, to come up with such a callous measurement of human dignity?
He paid his employees in both New York and Miami ("Employee-1," "Employee-2," "Employee-3") to schedule sexual encounters for him, the indictment alleges.
Eleven years ago — yes, the allegations of this behavior go back that far — he paid famous lawyers such as Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr to defend him. Back then, those attorneys worked with Alexander Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for southern Florida, now the U.S. secretary of labor, to arrange a secret deal. The deal allowed Epstein to plead to two counts of soliciting a minor for prostitution and serve just 13 months in the private wing of a county jail. It also permitted him to be released from this jail for 12 hours every day so he could go to work. (The new charges, brought forth this week, cover additional crimes.)
If Jeffrey Epstein didn't have such astronomical wealth, he might still have the same sexual tastes. But without the wealth, he wouldn't have had the funds to keep paying and paying and paying, in an alleged pyramid scheme set up to provide an endless supply of victims.
He paid for his own respectability. He lived in a Manhattan mansion worth an estimated $77 million. He gave Harvard University $30 million to found a mathematical biology and evolutionary dynamics program.
He had an address book full of famous friends with entries for everyone from Alec Baldwin to Prince Andrew. He repeatedly allowed Bill Clinton to use his private jet. He palled around with Donald Trump, who in 2002 called him a "terrific guy. 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."
The pathology illustrated in Epstein’s case is the pathology of the American courts — the judicial one, and the court of public opinion. It’s the implication that the wealthy deserve less punishment and more benefit of the doubt. It’s the same the pathology that last week caused a New Jersey judge to determine that a 16-year-old boy accused of assault could not be tried as an adult because he was from a “good family.” The boy had allegedly texted his friends documentation of the event, and written, “When your first time having sex was rape.”
When you’re wealthy, your predilections are merely quirks; your criminal activities are merely eccentricities. In 2007, around the time of his first arrest, writer Michael Wolff recalled that Epstein "has never been secretive about the girls. ... At one point, when his troubles began, he was talking to me and said, ‘What can I say, I like young girls.’ I said, ‘Maybe you should say, "I like young women.’ "
Epstein paid off his alleged indiscretions with the casual assurance of someone who's accustomed to money having a one-to-one ratio with morality. He might have been bankrupt in the latter department, but in the former, he never ran out.
On Monday morning, before Epstein walked into the courtroom wearing navy blue prison garb, law enforcement officials held a news conference and publicly encouraged other victims to come forward. "We want to hear from you," said the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
A few hours later, the office said they'd already been contacted by new individuals who said they had been abused by Epstein.
Maybe he’ll pay now. Maybe he’ll finally pay.
Monica Hesse is a columnist for The Washington Post’s Style section and author of “American Fire.”