Billionaire financier Epstein due in court over sex charges

Wealthy financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is due in court after his arrest in New York on new underage sex-trafficking charges involving allegations that date to the early 2000s, according to law enforcement officials.

Epstein, a wealthy hedge fund manager who once counted as friends President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Great Britain’s Prince Andrew, was taken into federal custody Saturday and was expected to appear Monday in Manhattan federal court, three law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.

One of the officials said Epstein is accused of paying underage girls for massages and molesting them at his homes in Florida and New York. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the pending case.

A message was sent to Epstein’s defense attorney seeking comment. Epstein is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.

Epstein’s arrest, first reported by The Daily Beast, comes amid renewed scrutiny of a once-secret plea deal that ended a federal investigation against him in Florida.

That deal, which is being challenged in Florida federal court, allowed Epstein, who is now 66, to plead guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution.

Averting a possible life sentence, Epstein was instead sentenced to 13 months in jail. The deal also required he reach financial settlements with dozens of his once-teenage victims and register as a sex offender.

Epstein’s deal was overseen by former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, who is now Trump’s labor secretary. Acosta has defended the plea deal as appropriate under the circumstances, though the White House said in February that it was “looking into” his handling of the deal.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra in Florida ruled earlier this year that Epstein’s victims should have been consulted under federal law about the deal. Marra is now weighing whether to invalidate the nonprosecution agreement that protected Epstein from federal charges.

It was not immediately clear whether the cases involved the same victims because nearly all have remained anonymous.

Epstein “intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18,” prosecutors said. He also allegedly paid some of his victims to recruit additional girls.

“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach,” prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of New York said that the nonprosecution agreement that spared Epstein from a heavy prison sentence on similar allegations a decade ago is binding only on federal prosecutors in Florida, where the deal was made, not on authorities in New York.

“While the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims — now young women,” Berman said. “They deserve their day in court. We are proud to be standing up for them by bringing this indictment.”

The federal prosecutor urged other possible victims to contact the FBI.

In court papers, federal authorities said a search of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion after his arrest turned up a “vast trove of lewd photographs of young-looking women or girls,” consisting of hundreds, perhaps thousands of pictures.

Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of Epstein’s mansion, a seven-story, 21,000-square-foot townhouse less than a block from Central Park. The home, formerly a prep school, is across the street from a home owned by Bill Cosby and has been valued at approximately $77 million.

Epstein’s lawyer did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in the Florida case recently filed court papers contending Epstein’s nonprosecution agreement, or NPA, must stand.

“The past cannot be undone; the government committed itself to the NPA, and the parties have not disputed that Epstein complied with its provisions,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.

They acknowledged, however, that the failure to consult victims “fell short of the government’s dedication to serve victims to the best of its ability” and that prosecutors “should have communicated with the victims in a straightforward and transparent way.”

The victims in the Florida case have until Monday to respond to the Justice Department’s filing.

According to court records in Florida, authorities say at least 40 underage girls were brought into Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion for what turned into sexual encounters after female fixers looked for suitable girls locally and in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.

Some girls were also allegedly brought to Epstein’s homes in New York City, New Mexico and a private Caribbean island, according to court documents.

Saturday’s arrest also came just days after a federal appeals court in New York ordered the unsealing of nearly 2,000 pages of records in a since-settled defamation case involving Epstein.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse released a statement Saturday calling for Epstein to be held without bail pending trial.

“This monster received a pathetically soft sentence last time and his victims deserve nothing less than justice,” Sasse, R-Nebraska, said in the statement. “Justice doesn’t depend on the size of your bank account.”

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