Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein accused of paying girls as young as 14 for sex

NEW YORK  — Federal prosecutors in New York unsealed a criminal indictment Monday charging billionaire Jeffrey Epstein with having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, allegations that have circulated around the politically connected businessman for years.

According to the indictment, between 2002 and 2005, Epstein ran a trafficking enterprise in which he paid hundreds of dollars in cash to girls as young as 14 to have sex with him at his Upper East Side home and his estate in Palm Beach, worked with employees and associates who would lure the girls to his residences and paid some of his victims to recruit other girls for him to abuse.

“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit, often on a daily basis,” the US Attorney’s office said in a press release.

Epstein, 66, was arrested Saturday and is expected to appear in Manhattan federal court on Monday. He is charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.

The hedge fund manager previously evaded similar charges when he secured a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors in Miami. Instead of facing federal charges, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges in 2008 and served just 13 months in prison. He also registered as a sex offender and paid restitution to the victims identified by the FBI.

That arrangement has since come under intense public scrutiny as the result of a Miami Herald investigation that examined how it was handled by then-US Attorney Alexander Acosta, who now serves as labor secretary in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. In February, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the Department of Justice broke the law by failing to confer with Epstein’s victims.

The court document unsealed Monday describes a predatory pattern in which girls were taken to a room in Epstein’s New York mansion, where they were instructed to give him a massage, during which he would during which he would escalate his physical contact with his alleged victims — at times groping and fondling their genitals.

Epstein or his associates would pay each girl a sum in cash, and if a girl lured others to Epstein’s residences, he would pay both the “victim-recruiter” and the new girl hundreds of dollars, according to the indictment.

The case against him is being prosecuted by the public corruption unit of the Manhattan US Attorney’s office, which typically handles cases involving public funds or government officials.

CNN has reached out to Epstein’s lawyer.

Connections to high-powered figures

Acosta defended his handling of the Epstein case during his confirmation hearing in March 2017.

“At the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within a prosecutor’s office decide that a plea — that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes — is a good thing,” he said.

The Herald report also noted Epstein’s close connections to powerful figures, including Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.

“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump told New York magazine in 2002. “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.”

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

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