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Age of victim in prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein, long a source of confusion, eased his obligations to register as a sex offender

Jeffrey Epstein in custody in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2008. (Uma Sanghvi/AP)

A federal investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein had flagged scores of potential underage victims, including the 14-year-old girl who first alerted police. But when he pleaded guilty in state court in 2008, the only minor Epstein was convicted of soliciting was 16 years old at the time the offenses began, according to information obtained by The Washington Post.

The younger girl who initially notified police has long believed that hers was the case referenced in the guilty plea, her attorney said. Some media accounts said as much. Publicly available charging documents contained no name or age, however. Pressed to resolve the ambiguity, state prosecutors in Florida recently provided The Post with the victim’s date of birth.

The decision to charge Epstein with a crime involving an older teen — part of a plea deal that has already been criticized as overly lenient — has eased his obligations to register as a sex offender. In New Mexico, for instance, where Epstein has a 7,600-acre property called Zorro Ranch, he is not required to register because his victim was not under 16, state officials said.

The case has faced growing scrutiny since last month, when a federal judge ruled that the prosecution team led by then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now President Trump’s labor secretary, violated the rights of alleged victims by failing to notify them of an agreement not to bring federal charges. Some House Democrats are calling for the resignation of Acosta, whose department oversees investigations into sex trafficking and workplace abuses.

Attorneys for the alleged victims are seeking to void the non-prosecution agreement, which ended the federal probe and granted immunity to any potential co-conspirators.

“They were cutting a plea deal. It wasn’t a prosecution,” said attorney Spencer Kuvin, who represented the 14-year-old girl who alerted police, referencing the number of victims court records say federal prosecutors identified. “They had a grab bag of 40 girls to choose from.”

He and his client believed she was the victim in the state case in part because of her role in reporting Epstein. Upon learning that she was not, Kuvin said: “It’s unbelievably upsetting. The rug has been swiped out from under the one girl who was brave enough to come forward and break this thing.”

Epstein, now 66, was charged with soliciting a minor between Aug. 1, 2004, and Oct. 9, 2005, according to court documents. Based on the birth date provided by the state attorney’s office, this victim would have been 16 when the solicitation began and on the eve of her 18th birthday — the age of consent in Florida — when it ended.

The state and federal prosecutors’ offices in Florida that were involved in Epstein’s case declined to comment on why the older victim was selected. Through a spokeswoman, Acosta also declined to comment on that issue, as did an attorney for Epstein.

In some states, the age of consent is a factor in deciding whether a sex offender convicted out of state is required to register. The age of consent is 16 years old in more than half of the states, according to surveys and government reports, potentially allowing Epstein to own homes in many of those places without having to register.

“Society in general is much more punitive and harsh if the victim was 14 versus 17,” said attorney Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, who was not involved in the Epstein case but belongs to a New York City Bar Association group studying the registration law. “The collateral consequences, including registration, are much more serious with a younger victim.”

An investigation by the Miami Herald late last year reported that 80 girls and women say they were victimized by Epstein, citing civil lawsuits, interviews and other records. Epstein served 13 months in jail on two felony solicitation charges. One involved a minor, and the other makes no reference to a specific victim, according to charging documents.

In a letter to the editor published this month by the New York Times, several of Epstein’s attorneys wrote that “the number of young women involved in the investigation has been vastly exaggerated.”

At his Senate confirmation hearing in March 2017, Acosta said state prosecutors had considered a lesser charge that could have resulted in “zero jail time, zero registration as a sexual offender and zero restitution for the victims in this case.” He said an agreement that “guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes is a good thing.”

During the plea negotiations, the lead prosecutor under Acosta, Marie Villafana, accused Epstein’s defense team of trying to “ ‘fool’ our office into letting Mr. Epstein plead to a non-registerable offense,” according to a letter by Villafana published by the Daily Beast in 2011.

Sex-offender registration is designed to keep perpetrators on a tight leash. In many states, sex offenders cannot live near schools or playgrounds. Their addresses and license plates appear on public websites, alerting potential employers and landlords. Victims may use the registries to determine where their attacker lives.

A review of records in Epstein’s case shows the difficulty of tracking a sex offender who owns private planes and homes in New York, Paris, Florida, New Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Epstein, who made his fortune as a money manager, appears to travel frequently between his homes and to other locations. A plane-tracking database shows his Gulfstream jet in five states; the Virgin Islands; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Paris between August 2018 and January 2019, though The Post could not confirm his presence on the flights.

Following inquiries from The Post, Epstein’s “permanent” residence as listed on Florida’s online registry has changed three times in recent weeks: from the Virgin Islands to New York City on March 7, to Palm Beach on Tuesday and back to the Virgin Islands on Friday. Updates to residential information in the database are based on reports from offenders, officials said. 

Epstein has met the registration requirements in Florida and in the Virgin Islands, authorities said. In the Virgin Islands, where he is classified as a low-risk offender, and in Florida, his reporting requirements are far less stringent than they are for many other sex offenders, authorities said.

Epstein attorney Martin G. Weinberg declined to comment on the information provided to sex offender registries. He said that his client “has fully complied with all applicable registration obligations under federal and local law, and will continue to do so.” He added: “Mr. Epstein accepted responsibility, served his sentence, made significant monetary settlements, and fully met his legal obligations under these agreements.’’ 

The New York registry lists Epstein’s primary residence as the Virgin Islands, records show. In the Virgin Islands, he owns a small private island called Little St. James, which he lists as his residence. In Paris, where Epstein owns a home near the Arc de Triomphe, the sex-offender registry is not public.

The New York registry’s website shows that Epstein has heeded the rule to submit photos annually. Information about whether he is complying with other requirements in New York is not public, an official said. 

In New York, where he owns a 19,000-square-foot mansion in Manhattan, Epstein’s attorneys went to court in 2011 to challenge a state board’s decision to classify him as posing the highest level of risk, on a scale of 1 to 3. Asked by the judge about the victim’s age, attorney Sandra Musumeci said the Florida victim and Epstein met when she was 16 or 17. The age of consent in New York is 17.

“She gave him approximately 15 massages, including with sexual contact, and ultimately when she is 17 had intercourse with him,” she said, according to a transcript of the Jan. 18, 2011, hearing. Media coverage of the hearing made little or no mention of the victim’s age.

“She is a child,” said Supreme Court Judge Ruth Pickholz, adding, “He procured her at 16.”

At the 2011 hearing, Musumeci also argued that Epstein primarily lives in the Virgin Islands and maintains only a vacation home in New York City. “To require Mr. Epstein to register as a Level Three offender in New York would actually require him to come to New York more than he does normally, it would require him to come every 90 days and renew his registration,” she said.

Pickholz, again, was unmoved. 

“I am sorry he may have to come here every 90 days” she said. “He can give up his New York home if he does not want to come every 90 days.”

New York City police see his obligations differently. Epstein does not have to check in every 90 days because he’s claimed the Virgin Islands as his primary residence, said detective Sophia Mason, a police spokeswoman. She said the last time Epstein checked in was in 2010, before the hearing.

The judge stands by her interpretation of the law, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the New York courts. Musumeci did not respond to requests seeking comment.

In 2010, days after Epstein completed his probation under house arrest in Palm Beach, he notified Florida officials that he was heading to his ranch in Santa Fe County, records show. Authorities in Florida, in turn, alerted New Mexico officials, who sent Epstein a letter telling him that “you are a sex offender and that you meet the requirement to register in New Mexico.”

Two days after Epstein registered, state officials reversed course because in his case the law requires registration only if the victim is under the age of 16.

“You are not required to register with the State of New Mexico at this time,” they wrote.