Here’s what we know about the wealthy investor and his political ties that run all the way up to the Clintons and Donald Trump.
Who is Jeffrey Epstein?
Epstein, 66, began his career as an investor at the now-failed investment bank Bear Sterns. He launched his own money management firm in the early 1980s and rapidly ascended professionally.
With his Wall Street clout established, Epstein became a player in politics. Between 1994 and 2004, Epstein donated $145,000 to Democratic federal candidates, including President Bill Clinton, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. More recently, he has given to the congressional delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Stacey Plaskett. But campaign contributions from Epstein to Democratic members of Congress stopped in 2004, around the same time he was criminally investigated in Florida for sex crimes.
Before the allegations of sexual abuse came to light, Epstein’s Rolodex included celebrities, politicians and academics, including high-profile personalities ranging from president Bill Clinton and Donald Trump to Kevin Spacey and Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, many of whom flew on his private jet, vacationed at his Caribbean island and frequented his lavish mansions in New York City and Palm Beach.
How is President Trump involved?
Several key players in Epstein’s web link back to President Trump, including one of Epstein’s alleged victims and Epstein himself.
According to court filings, Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts first met the wealthy money manager while working at Trump’s resort, Mar-a-Lago, in the summer of 2000.
Epstein has been associated and photographed with the president, too; their relationship dates back at least 15 years.
Trump called the Miami financier a “terrific guy” in a profile published in 2002 by New York magazine.
“Epstein likes to tell people that he’s a loner, a man who’s never touched alcohol or drugs, and one whose nightlife is far from energetic. And yet if you talk to Donald Trump, a different Epstein emerges,” the magazine described before quoting Trump: “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.”
And it was Alexander Acosta — then the U.S. attorney overseeing South Florida and now Trump’s secretary of labor — who signed off on the Epstein plea deal in 2008.
The non-prosecution agreement, which has been criticized as overly lenient, resolved the prosecution with requiring Epstein to register as a sex offender and granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators.”
Acosta’s role in the deal was further highlighted by a Miami Herald investigation last year, which led the Justice Department to explore whether the federal prosecutors involved committed professional misconduct.
A history of allegations
The claims against Epstein date back to 2001, when he allegedly lured underage girls to his Florida mansion routinely and sexually abused them. Epstein enticed the minors — some as young as 14, according to court documents — under the guise of giving him massages for several hundred dollars.
Local police would gather extensive evidence that Epstein subjected dozens of girls to abuse — masturbating during the massage, sometimes asking the girls to touch him as he did, or touching them himself. Epstein allegedly created a network of underage girls by paying his victims to recruit new ones.
In 2005, one woman reported her abuse. The tip led to an outpouring from girls who had similar stories. The Epstein investigation culminated in 2007, with a 53-page indictment brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Epstein was facing life in prison until he entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the federal prosecutor’s office that year. In June 2008, a month after the Justice Department decided Epstein could be federally prosecuted, he pleaded guilty to felony state charges of soliciting underage girls in satisfaction of the whole indictment. The agreed upon sentence was 13 months in a Palm Beach County jail.
Epstein was released in July 2009.
Federal law requires prosecutors to inform crime victims about significant developments in their cases. Epstein’s victims, however, were not informed of the plea until it had been approved by the judge.
In February, a judge ruled that prosecutors, including Acosta, broke the law by failing to tell Epstein’s victims about the non-prosecution deal. The Justice Department also opened a review of Acosta’s conduct.
Epstein’s new charges
Epstein was arrested Saturday on new charges of sex trafficking minors. If convicted, he faces up to 45 years in prison.
The new charges allege that, between 2002 and 2005, the financier recruited underage girls for massages at his New York and Palm Beach homes that were performed nude or partially nude and became “increasingly sexual in nature and would typically include one or more sexual acts,” according to the indictment unsealed on Monday.
The new case charged Epstein for intentionally seeking out minors, some as young as 14, and maintaining “a steady supply of new victims to exploit” by paying past victims to recruit new girls to give massages.
Epstein had avoided a lengthy prison sentence and, despite allegations he had sexually abused dozens of underage girls, never faced federal exposure.
If convicted on the new two-count indictment, he could spend 45 years in prison, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a news conference. The charges also create the possibility for prosecutors to explore other players in the Epstein sex crime saga, if any, and the extent of their involvement.
Anu Narayanswamy and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.