The precise nature of the charges — and how they differ from the previous allegations to which Epstein, now 66, pleaded guilty in 2008 — could not immediately be learned. Epstein attorney Martin Weinberg did not respond to a request for comment late Saturday. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, where Epstein is expected to appear in federal court this week, declined to comment.
The latest charges add a significant new wrinkle to the considerable political and legal saga surrounding Epstein. The wealthy financier — who counted among his friends President Trump and former president Bill Clinton — pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges in Florida of soliciting prostitution in a controversial arrangement that allowed him to resolve far more serious federal allegations of molesting young girls.
His case was the subject of an investigation by the Miami Herald, which detailed how then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now Trump’s labor secretary, shelved a 53-page federal indictment that could have put Epstein behind bars for life. The arrangement is now being investigated by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which is seeking to determine whether the attorneys involved committed “professional misconduct” in bringing about its close.
The person familiar with the matter said the new charges against Epstein are for conduct similar to those that brought about his plea deal. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the specific counts remain under seal.
Attorney Paul Cassell, who represents Epstein victims who argued in federal court that prosecutors broke the law by not informing them about the plea deal, said he was not informed about the arrest.
“If today’s report is true, it only proves that Epstein should have been charged by federal prosecutors 12 years ago in Florida,” Cassell said. “With his money, Epstein was able to buy more than a decade of delay in facing justice — but fortunately he wasn’t able to postpone justice forever.”
Epstein’s victims and others had long raised concerns that he was treated too leniently because of his political connections, with much of their ire focused on Acosta. The former U.S. attorney has defended his handling of the case, saying at his March 2017 confirmation hearing for labor secretary that state prosecutors considered a charge that could have resulted in “zero jail time, zero registration as a sexual offender and zero restitution for the victims in this case.”
The arrangement that resulted in Epstein’s guilty plea, Acosta said, “guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes is a good thing.”
Notably, though, Epstein avoided federal charges entirely — until now — and his time in jail was limited, considering the allegations he faced. The Herald reported that he was allowed work release privileges, which let him leave jail six days a week for 12 hours a day to work in an office he had set up.
His obligations to register as a sex offender were also eased because when he pleaded guilty, the only minor he was convicted of soliciting was 16 years old at the time the offenses began. A federal investigation found scores of potential underage victims, including a 14-year-old girl who first flagged police.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who has questioned how the Justice Department handled Epstein’s case, said in a statement that Epstein “received a pathetically soft sentence last time and his victims deserve nothing less than justice.”
Sasse added: “Justice doesn’t depend on the size of your bank account. This billionaire can’t be let out just because he can cut a bail check. The Justice Department needs to see this through.”
Prosecutors could face significant challenges if the new case is premised on conduct that was covered as part of Epstein’s plea deal, no matter how unsavory it might be. But if investigators discovered wrongdoing they did not know about previously or that was not covered by the plea — even if it occurred years in the past — they would be allowed to bring new charges.
A person familiar with the matter said prosecutors do not have significant double jeopardy concerns or concerns about Epstein’s previous plea, meaning the charges probably involve new victims or new alleged wrongdoing.
Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.