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 to 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," Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
Epstein, 66, was arrested Saturday night at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey aboard his private jet upon returning from Paris.
Later that evening, federal agents executing a search warrant of Epstein's mansion in New York City recovered and seized a "vast trove" of lewd photographs of young-looking women or girls, prosecutors said in a bail memorandum.
Some of the photos were discovered in a locked safe along with compact discs with hand-written labels that read, "Young [Name] + [Name]," "Misc nudes 1," and "Girl pics nude," according to the bail memorandum.
He is charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted of the charges, which carry no mandatory minimum sentences.
Epstein, wearing navy prison garb and without handcuffs, pleaded not guilty to the sex trafficking charges in Manhattan federal court on Monday afternoon.
The well-connected 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.
But that arrangement has come under intense 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.
The Herald investigation said that Acosta gave Epstein the "deal of a lifetime" despite a federal investigation identifying 36 underage victims. The agreement, the Herald said, "essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe" and further granted immunity to "any potential co-conspirators" in the case.
In February, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the Department of Justice broke the law by failing to confer with Epstein's victims about the agreement.
Both Berman and FBI Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. cited the Miami Herald's reporting last November in helping to make the case.
"I will say that we were assisted by some excellent investigative journalism," Berman said.
"When the facts presented themselves -- as Mr. Berman hinted at -- through investigative journalist work, we moved on it," Sweeney said.
New York federal prosecutors were able to bring their case despite the non-prosecution agreement, Berman said, because that agreement applies only to the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.
"While the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, the victims -- then children and now young women -- are no less entitled to their day in court," Berman said Monday.
More details from the indictment
The court document unsealed Monday describes a predatory pattern in which girls were taken to a room in Epstein's New York mansion to perform "massages."
The girls were instructed by him or his associates to perform such duties nude or partially nude, according to the indictment, and Epstein would escalate the encounter to "include one or more sex acts."
"Epstein typically would also masturbate during these sexualized encounters, ask victims to touch him while he masturbated, and touch victims' genitals with his hands or with sex toys," the indictment alleges.
Epstein knew that the girls were underage, according to court filings, in part because some of the girls told him their age. >
The indictment also implicates some of Epstein's employees. One person referred to as "Employee-1" called girls who had previously been lured into encounters with Epstein to arrange future visits to his New York residence, the indictment states.
When Epstein would travel by private jet from New York to Palm Beach, an employee or associate would "ensure that minor victims were available for encounters upon his arrival in Florida," according to the indictment.
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 indictment does not name any alleged victims, referring to them only as "Minor Victim-1," "Minor Victim-2," and "Minor Victim-3."
"The alleged behavior shocks the conscience," Berman said. Describing Epstein's alleged scheme to lure girls to his residences and in turn coerce those girls to lure others, Berman said the tactic "allowed Epstein to create an ever-expanding web of new victims."
Berman said the office would seek to keep Epstein detained pending trial, meaning prosecutors are expected to argue against giving him bail.
"We think he is a significant flight risk," Berman said, citing Epstein's "extreme" wealth, his two planes and the seriousness of the charges he faces.
Attorney for 3 alleged victims speaks out
Attorney David Boies, who represents three women who have publicly shared allegations of abuse by Epstein, said the indictment was a correction to the 2008 agreement.
"This shows what could have been done and should have been done 10 years ago if it were not for political influence that Mr. Epstein and his lawyers brought to bear on the process," Boies told CNN.
He would not confirm if his clients were the victims explicitly mentioned in the indictment. However, details laid out in the indictment match up with information they have submitted as part of lawsuits against Epstein and his associates over the past decade.
Robbie Kaplan, an attorney who is representing one of Epstein's alleged victims in the Manhattan case, said Monday: "While it has been a long time coming, we are very grateful to the US Attorney's Office for the SDNY for taking action to make sure that justice will be done."
Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of Epstein's Upper East Side townhouse on East 71st street, according to court filings.
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. Berman declined to explain at Monday's news conference why the office's public corruption unit is handling the case.
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.