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Manhattan DA Denies 'Cover-Up' For Billionaire Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein

Jeffrey Epstein in 2000, at a pheasant shoot with Prince Andrew in Britain
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Jeffrey Epstein in 2000, at a pheasant shoot with Prince Andrew in Britain Albanpix/Shutterstock

A little over a decade ago, Brooklyn-born billionaire Jeffrey Epstein got caught running what the Miami Herald describes as a "sexual pyramid scheme" on the backs of underage girls, allegedly committing multiple acts of pedophilia and engaging in child sex trafficking. The evidence against him appeared damning, but until now it's been kept largely out of the public eye, thanks to the efforts and missteps of prosecutors at the federal and state level—including President Donald Trump's current Labor Secretary and a prosecutor in Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office.

The Herald identified 80 women who say they were victimized by Epstein as girls, speaking with eight of them on and off the record. Each independently presented a tale eerily similar to the others': Epstein, then over 50, enlisted girls to give him "massages" for money, steadily upping his demands to include—in some cases—intercourse. Epstein allegedly got these girls to enlist their peers, "as you as [they] could find them," one victim recalled. Eventually, his Palm Beach mansion allegedly became what the Herald deemed a "revolving door" operation, with teenage girls coming and going in a constant stream.

Epstein allegedly preyed upon vulnerable young women, targeting girls who—in the Herald's words—"were one step away from homelessness." He reportedly paid them a few hundred dollars—but, in at least one case, he increased that sum to $1,000, when the victim says his abuse escalated to rape.

Authorities in Florida brought charges against Epstein in 2006, and the FBI prepared an indictment in 2007 that wound up sealed. That's because Alexander Acosta—then a U.S. Attorney, now Trump's Labor Secretary—accepted a plea agreement from Epstein's high-powered legal team (Alan Dershowitz, who represented OJ Simpson; Kenneth Starr of the Clinton impeachment). As a result, Epstein served 18 months (with a daily work release) in a cushy country club jail, the Palm Beach Stockade, and had to register as a sex offender.

According to the Herald, Epstein paid underage girls to service him and his friends "in every city where [he] had homes." In New York City, Epstein owned a building, allegedly used to house underage models flown in from around the world for the same purpose as his (again, alleged) Florida racket. But although his plea deal only required him to plead guilty on two (much lower level) prostitution charges, Epstein still had to register as a sex offender. And as the NY Daily News reported in 2015, the hedge funder allegedly wanted to avoid the requirement New York places on Level 3 sex offenders (the most serious designation) to verify their addresses with law enforcement every 90 days. So in 2011, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Gaffney tried to help him reclassify as a Level 1 offender.

"I have to tell you, I'm a little overwhelmed because I have never seen a prosecutor's office do anything like this," said presiding Judge Ruth Pickholtz of the New York Supreme Court, according to the Daily News. "I have done so many [sex offender registration hearings] much less troubling than this one where the [prosecutor] would never make a downward argument like this." Pickholtz denied the request, maintaining the Level 3 label.

On Thursday, Danny Frost—a spokesperson for Cy Vance's office—told Gothamist that the Herald's story "was not news," as it had been covered by a number of outlets in years past. "Words like 'cover-up' and 'defense of Jeffrey Epstein' do not apply here," he added, because the DA had already admitted that Gaffney "made a mistake (in open court) by misreading the Sex Offender Registration Act provision about what you have to include and exclude from the score." They said the same in appeals court, Frost emphasized.

Gaffney, meanwhile, quit the D.A.'s office in October, around the same time news broke that the prosecution had to drop one of the charges in its criminal case against Harvey Weinstein.

Read the full story in the Miami Herald.

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