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Updated at 6:35 p.m. ET
Federal prosecutors have charged multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking of minors and paying victims to recruit other underage girls, accusing Epstein of creating a network that allowed him to sexually abuse dozens of young victims.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced two counts against Epstein on Monday morning: one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking, according to the indictment.
Epstein appeared in court Monday afternoon and pleaded not guilty.
The indictment alleges that from at least 2002 to 2005, Epstein "enticed and recruited" underage girls to his Manhattan mansion and his estate in Palm Beach, Fla., to engage in sex acts with him, after which he would pay the victims hundreds of dollars. To "maintain and increase his supply of victims," Epstein paid some of the girls to recruit other victims, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors say the criminal behavior involved girls as young as 14. "As alleged, Epstein was well aware that many of his victims were minors," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a Monday news conference. "And not surprisingly, many of the underage girls that Epstein allegedly victimized were particularly vulnerable to exploitation."
Prosecutors say that in some instances, victims expressly told Epstein that they were underage before or during the period in which they were abused.
"While the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims, now young women," Berman added. "They deserve their day in court, and we are proud to be standing up for them by bringing this indictment."
Epstein, 66, was arrested Saturday and taken into custody after his private plane from Paris landed at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport. He was taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
While Epstein was being arrested, agents also searched his Manhattan mansion and seized evidence including "an extraordinary volume" of nude and seminude photographs of young women or girls, according to court documents. Prosecutors say they also have contemporaneous notes, messages and call records that will serve as corroborating evidence.
Prosecutors are requesting that Epstein be detained pending trial, calling him a significant flight risk.
"He has enormous wealth, the charges are very serious, and they carry with them a maximum sentence of 45 years in jail, which to someone of Epstein's age is basically a life sentence," Berman said, adding that Epstein owns two planes and spends much of the year abroad. The financier is unmarried and has no known immediate family that would tie him to the U.S., and prosecutors say there are credible allegations that he previously has engaged in witness tampering and harassment.
The girls were recruited in a variety of ways, usually by employees of Epstein and sometimes by fellow victims, said William Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York Field Office. He encouraged others who might have been victims of Epstein or have additional information about the alleged crimes to call 1-800-225-5324.
More than a decade ago, as NPR's Greg Allen has reported, "Epstein was charged with recruiting dozens of girls, some as young as 13, for massages and sex at his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla.
"Under a plea deal reached in 2007 with then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, Epstein was given immunity from federal prosecution and pleaded guilty to lesser state charges," Allen added. "The financier served just 13 months in county jail and was granted work release, allowing him to spend his days at his Palm Beach office. Acosta now serves as President Trump's labor secretary." Epstein was also required to register as a sex offender.
That plea deal brokered in Florida not only shut out the victims — it also shut down the investigation into whether there were other victims and what the role of accomplices might have been. And it granted immunity to any potential co-conspirators.
For years, attorneys representing victims in the case have argued that their clients weren't told about the plea deal before it was presented in court. In May, lawyers for two victims asked that the case be reopened and for an apology from prosecutors, but U.S. Attorney B.J. Pak for the Northern District of Georgia (who took over after prosecutors in the South Florida office recused themselves) wrote in June that the deal the Southern District of Florida had made with Epstein would stand and that there would be no apology.
Berman said the Florida agreement "only binds the Southern District of Florida. The Southern District of New York is not bound by that agreement and is not a signatory to that agreement."
Epstein made his money as a money manager and investor for clients such as Les Wexner, the founder of L Brands, which includes Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works. He is known for hobnobbing with the rich and famous, including President Trump and former President Bill Clinton, who issued a statement distancing himself from Epstein. In court, Epstein has been represented by some of the most famous lawyers in the U.S., including Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr.
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