London - One day in March 2005, a 14-year-old girl walked into a police station in Palm Beach, Florida, and complained of being the victim of a serious sexual assault. The girl, named ‘SG’ in legal papers, alleged she’d been lured to a local waterfront mansion by a school friend, Haley, who said they could earn hundreds of dollars working for its wealthy resident, ‘Jeff’.
There was, she learned, one catch: the job would involve not only providing massages, but also giving her boss sexual favours.
SG felt uneasy at the prospect. But as money was tight for her family, she agreed to give it a go. On arrival at the $20 million, pink-painted property, the teenager – described as slim, white and childlike – was taken upstairs to a room containing a massage table.
On the walls, she recalled, were murals and photographs of naked women, in a variety of intimate poses.
'Jeff’ then walked in, wearing nothing except a towel. He locked the door, lay on the table and ordered SG to strip to her thong underpants.
There followed a 15-minute assault, detailed in a police report, in which SG was told to ‘straddle herself’ on ‘Jeff’s’ back ‘whereby her exposed buttocks were touching [his] bare buttocks’ and perform a massage.
Later, ‘Jeff’ rolled on to his back and began performing a series of degrading sex acts.
Then he ‘used a towel to wipe himself’, detectives were told, before handing the teenage girl $300 in used banknotes.
Understandably, given her age, SG became troubled by this sordid experience, and confided in her mother. The latter persuaded her to inform the police, who opened a criminal investigation.
On Monday, some 14 years, several police inquiries, one criminal conviction and a blizzard of lawsuits later, ‘Jeff’ found himself in a Manhattan courtroom, facing a host of appalling child porn charges.
His full name, of course, is Jeffrey Epstein. He’s not only a billionaire hedge fund mogul, but also a convicted paedophile.
On Monday, he appeared in court in New York accused of running a child sex-trafficking ring that threatens, some say, to embarrass other rich and powerful people.
For this troubled financier happens to be a close, even intimate, acquaintance and benefactor to some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world.
Chums who have flown on his jets and been entertained at his homes hail from the highest echelons of politics, show business, industry and even British royalty. Indeed, none of Epstein’s A-list friendships has raised more eyebrows that his relationship with Prince Andrew.
In the early 2000s, the duo travelled to Thailand, where the Prince was photographed on Epstein’s yacht, surrounded by a bevy of topless women. Epstein also visited Sandringham, Balmoral and Windsor Castle as a guest of the Queen.
In February 2011, Epstein and the Duke were photographed strolling together in New York’s Central Park, sparking widespread condemnation that eventually led to the Duke being dropped as the UK’s roving trade ambassador.
The second major scandal concerning Epstein broke in 2015, when a woman called Virginia Roberts alleged that she’d been recruited as an Epstein ‘sex slave’ in the early 2000s when she was 17. The woman who inducted her into this harem was allegedly Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late, crooked newspaper tycoon Robert. Ghislaine is an ex-girlfriend and longstanding associate of Epstein.
Roberts claimed that Epstein had introduced her to Prince Andrew, now 59, and persuaded her to have sex with him three times. She claimed to have been paid $10 000 by Epstein as a ‘reward’ for this.
A judge later threw out Roberts’ allegations against Prince Andrew and ordered them to be struck from the record of her claim against Epstein.
The claims were, and still are, all vigorously denied by the Queen’s second son, who said they were untrue and defamatory.
Buckingham Palace also issued on the record statements in January 2015 denying the allegations: ‘any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue’ and ‘it is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. The allegations made are false and without any foundation’.
Maxwell, for her part, gave an interview calling Roberts a ‘liar’.
While there is no evidence that Epstein’s high-powered buddies, which included Bill Clinton, collaborated in his abuse, they certainly benefited from the sexual predator’s largesse, some even after learning of the allegations of his despicable criminality.
Clinton’s charitable foundation, for example, accepted a $25,000 donation from Epstein in 2006, after he had been arrested. Prince Andrew’s ex-wife, the Duchess of York, meanwhile saw fit to accept £15,000 from him in 2010 to help her pay off debts. She later apologised for ‘her gigantic error of judgment’, explaining that she had been blinkered by financial desperation.
At the time of the latter payment Epstein was already a convicted serial paedophile on the sex offender’s register.
Before his conviction, he was also friends with current US President, Donald Trump.
In one unfortunately-worded interview, to New York Magazine in 2002, Trump declared that Epstein was a ‘terrific guy’.
‘He’s a lot of fun to be with,’ Trump declared. ‘It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.’
But in 2005, Florida police did not share Trump’s idea of fun. Within days of receiving SG’s complaint, they’d contacted half a dozen other teenage girls, who all claimed to have been abused by ‘Jeff’ in very similar circumstances.
One of them was the aforementioned Haley, 18, who described her role as being ‘like a Heidi Fleiss’ (the famous Hollywood madame) and alleging she procured a succession of girls from local high schools him to exploit.
Epstein told Haley he liked them ‘the younger the better’.
Other victims, who ranged in age from 14 upwards, each said they had been asked to strip naked, or to their underwear, and to administer erotic massages, or worse.
One, AH, told of being paid to perform sex acts on a second girl, while ‘Jeff’ took erotic photographs. During one such photo session, AH said that he’d grabbed her, rolled her onto her stomach, and forcibly raped her.
These and other sickening accounts are contained in a 22-page affidavit filed by Florida police in January 2006.
It contained testimony from several key witnesses, including Epstein’s housekeeper of 11 years, Alessi.
He revealed his boss liked to receive three ‘massages’ per day, usually from girls aged around 16, two years younger than Florida’s age of consent.
Alessi’s duties included ‘setting up massage tables’ beforehand, and washing off used sex toys that were often left ‘in the sink after the massage’.
A billionaire many times over, Epstein, now 66, divided his time
between the Florida mansion, a seven-storey townhouse on Manhatten’s Upper East Side said to be one of New York’s largest private residences, a sprawling ranch in New Mexico and a private island in the US Virgin Islands.
He travelled between them in a Boeing 727 private jet that later earned the nickname ‘Lolita Express’ after witnesses alleged that it had been fitted out with a double bed so that Epstein could stage mid-flight orgies. Lolita is the eponymous character in Vladimir Nabokov’s famous 1955 novel detailing a paedophile’s affair with a 12-year-old girl.
Clinton flew on his plane several times - on one occasion with the Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, himself facing accusations of underage assault.
By October 2005, police had identified between 36 and 60 of Epstein’s potential victims and descended on his home, where several high-profile friends had previously visited.
A video of the raid shows dozens of pictures of naked women on the walls, including one of a six-year-old girl bending over in a tiny dress, which was deemed so sinister that the authorities blurred it out when the film was released under US freedom of information laws.
Upstairs, rooms contained four massage tables, sex aids and several hidden cameras. It is not difficult to imagine what these might have been used for.
The federal prosecutor in Miami duly prepared a 53-page indictment against Epstein, who had by now assembled an army of top lawyers, including Kenneth Starr, the attorney who went after his former chum Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair.
On paper, the hedge fund mogul might have faced life in prison. However, in 2008, the prosecution was abruptly shelved, after an extraordinary plea bargain was secretly negotiated.
Under its terms, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to two minor prostitution charges. He was also required to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to dozens of victims. He was ordered to serve just 13 months in a Palm Beach jail - but was allowed to leave the facility for 12 hours per day, six days a week, to continue running his investment firm.
In a breach of usual protocols, none of his victims was informed of the deal, meaning that they had no opportunity to object to its generous terms.
Now, Epstein still faces dozens of ongoing compensation claims from his other alleged victims, plus this week’s very serious child porn prosecution.
How they are resolved, of course, remains to be seen. As the spotlight turns on Epstein’s alleged crimes yet again, his former friends must surely regret ever making his acquaintance.