World / 14 August 2019, 8:56pm / Karen Freifeld and Sarah N. Lynch
New York/Washington – A New York woman who said she was sexually assaulted by Jeffrey Epstein at the age of 14 sued the disgraced financier's estate and a former associate on Wednesday, as prison officials began an internal review of how Epstein died in an apparent suicide last week.
In the first of an expected wave of lawsuits, Jennifer Araoz, 32, said she had just entered high school in 2001 when an Epstein associate brought her to the financier's mansion on Manhattan's Upper East Side, beginning a grooming process that led to months of sexual abuse including a "brutal rape."
The lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court is among the first of a series by women made possible by the state's Child Victims Act, which opened a one-year window to sue over alleged sexual abuse regardless of how long ago it occurred.
Epstein, who once counted Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former president Bill Clinton as friends, was found unresponsive in his cell on Saturday morning at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
A source said the well-connected money manager was found hanging by the neck.
Psychologists began on Tuesday studying how the suicide took place, according to a person familiar with the matter, reflecting Federal Bureau of Prisons' policy calling for a "psychological reconstruction" following a suicide.
Another team at the MCC on Wednesday began an "after action" review, which is normally triggered by significant events such as the death of a high-profile inmate, the person familiar with the matter said. That review will be headed by a Bureau of Prisons director from another region.
The reviews are separate from investigations by the FBI and US Department of Justice's inspector-general and Jack Donson, a former Bureau of Prisons corrections case manager, said the Bureau of Prisons would probably "take care of business this week".
Epstein had been arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls between 2002 and 2005. Prosecutors said he recruited girls to give him massages, which became sexual in nature.
Araoz's lawsuit says former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell facilitated Epstein's abuse of several girls by overseeing their recruitment and "ensuring that approximately three girls a day were made available to him for his sexual pleasure".
A lawyer who had represented Epstein did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lawyers for Maxwell did not immediately respond to similar requests.
The other three unnamed defendants in Araoz's lawsuit – all women who allegedly worked for Epstein in New York – are a maid, a secretary and a "recruiter" who helped procure underage girls for him.
Araoz told reporters on a conference call she was angry that Epstein's death meant he would never face her in court but wanted to exercise her legal rights in civil court.
"Today is my first step toward reclaiming my power Jeffrey Epstein and his enablers stole from me," she said. "They robbed me of my youth, my identity, my innocence and my self-worth."
The complaint described Epstein's massage room as having a ceiling painted as a blue sky with clouds and angels, "to give the appearance that you were in heaven".
It also detailed a variety of alleged misconduct by Epstein, including what she called an insinuation that she owed him because of the money he paid her.
"I take care of you, you take care of me," the complaint quoted Epstein as saying.
Araoz also accused Epstein of having failed to use a condom during the alleged rape, which she said led her to suffer a "panic disorder" that was exacerbated by her father's recent death from Aids.
Dan Kaiser, a lawyer for Araoz, said on the conference call that holding Epstein's "adult enablers" responsible was "a very large part of this story".
He called Maxwell a key figure in maintaining and concealing Epstein's alleged sex trafficking ring, although Araoz never met her.
"She is absolutely culpable for the injuries that these girls sustained," Kaiser said of Maxwell.
To obtain damages in civil lawsuits against Epstein's estate, victims would need to prove claims by a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal case.
In 2008, Epstein had pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor in a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors that has been widely criticized as too lenient.
The US Attorney in Miami at the time, Alexander Acosta, resigned as US labour secretary in July as that agreement came under fresh scrutiny following Epstein's latest arrest.
Epstein had been on suicide watch since the arrest but a source familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was not on watch at the time of his death.
US Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday ordered the transfer of Epstein's jail warden, after condemning "serious irregularities" at the facility. Two guards were placed on leave.
Barr also said the criminal investigation into Epstein's alleged sex trafficking and the role of possible co-conspirators would continue.
Trump has called for an investigation into Epstein's death. FBI agents were expected to visit the Manhattan jail on Wednesday, MSNBC said. The FBI declined to comment.
It is not known if Epstein had a will. His lawyers last month said Epstein had about $559 million of assets, including two private islands and four homes, and that the Manhattan mansion was worth about $77 million.
Los Angeles lawyer Lisa Bloom and New York lawyer Roberta Kaplan told Reuters this past weekend that they intend to file lawsuits in New York against Epstein's estate this week.