Washington - Defence attorneys for Jeffrey Epstein asked a federal judge Thursday to allow the politically connected multimillionaire and registered sex offender to be freed on bail in advance of his trial on new sex trafficking charges, saying in a court filing that Epstein was willing to put up his Manhattan mansion and private jet as collateral and agree to home confinement and GPS monitoring.
The defence attorneys attacked prosecutors' case and signaled they intend to vigorously challenge whether the charges are legal, given Epstein pleaded guilty years ago to resolve similar allegations. Attempting to rebut the government's characterization of Epstein as an impenitent sex criminal, they described him as a "self-made" man who was being held "on dated allegations for which he was already convicted and punished."
Epstein, 66, whose case has captured national attention because of his political ties and a controversial, previous plea deal in a similar case that allowed him to serve just over a year in jail, was arrested Saturday after his private plane flew in from Paris to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Two days later, federal prosecutors in Manhattan unsealed the sex trafficking charges against him.
They alleged Epstein, from 2002 to 2005, abused dozens of young girls at his homes in New York and Florida, sometimes paying his victims hundreds of dollars in cash so they would find him others to target. The charges carry with them a possible 45-year prison sentence.
Epstein is a jet-setting financier who has ties to, among others, former president Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump, both of whom have sought to downplay their connections to him in recent days.
Epstein's defense attorneys argued in the new filing that the case was not one of "sex trafficking," as prosecutors had alleged. They argued Epstein's conduct was "akin to consumer or purchaser behavior and should be outside the ambit" of federal sex trafficking law.
"Yes, the government may have witnesses who will testify to participating in sexual massages - most over 18; some under; some who told the police they lied about their age to gain admission to Mr. Epstein's residence; some who will testify that Mr. Epstein knew they were not yet 18," defense attorneys wrote. "But their anticipated testimony only punctuates the alleged offenses' purely local nature."
Prosecutors urged a federal judge to keep Epstein locked up until his trial, asserting in a court filing earlier this week that his extreme wealth gave him "practically limitless" ways to escape justice. Epstein, they wrote, owns six residences - including his own private island, a place in Paris and a New York City mansion valued at $77 million. He has access to two private jets. And he frequently travels the world, logging more than 20 flights to or from a foreign country since January 2018.
"Simply put, there would be no meaningful reason for the defendant to remain in the country, while he would have every incentive (and every resource needed) to flee," prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors also described Epstein as a man who had not reformed since pleading guilty in Florida in 2008 to state sex crimes charges. That plea - which was approved by Alex Acosta, who was then the U.S. attorney in Miami and is now Trump's labor secretary - has been widely criticized as being too lenient. Epstein was allowed to dodge federal charges entirely and spend just 13 months in jail, with work release privileges.
Acosta defended his role in the case at a news conference Wednesday, asserting that the arrangement ensured Epstein would go to jail.
In arguing that Epstein should remain jailed, prosecutors wrote that when investigators searched his home on Saturday, they found "hundreds - and perhaps thousands - of sexually suggestive photographs of fully- or partially-nude females," and some of the images "appear to be of underage girls."
"The defendant, a registered sex offender, is not reformed, he is not chastened, he is not repentant; rather, he is a continuing danger to the community and an individual who faces devastating evidence supporting deeply serious charges," prosecutors wrote.
Epstein's attorneys countered that the demand to keep Epstein locked up was "drastic," and noted he had repeatedly come back to the United States even has he "feared the toxic political climate might tempt the government to try and end-run" his previous non-prosecution agreement.
They offered a lengthy list of conditions Epstein would agree to submit to secure his freedom, including putting up his Manhattan home as collateral, grounding his private jet and waiving his rights to contest extradition from another country. They wrote that Epstein would submit to home confinement and "stands ready and willing to pay for 24-hour armed guards should the Court deem it necessary or appropriate."
"Mr. Epstein has substantial grounds to challenge the allegations charged by the government in its indictment, and he has every intention of doing so in a lawful, professional, and principled manner," Epstein's attorneys wrote. "He intends to fight the current charges on their merits and, more, to contest their legality given the inextricable intertwining of the current investigation and his NPA which promised him immunity and a global settlement."
NPA is an acronym for non-prosecution agreement.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman is scheduled to hear arguments about the matter at 10 a.m. Monday. Epstein is being held in the federal detention center in Manhattan.