London - Up to 40 girls claimed to have been abused by Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender friend of Prince Andrew, legal papers revealed on Wednesday night.
Seven-year-old documents released by a Florida judge also suggested prosecutors and lawyers for the multi-millionaire colluded in keeping secret from judges the details of his lenient plea deal.
The papers will fuel long-standing accusations that 62-year-old Epstein was protected by powerful friends.
They also make clear that his lawyers managed to delay the alleged victims being notified that investigators were not pursuing their cases.
One of those who says she worked for Epstein is Virginia Roberts, who claims she slept with Prince Andrew while 17, making her a minor under US law, and working as a sex slave.
The prince has always strongly denied the allegation.
The scale of Epstein’s alleged crimes, in which he is said to have hired underage girls for massages and sex at his mansion, is revealed in papers relating to his 2008 plea deal.
He served 13 months of an 18-month sentence after admitting a single charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor.
The deal granted Epstein and any potential co-conspirators immunity from further prosecution.
His legal team has spent years fighting attempts by some of his alleged victims’ lawyers to reveal negotiations between prosecutors and his defence.
A judge decided this week that a handful of the papers should be released.
They appear to show that state prosecutors and Epstein’s lawyers worked to limit information judges might receive about the scale of his alleged crimes.
The documents will feed accusations that Epstein escaped more serious charges that could have compromised some of his famous friends.
The papers show assistant US attorney Ann Marie Villafana emailed Epstein’s lawyer Jay Lefkowitz in September 2007, saying: “I want to tell you that I have compiled a list of 34 confirmed minors.”
She added: “There are six others, whose names we already have, who need to be interviewed by the FBI to confirm whether they were 17 or 18 at the time of their activity with Mr Epstein.”
Miss Villafana mentioned how a colleague had recommended that “time issues” relating to Epstein’s sentencing were addressed carefully, so that what they were trying to achieve “isn’t obvious to the judge”.
“I will include our standard language regarding resolving all criminal liability … I will mention ‘co-conspirators’ but I would prefer not to highlight for the judge all of the other crimes and all of the other persons that we could charge,” she said.
Mr Lefkowitz replied that the Epstein team “emphatically” objected to alleged victims being notified that their cases were not being pursued until the plea deal was agreed.
The news would be “incendiary and inappropriate” if leaked to the press, he claimed.
Prosecutors obliged and the documents show some alleged victims were only notified after the plea deal was arranged.
Two alleged victims launched a civil lawsuit against prosecutors’ handling of the case.
The women’s lawyers say the newly revealed papers prove a “conspiracy” to conceal a deal that Epstein would not be prosecuted.
US District Judge Kenneth Marra has refused to allow Virginia Roberts to join the lawsuit. He said the details of her alleged abuse must be struck from the record as irrelevant to the case.
Neither Jeffrey Epstein’s legal team nor Miss Villafana responded to a request for comment.