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Who Is Jeffrey Epstein, Mysterious Millionaire Hedge Fund Manager and Accused Sex Trafficker?

Who is multi-millionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein?

The 66-year-old was indicted Monday in New York on charges he operated a sex trafficking ring at his luxurious Upper East Side mansion and a home in Palm Beach, Florida. There's still much that's unknown about how the financier made his fortune and how he was able to remain influential for so long.

In the latest chapter of the lurid saga, Epstein is charged with operating a sex-trafficking ring and paying girls as young as 14 to engage in sex acts from 2002 to 2005. The charges carry a maximum 45-year prison sentence if convicted, Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Monday. Prosecutors have asked the judge to deny bail because Epstein's wealth makes him a flight risk. His bail hearing is set for July 15.

The New York-born Epstein is known for his ties to high-profile business types, political heavyweights and celebrities including U.S. President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton.

Before he made his riches, Epstein was a math and physics teacher at a private school in Manhattan. He entered the finance world in the late 1970s, working as an options trader for global investment banking company Bear Stearns. By 1980, Epstein was a limited partner.

Two years later, he created his own financial management firm, J. Epstein & Co., and was reportedly managing the assets of clients who were worth more than $1 billion. It's estimated that Epstein is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 1996, Epstein changed his company's name to The Financial Trust Co. and had its headquarters in the U.S. Virgin Islands primarily for tax purposes, according to published articles. Yet, according to profiles -- a 2002 New York Magazine story and a 2003 piece in Vanity Fair -- a shroud of mystery and admiration hovered over Epstein.   

In the New York magazine profile, Epstein is described as someone who's successes and failures weren't played out in public. "Epstein breaks the mold," the magazine wrote. "Most everyone on the Street has heard of him, but nobody seems to know what the hell he is up to. Which is just the way he likes it."

He had a fan in Trump, according to the profile. "I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life," Trump was quoted as saying to the magazine. 

In the Vanity Fair piece, "The Talented Mr. Epstein," a nod to the book and movie, "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Epstein was the primary investor and money manager for retail magnate Leslie Wexner, the founder of Limited Brands, now called L Brands Inc. The company owns brand-name mall staples primarily for women including Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.

The magazine also described Epstein as a man about town. "A man who loves women - lots of them, mostly young. Model types have been heard saying they are full of gratitude to Epstein for flying them around, and he is a familiar face to many of the Victoria's Secret girls," according to the story.

Vanity Fair also said that the handful of friends who have known Epstein since the early 1980s remember him telling them he was a "bounty hunter," recovering lost or stolen money for the government or wealthy people. He also had a license to carry a gun. He also sat on several commissions including the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of International Education.

The Vanity Fair piece said Epstein was immensely influential while others described him as generous, vicious, and even "reckless."

Vicky Ward, the journalist who wrote the Vanity Fair story, told MSNBC on Monday that two young women who are sisters told her on the record that one of them was sexually assaulted by Epstein when she was underage. Ward said Epstein got in touch with the magazine's editor and had their accounts removed from the article, which remained a story about his mysterious business affairs.

"That has been the motif of Jeffrey Epstein's last 16 years," Ward told the cable network. "He's been untouchable, given a free pass by the very rich people, the very powerful people with whom he socializes and perhaps over whom he has leverage."

In 2003, Epstein made headlines for giving $30 million to Harvard University to create mathematical biology and evolutionary dynamics programs at the Ivy League institution. 

Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to federal criminal charges that are similar to those in Florida accusing him of being a sexual predator more than a decade ago. He pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges with the U.S. attorney's office in Florida which was then overseen by Alexander Acosta, who is now President Trump's secretary of labor. Epstein was sentenced to 13 months behind bars and became a registered sex offender.

In April, a federal judge ruled that the Florida prosecutors violated a law by offering the secretive plea deal without letting Epstein's accusers know. The matter is also being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.