Now that federal prosecutors have multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein in custody on alleged sex trafficking charges, many are wondering: What will happen to the hedge fund manager's fortune?
While Epstein's defense attorneys are trying to get him out of jail by seeking bail, prosecutors have asked a federal judge in New York to deny the request. They argue that Epstein's wealth and the severity of the charges make him a severe flight risk who should remain locked up. His bail hearing is scheduled for July 15.
Meanwhile, according to an indictment, prosecutors say they are seeking a forfeiture of Epstein's luxurious Manhattan mansion where he allegedly ran a part of his trafficking ring. They claim the eight-story building is worth $77 million.
To figure out what might become of Epstein's properties, his jet (dubbed the "Lolita Express) and his supposed hedge fund fortune, we turned to former federal and state prosecutor Elie Honig. Honig is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the same office that charged Epstein, and is now a legal analyst for CNN.
Honig points out that the indictment says that prosecutors can go after "any and all property that was either used in the course of the crime or as an instrumentality or proceed of the crime."
"With a wealthy guy like Epstein, if he's found guilty, I would attempt to seize all of his assets connected with the crimes, and ensure victims get paid restitution owed to them," Honig said. "But that can never be in lieu of serving appropriate jail time."
Given the secretive nature of Epstein's line of work, the scope of his net worth is not yet clear. But prosecutors may unravel that as they typically seek forfeiture of any property and assets in every case as potential leverage, Honig says. Prosecutors are likely to tack on restitution for any alleged victims who come forward, which could be many women and could cost Epstein potentially millions of dollars if there's a conviction.
"Forfeiture can be a very powerful tool for prosecutors," said Honig. "Of course, defendants want to protect their liberty first and foremost, but they also want to hold on to their money, assets, and properties."
The 66-year-old Epstein pleaded not guilty to one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. Prosecutors claim Epstein paid girls as young as 14 to participate in sex acts from 2001 to 2005 his luxurious Upper East Side mansion and a home in Palm Beach, Florida.
He faces a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison if convicted of both counts. Epstein's attorney, Reid Weingarten, did not immediately return requests for comment.
Epstein avoided similar sex trafficking charges when he got a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors in Florida. Instead of facing federal charges, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges in 2008 and served 13 months behind bars in the deal with the U.S. attorney's office in Florida which was then overseen by Alexander Acosta, who is currently President Donald Trump's secretary of labor. Many politicians are now calling for Acosta's resignation.
On Wednesday, Acosta defended his former office's negotiating of Epstein's plea and told reporters during a briefing in Washington, D.C., that he "rolled the dice," with Epstein's deal, adding that "times have changed" since 2008.
Going forward there are three likely scenarios for Epstein and his fortune, Honig said. One, Epstein could go to trial which would be "a massive risk" and if he's found guilty and gets hammered in the sentencing. "If he goes to trial, he risks losing everything," she said. While the prosecution's indictment specifies Epstein's Manhattan mansion, it also covers all property, Honig added.
Two, Epstein can plead guilty without cooperation. But that's unlikely, Honig said, because prosecutors in New York don't want a repeat of the deal Epstein got in Florida.
Three, Epstein can cooperate. This could be Epstein's best option to significantly reduce any prison sentence, Honig said. And, prosecutors will be sure to include some restitution to victims.
Either way, Epstein's fortunes seem to be diminishing rapidly.
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