Jeffrey Epstein, the former financier accused of molesting teenage girls and sex trafficking, is dead.
Epstein, 66, was found unresponsive in his Lower Manhattan jail cell at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday after an apparent suicide attempt and was later pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He hanged himself, ABC News and other outlets reported. The FBI opened an investigation.
Epstein had previously been moved to a suicide-watch unit after being found unconscious in his cell with marks on his neck on July 23, a week after his bail request was rejected.
“The coward and serial predator may have taken his own life but we shall continue to seek justice on behalf of our clients,” Josh Schiller, a lawyer for some of Epstein’s alleged victims, said in a text message.
Epstein’s death came less than a day after a court unsealed documents alleging he and a friend sent a woman to have sex with a former governor, a former U.S. senator and an asset manager when she was a minor. All of them said the allegations were false.
Epstein’s death ends the case, said Randall Jackson, a litigation attorney with Willkie Farr & Gallagher and former federal prosecutor in New York.
“A criminal prosecution like this focuses on an individual and when that person dies the case can’t go forward,” Jackson said. “Certainly for the Bureau of Prisons, it is not a great reflection on what is usually seen as their goal of keeping all defendants safe even from themselves.”
A self-described “collector” of rich and powerful people, Epstein had links to a Who’s Who of prominent political and business figures. That circle, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and billionaire Leslie Wexner, all distanced themselves from the financier after his arrest in July.
Epstein’s network was partly chronicled in his address book, stolen by a staff member around 2005 and published by gossip website Gawker in 2015. The hundreds of names included Clinton and future President Donald Trump, who are among people known to have socialized with him.
U.S. prosecutors said Epstein used his wealth and power to sexually abuse dozens of young girls for years at his homes, paying them hundreds of dollars in cash for each encounter and hundreds more if they brought in more victims.
‘Network of victims’
The alleged crimes occurred at Epstein’s residences in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, from 2002 to 2005, involving minors as young as 14. The U.S. accused Epstein of “creating a vast network of victims.”
Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking in minors and conspiracy and said he fully complied with the law for more than 14 years.
His latest arrest came after he pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of soliciting prostitution and served 13 months in prison, after U.S. prosecutors in that state agreed not to charge him with federal offenses.
The agreement provoked outrage after the Miami Herald published an investigative series on it in late 2018 that led to the resignation of President Donald Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, who as U.S. attorney in Miami at the time worked out the deal with Epstein’s lawyers.
His business operations attracted less attention even as federal prosecutors put his net worth at more than $500 million, and said he had an income of more than $10 million a year.
Wall Street connections
Epstein left little imprint on the financial markets but leveraged his connections with Wall Street to secure a steady flow of commissions and engagements that supported a lifestyle that included properties in New Mexico, Paris and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he bought two private islands. He liked to shuttle between them by private jet and had at least 15 cars, according to federal authorities.
Epstein based much of his empire in the Virgin Islands, including Financial Trust Co., which he started in New York in 1981 as a money management firm called J. Epstein & Co. that he claimed catered only to billionaires.
Born on Jan. 20, 1953, and raised in Brooklyn, Epstein attended Cooper Union and NYU’s Courant Institute but left both without a degree. He landed a gig teaching calculus and physics at Manhattan’s exclusive Dalton School between 1973 and 1975, according to a 2002 New York magazine profile, where his students included the son of Bear Stearns then-Chairman Alan Greenberg.
He joined Bear Stearns in 1976 as a lowly junior assistant to a floor trader. In a swift rise, trading options, he made partner four years later, with former Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Cayne praising his skills. He left in 1981 to set up J. Epstein & Co., but one bank executive said he remained close to Cayne and Greenberg and was a client until Bear Stearns’ demise.
Much of its operations remain unclear. His main client was Wexner, the founder of apparel maker L Brands. Epstein started managing Wexner’s money in the 1980s and a 2003 Vanity Fair profile noted the pair had a close relationship, so much so that Epstein acquired Wexner’s Manhattan mansion in 1998.
Epstein was a subject of fascination at the L Brands headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. He served as a sort of charge d’affaires for Wexner, the chairman and CEO, on matters ranging from suburban planning to yacht design. Wexner said through a spokeswoman in July that he had severed ties with Epstein almost 12 years earlier, around the time of the financier’s arrest in Florida on charges he had sex with a minor.
Rich and famous
Epstein’s links to the rich and famous were extensive. Clinton, Apollo Global Management LLC co-founder Leon Black and Glenn Dubin, co-founder of hedge fund Highbridge Capital Management, have all said they regret associating with him.
Epstein paid victims hundreds of dollars in cash after sex acts, prosecutors said. They were initially recruited to give Epstein massages, which became increasingly sexual in nature. At least three of Epstein’s employees were involved in recruiting and scheduling minors for sexual encounters with him, as well as other unspecified “associates,” authorities said.
One was based in New York, while two other assistants based at his mansion in Palm Beach were responsible for scheduling the encounters there and escorting victims to a room in the house, according to the indictment.
--With assistance from Hailey Waller, Erik Larson and James Ludden.
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