The top law enforcement officer in the U.S. Virgin Islands filed a lawsuit Wednesday, Jan. 16, against the estate of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, alleging that he trafficked and sexually abused girls and women on his private island as recently as 2018.
Epstein, a registered sex offender, was seen leaving his private plane with females possibly as young as 11 and kept a list of underage girls who were close enough to be transported to his residence, according to the lawsuit filed by Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George.
This is the first time a government has sued Epstein's estate, estimated to be worth more than $500 million. The lawsuit, first reported by the New York Times, expands the time frame of Epstein's alleged criminal activity years beyond abuses said to have occurred in the early 2000s.
In July, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Epstein with sex trafficking on allegations that he abused dozens of girls in New York and Florida and enlisted his victims to recruit others. Epstein, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, committed suicide in his prison cell the next month, and two workers at the detention facility have been charged with falsifying records that they conducted regular checks on him.
The lawsuit claims Epstein relied on a deliberately intricate web of shell companies, some of which prosecutors have not identified, to conceal the trafficking and abuse of women and girls "dozens of times over nearly two decades." He bought the island of Little St. James in 1998 to take advantage of its seclusion, the lawsuit says. Little St. James is almost two miles from St. Thomas and can be accessed only via boat or helicopter.
In 2016, the lawsuit says, Epstein used a straw purchaser to conceal his identity and buy the nearby island of Great St. James for more than $20 million. His collaborators wanted to ensure that visitors to Great St. James could not see what was happening on Little St. James, according to the lawsuit.
Epstein is said to have preyed on the financial needs of girls and women by promising them career opportunities and educational assistance. He lured some under the pretext of offering them modeling opportunities and told others that he would pay them a substantial sum to massage him and others, the lawsuit says. He allegedly used private planes, helicopters, boats and cars to bring them to his islands.
To keep his victims from escaping, the lawsuit says, Epstein confiscated their passports, eliminated external communications and threatened to hurt them. He told the girls' families that he was taking good care of them and that they were being financially supported through college and other educational opportunities, according to the lawsuit. He is also alleged to have kept records on his computer with his victims' contact information.
Epstein's pattern of sexual abuse operated as a pyramid scheme in which his victims were forced to meet with other girls and women at least three times a day, the suit says. The victims were paid for those meetings and received extra money if they brought Epstein more girls, according to the lawsuit.
In one case, a 15-year-old girl who had been forced into sexual encounters with Epstein tried to escape by swimming off Little St. James, according to the suit. Epstein organized a search party and forced her to stay by confiscating her passport, the lawsuit says. When another victim tried to leave, the search party allegedly brought her back to Epstein and threatened to hurt or physically restrain her if she did not cooperate.
Epstein successfully hid his alleged illicit activities from law enforcement by requiring the people working for him to sign confidentiality agreements, the lawsuit says. Investigators who tried to conduct routine sex-offender address checks on Little St. James were not allowed past the island's dock, which Epstein called his "front door," according to the lawsuit. Epstein also allegedly referred to authorities' visits to Great St. James to monitor construction as "invasions."
George, the prosecutor, said in the lawsuit that Epstein and his associates had made the Virgin Islands look like an ideal place to conceal human trafficking and sex crimes.
"The conduct of Jeffrey Epstein and his associates shocks the conscience and betrays the deepest principles and laws of the U.S. Virgin Islands," she told reporters Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. "The Virgin Islands is not, and will not, be a safe haven for human trafficking or sexual exploitation."
The lawsuit seeks to revoke the Epstein estate's claim to property in the Virgin Islands, to force his collaborators to forfeit any money they made from the alleged activity and to require the dissolution of his shell companies.
The estate's coexecutors, Darren K. Indyke and Richard D. Kahn, could not be reached for comment. They released a statement saying the estate "is being administered in accordance with the laws of the U.S. Virgin Islands," the AP reported. They also rebutted George's claim to reporters that Epstein's victims must keep their allegations quiet to benefit from a voluntary compensation fund.
"The suggestion that the program was intended to conceal any information or to shield anyone from liability or accountability is unfounded, directly contrary to the details of the proposed program and false," the statement said, according to the AP.
This article was written by Marisa Iati, a reporter for The Washington Post.