16 Jan 2020
A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the top law enforcement officer in the U.S. Virgin Islands alleges that multimillionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually trafficked hundreds of young women and girls on his private island, some as recently as 2018, aided by a web of shell companies to carry out and conceal his crimes.
The allegations, if validated, broaden the scope of Epstein’s sexual trafficking, and shed new light on the tactics Epstein used to hide his illicit activities.
The lawsuit seeks forfeiture of the islands, valued by managers of Epstein’s estate at more than $86 million, because of their use in alleged crimes.
“This lawsuit focuses on conduct that happened here in the Virgin Islands in violation of Virgin Islands law,” Attorney General Denise George said during a news conference. “The conduct described in our complaint … betrays the deepest principles and values of the government and the people of the Virgin Islands.”
Epstein, who was found dead in a Manhattan jail cell last Aug. 10, allegedly brought girls as young as 11 to his private island, known as Little St. James, and maintained a database to track their availability and movements, the lawsuit said.
George, who became attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands last April, alleged that Epstein used “a complex web” of shell companies to hold properties, including Little St. James and Great St. James, at which the former financier engaged in human trafficking, forced labor, sexual servitude and other criminal behavior.
Through at least six corporate entities, Epstein “carried out and concealed his criminal conduct,” she said, adding that a toll-free, 24-hour hotline had been established (800-998-7559) for victims and the public to report on Epstein’s activities.
“We do need your help to see that justice is done now,” she said.
Most of the Virgin Island companies were created in 2011 and 2012, soon after Epstein registered as a sex offender in the Virgin Islands following his 2008 guilty plea to state prostitution charges in Palm Beach County, the lawsuit said.
That 2008 plea came about after Epstein received a controversial non-prosecution agreement from then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta. The deal shelved a federal sex trafficking indictment that could have put Epstein away for life. Instead he served a year in the Palm Beach County stockade, enjoying liberal work release privileges.
The lawsuit adds to the criminal allegations against Epstein, who had been charged by Manhattan prosecutors in July with sexually exploiting dozens of women and girls in New York and Florida.
In August, Epstein was found dead in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he had been awaiting trial on the same allegations that had been sidetracked a decade earlier. It was categorized as a suicide by hanging. While napping and shopping online, corrections officers failed to check on Epstein regularly on the night he died, and then allegedly lied about their own negligence. Two officers have been criminally charged.
Prior to his death, Epstein and his attorneys had denied the criminal charges. Epstein’s attorneys had said previously that he had not broken the law since his 2008 conviction in Florida. In an interview with the Herald in November, Mark Epstein said he believed his older brother did not kill himself nor had he engaged in sex trafficking since the 2008 conviction, and since had relations only with women 18 or older.
But the lawsuit filed Wednesday alleged that Epstein not only sexually trafficked women and young girls after his Florida conviction — he intended to expand his illicit operation in the Virgin Islands for years to come by purchasing Great St. James, the island closest to Little St. James, to conceal his conduct from public view and to evade oversight by the police.
Using Little St. James, the lawsuit said, “Epstein and his associates could avoid detection of their illegal activity from Virgin Islands and federal law enforcement and prevent these young women and underage girls from leaving freely and escaping the abuse.”
Epstein’s shell companies also were used to hold private airplanes and helicopters that Epstein used to transport young women and girls to and from the Virgin Islands, the lawsuit said.
“The Epstein case highlights how sex traffickers — like all organized criminal enterprises — thrive on the secrecy provided by anonymous shell companies,” said Clark Gascoigne, executive director of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition, a group calling for greater transparency about true owners of shell companies. “Opaque ownership structures make it difficult — if not impossible — for law enforcement to track individuals” behind human trafficking.
George said she was “early in the stage of what we are going to be doing” and would not disclose if the alleged victims in the Virgin Islands were brought from South Florida or elsewhere to the Epstein properties. Her focus, she said, was that crimes were committed on Epstein’s islands.
By Daniel Chang and Kevin G. Hall, Miami Herald, 15 January 2020
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