By Lily Wolfson ’21 and Tayson Reese ’21
On August 10, 2019, the media alerted the public that Jeffrey Epstein had been found dead in his Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial for human trafficking and sex crimes against underage girls.
The news of Epstein’s death elicited an immediate response from social media; memes and conspiracy theories flooded news feeds for weeks. Nonetheless, mainstream media vehemently stuck to the suicide narrative.
Epstein’s 2019 arrest was not his first encounter with law enforcement. For decades, his life had been defined by nefarious activity and glimpses of power. Born in 1953 to a middle-class family, Epstein spent his formative years in public schools in the working-class neighborhood of Sea Gate, Brooklyn. Despite his humble upbringings, Epstein rapidly amassed wealth––a net worth of $577 million––and integrated himself into international high society.
In 1974, at the age of 21, Epstein began teaching high school math at the Dalton School in New York City before being let go for poor performance after only two years. He then pivoted to banking and soon reemerged as a high-level trader at Bear Stearns. After four years of trading, he earned a senior position managing billions of dollars for the world’s elite. He then started his own investment firm and took with him both the money and loyalty of high profile clients.
Within a decade, Epstein went from clapping chalkboard erasers to being a formidable titan of finance. His unprecedented ascent up the financial ranks granted him not only wealth but also influence. As the owner of a large consulting firm, Intercontinental Assets Group Inc., Epstein had access to billions of dollars, with socialites, royalty, politicians, and entire governments as his clientele.
His robust presence in high society solidified his relationships with the Trumps; the Clintons; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Bill Gates; they all entrusted Epstein with both their bank accounts and their secrets.
While Jeffrey Epstein was indeed very wealthy, his patrons and clients were far richer and were responsible for his wealth. He had access to the highest strata of society but still fundamentally served those he associated with.
Epstein acquired properties in Paris, New York City, and Palm Beach, and he even owned a private island in the Caribbean, Little Saint James. He would jet his famous clientele to his island and various residences on his plane, nicknamed “The Lolita Express” in reference to Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel about a pedophile who molests his twelve-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita.
Bill Clinton; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; Kevin Spacey; and Alan Dershowitz are among those who frequented Epstein’s jet the most. Namely, Bill Clinton flew on the jet 26 times. One may assume that these private gatherings with Epstein were strictly business-related; however, this presumption of innocence was put to rest when the FBI and Palm Beach law enforcement began investigating claims of underage girls being trafficked and abused by Epstein and his associates.
In 2005, the Palm Beach Police department responded to allegations against Epstein of soliciting underage girls for sex at his residence. Over the course of a thirteen-month-long undercover investigation, the Palm Beach Police department escalated their inquiry and involved the FBI.
In the joint investigation, several victims and witnesses were interviewed, and Epstein’s property was searched. In his home, investigators discovered hidden cameras, photos of underage girls who were previously identified as victims, and Amazon receipts for books detailing sexual slavery. Through physical evidence gathered from his residences and several testimonies, Palm Beach police had built a strong case that Epstein recruited dozens of underage girls for pedophilic purposes domestically and internationally.
Epstein, however, faced minimal consequences. His prolific legal team, which included Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, negotiated a plea deal that shielded Epstein from any federal charges with Alexander Acosta, Trump's former Secretary of Labor and then-Attorney General of Florida.
Epstein's associates were legally protected and remained anonymous. Acosta later admitted that he was lenient in charging Epstein after being told that Epstein was an intelligence agent and had strong connections with superior authority. For the state charges, Epstein served a limited and modified sentence, which allowed him to leave jail during the day. The sheriff's office responsible for this non-sentence was later paid $128,000 by a non-profit organization created by Epstein.
In New York City, Epstein was similarly able to evade justice. He was required to register as a level three sex offender but was never monitored by the NYPD. Instead of being checked in on every 90 days, Epstein was completely unsupervised. Epstein and his associates promptly picked up where they left off: abusing and trafficking underage girls.
In 2008, in the wake of Palm Beach police's investigation, Epstein’s house manager, Alfredo Rodriguez, discovered Epstein's address book, known commonly as the “little black book," and tried to sell it. Rodriguez was then arrested for obstruction of justice for not sharing the book with the FBI. After Rodriguez was arrested, he agreed to testify against Epstein in court. Rodriguez testified that he witnessed many underaged girls entering Epstein’s home, going into the massage room with Epstein, and receiving money from Epstein before departing. Rodriguez died before the book was published by American Blog Gawker in 2015 as evidence in a court case, along with the flight logs for The Lolita Express.
The flight logs and book revealed who was constantly in contact with Epstein and associated with him on a regular basis. When Epstein’s pedophilic activity was discovered, many speculated over whether those he spent the most time with were involved as well. Epstein filled nearly every aspect of his private life with pedophilia and his human trafficking ring; as the investigation progressed, it became exceedingly more apparent that his associates were likely involved in his illegal pursuits.
Photos reveal Epstein partying and flying on his plane with some of the wealthiest, most powerful international figures. As Epstein and his legal team acknowledged his imminent fate––that there was no escaping the charges against him––it is suspected he began to prepare to legally incriminate his associates who had allegedly engaged in sex crimes against underage girls in his presence.
As evidenced by the hidden cameras found in his house during the 2005 FBI investigation, Epstein likely had significant proof of criminal acts committed by his high profile clients against girls he trafficked. Epstein likely concluded that disclosing such confidential information about some of the world’s elite might shorten his sentence. If he was planning to cooperate with investigators, his powerful associates would probably have caught wind of Epstein’s prospective plan.
As Epstein awaited trial in his jail cell, the media showed the world photos, “the little black book,” and flight logs. Many drew the conclusion that Epstein’s associates were pedophiles, too, and were aware of the world’s growing suspicion upon seeing the documents.
At the time of his death, Epstein was meant to be on suicide watch; a few days prior, marks on his neck were discovered, so it was assumed that he had somehow tried to suffocate himself by hanging or other means. The cameras in Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan had never malfunctioned prior to Epstein’s alleged suicide; yet, the footage that would have captured his death was erased due to “technical errors.”
Epstein’s cellmate, a former cop convicted of murdering four people, was caught with a cell phone just before Epstein’s death. While Epstein’s death has been ruled a suicide, it is not possible to know exactly what happened without the allegedly “erased” camera footage. There were two correctional officers assigned to watch Jeffrey Epstein on the night of his death; the two officers have been indicted on federal charges for allegedly neglecting to do more than 75 mandatory checks on Epstein. The officers also allegedly fabricated records to cover up their mishap.
The technical issue with the cameras coupled with Epstein’s known ties to powerful people, his cellmate’s circumstances, and the supposed lapse in his suicide watch have sent the public into a conspiracy theorist frenzy. The world may never know what transpired in Epstein’s jail cell on August 10, 2019, but his strong ties to the rich and powerful of the world have kept his associates under the microscope.
The investigation into Epstein’s criminal activity has largely come to a halt, but many of his associates are alive. Many survivors want to see all associates of Epstein investigated; a sex trafficking ring is by no means a one-man operation.
Update: Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's long-time partner and alleged accomplice in his pedophilic pursuits, was arrested on July 2.