Jeffrey Epstein. Image by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images, courtesy of Vox.

High-powered financier Jeffrey Epstein, who has a history of friendships with Donald Trump, Leslie Wexner and essentially every other powerful man in Palm Beach, Florida, has been accused by federal prosecutors of trafficking dozens of minors between 2002 and 2005. According to the indictment, Epstein used his immense fortune and connections to “create a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit.”

The History

Jeffrey Epstein in Court. Photo courtesy of Variety, via AP.

While the “Me Too” movement can be credited for bringing renewed attention to Epstein and other powerful men eluding consequences through money, these charges are not the first Epstein has faced. In 2005, a Florida teenager and her parents went to the police and accused Epstein of molesting her in a Palm Beach mansion. The girl, age 14 at the time, was allegedly brought to the house by an older girl and told she would be paid to give Epstein a massage, which turned sexual by the end. Five additional victims and 17 witnesses came forward during the investigation alleging that Epstein would pay underage girls anything from $200 to $1,000 for massages and sexual favors, and would then offer them more money to bring him more girls.

Epstein maintained that all of the sexual encounters were consensual and he was led to believe all the girls were 18. While these accusations would typically warrant federal charges and could carry a life sentence if convicted, Epstein struck a deal which granted immunity to potential co-conspirators and allowed for a Florida trial under a state court system, where the U.S. Attorney for Miami, Alexander Acosta, withheld details of the deal from victims so they weren’t able to challenge the sentence in court. This was later ruled to be a blatant violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. Acosta, who served as the Secretary of Labor under the Trump administration, resigned on July 12, 2019 after public outrage was reignited about his handling of this case.

Despite the fact that the FBI had prepared a lengthy indictment that would have most likely put Epstein behind bars for decades⁠ — if not life⁠ — he only served 13 months in a white-collar, county jail and had to register as a sex offender. The deal offered by Acosta also concealed the nature of his crimes and the number of victims.  After his release, Epstein stayed relatively quiet for the next several years, until December of 2018 when he settled a lawsuit that would have seen several of his alleged victims testify in court.

The Fallout

From left to right: Prince Andrew, a member of the British royal family accused of ties to Epstein, President Donald Trump and Victoria’s Secret CEO Leslie Wexner.

Several other powerful men have come under investigation by proxy for Epstein’s crimes. One of these men was Leslie Wexner, the founder and CEO of L. Brands, Inc., which owns retail giants like Abercrombie & Fitch, Pink and Victoria’s Secret. Wexner came under fire after a 2018 Vogue interview in which he stated that the iconic Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show will never include plus-size or transgender models because they would ruin the “fantasy” the show is trying to sell. Epstein spent two decades as Wexner’s financial manager, close friend and right-hand man, even having his power of attorney for several years.

Questions have been raised by a recent New York Times article about the amount of money and acquisitions Wexner allowed Epstein to handle, and even personally acquire, for seemingly no formal compensation. Within years of meeting, Epstein and Wexner were described to have an intense and close friendship in which Wexner transferred power over his finances, private life and philanthropic organizations to Epstein. Over time, Epstein came to own a Manhattan mansion, a private plane and an Ohio estate — a combined value of over $100 million — all of which had been previously owned by Wexner or his companies. No proof of ownership or payment for these acquisitions was shown by Epstein until 2001 when the New York City property was officially transferred to Epstein for $0 from one of Wexner’s companies. Additionally, close friends and business associates of Wexner were always mystified as to why he allowed Epstein, a high school math teacher turned amateur financier, to so quickly gain control over his massive wealth. Epstein was even able to convince Wexner to sue his own mother as a member of L Brands, Inc. Board of Trustees.

Jeffrey Wexner, photo by Fred Squillante via Associated Press. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

Eventually, Wexner cut ties and isolated himself from essentially all of his business advisors except Epstein. At one point Wexner gave Epstein complete control over his children’s trust funds.  After complaints emerged that Epstein was using his connection to Wexner to prey on young women, coupled with his 2006 Florida conviction, Wexner was forced to cut ties with Epstein. Whether Wexner was complicit in Epstein’s crimes or was just an unassuming proxy to exploit young women, his connection to the former money manager is under intense scrutiny during the current trial.

Additionally, President Trump was accused during his 2016 campaign of having raped a 13-year-old girl at one of Epstein’s infamous model parties. While these allegations were widely discredited by most media outlets, it did open investigations into other powerful men potentially involved in the sex trafficking ring. So far, Prince Andrew, a member of the British royal family, and a prominent law professor have been accused of sexual misconduct. Both have emphatically denied the accusations and have not been charged with anything.

Current Charges

Protestors in front of the federal courthouse on July 8, 2019. Photo by Stephanie Keith, courtesy of NBC News.

On July 6, 2019, Epstein was arrested at an airport in New Jersey and was charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. He is accused of creating a network where girls as young as 14 were sexually exploited and transported across state lines for sexual purposes. A FBI raid on his Manhattan townhouse also revealed the Epstein possessed nude images of girls and many news outlets have alleged he possessed secretly recorded footage of men engaged in sexual acts with young girls, presumably for blackmail purposes. While Epstein pled not guilty to these charges, federal prosecutors made a public plea for other victims to come forward so they could have their day and court and receive justice for these crimes. Since then, several woman have accused Epstein of grooming, molesting and raping them when they were young teenagers.

Epstein is now awaiting trial and has been deemed an “extraordinary” flight risk due to his extensive wealth, access to private planes and the severity of the charges he is facing, leading to him being denied bail.

If you or somebody you know has been a victim of sexual exploitation or trafficking, there are available resources for reporting, counseling and crisis response, including:

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (R.A.I.N.N.): 1 (800) 656-4673,

the National Organization for Victim Assistance: 1 (800) 879-6682

and the National Child Abuse Hotline: 1 (800) 422-4453

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