NEW YORK (AP) — Financier Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers, seeking bail for their client, said Thursday that the accused sex trafficker of underage girls had long lived with the fear that federal prosecutors might pursue sexual abuse charges against him again — and yet had never sought to flee the country.
Epstein, 66, was arrested Saturday night in New Jersey as he arrived from Paris and now faces sex trafficking charges alleging he abused dozens of underage girls in Florida and New York in the early 2000s. His lawyers have argued that a non-prosecution agreement made more than a decade ago with federal prosecutors covers the same ground as the new charges.
He pleaded not guilty Monday, and a judge asked defense lawyers and prosecutors to submit their bail arguments prior to a hearing next week.
His lawyers recommended house arrest in Epstein’s $77 million Manhattan mansion and electronic monitoring as they countered what they described as a “drastic demand” by prosecutors that he be detained until trial.
They said their client was willing to offer the Manhattan property as collateral while he lives there, along with his private jet, which would be grounded, as he fights the charges.
In seeking detention, prosecutors said a trove of what seemed to be nude pictures of underage girls was found in his mansion after his arrest on charges that he sexually exploited and abused underage girls.
In their submission in Manhattan federal court, lawyers said Epstein always knew federal authorities might renege on a non-prosecution deal signed in 2007, under which Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida, served a 13-month jail sentence and registered as a sex offender.
“Indeed, Mr. Epstein feared the toxic political climate might tempt the government to try and end-run the NPA — yet continually returned home from travel abroad, fully prepared to vindicate his rights under the agreement and otherwise mount a full-throated defense,” they wrote.
The lawyers also said Epstein was in “perfect compliance” with sex offender registration requirements.
The defense also gave some insight into arguments they might eventually use at future hearings and at trial, saying that the accusations against Epstein are “outside the margins of federal criminal law” and don’t constitute sex trafficking since there were no allegations he “trafficked anybody for commercial profit; that he forced, coerced, defrauded, or enslaved anybody.”
Late Thursday, Epstein’s lawyers also asked for permission to file his financial disclosure under seal, citing the “exceptional amount of publicity that has been generated by this case, much of which relates specifically to his finances.” The judge did not immediately rule.
The indictment filed in New York accuses Epstein of paying underage girls hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and then molesting them at his homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York from 2002 through 2005. The charges carry the potential for up to 45 years in prison.
Since the charges were filed, a woman has come forward to say Epstein raped her at his New York mansion when she was 15. Epstein’s attorneys have not responded to that accusation, and prosecutors declined to comment on it.
A massage therapist who says she traveled to one of Epstein’s private Caribbean islands to work dozens of times in the early 2000s told The Associated Press that she saw “nothing out of the ordinary” there.
She said she saw girls there on two occasions: One girl appeared to be 16 or 17 and excitedly rode around the island on an ATV. She glimpsed another girl hurrying from Epstein’s house to a nearby cottage.
The woman spoke on condition of being identified only by her initials, H.W., because she feared losing business.
H.W., who was then in her 50s, said she was never asked to do anything improper and didn’t make anything of seeing the girls on Little St. James Island, Epstein’s main retreat in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Several employees who worked on Epstein’s property have refused to talk because they signed non-disclosure agreements.
The once-secret agreement with federal prosecutors in Florida has been widely criticized as a sweetheart deal. The criticism has fallen heavily on Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney in Miami at the time of the agreement.
Members of a House Judiciary subcommittee sent a letter to the Justice Department on Thursday requesting a briefing on the agreement.
Epstein’s arrest has drawn attention to his past friendships with powerful people, including Donald Trump before he became president and former President Bill Clinton. Both have recently said they haven’t seen Epstein in years and didn’t know about any misconduct.
On Thursday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak also sought to distance himself from Epstein after U.S. tax records emerged that Barak received some $2 million in grants last decade from the Wexner Foundation. At the time of the grants, Epstein was a trustee of the foundation.
In a radio interview, Barak said he met Epstein several times but said he “didn’t support me or pay me.”
Associated Press writer Dánica Coto contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.