MANHATTAN (CN) – Just before attending a federal bail hearing, prosecutors learned new details about wealthy sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein’s murky assets and hidden passport that made the presiding judge do a double-take.
“Say that again,” a visibly surprised U.S. District Judge Richard Berman remarked. “You found that today?”
At a hearing this morning in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller had just told the seasoned jurist what the government found stashed inside Epstein’s $77 million Upper East Side mansion.
“In connection with that factor, your honor, just this morning, the government became aware that in a locked safe in the defendant’s mansion there were piles of cash, dozens of diamonds, and a passport appearing to be issued from a foreign country with a photo of the defendant and a name on that passport that is not the defendant’s name,” Rossmiller said.
For Rossmiller, the discovery raised questions.
“Certainly, the first question for a defendant of this tremendous means is how much money does he have? Where is it? What are the accounts?” Rossmiller said, referring to Epstein’s assets. “Is it in foreign accounts? How much is in diamonds or art? These are all details that would be necessary for the court to even begin to consider this type of application.”
Though the prosecutor did not specify the issuing country, Rossmiller added that the expired passport seized from Epstein listed the country of residence as Saudi Arabia.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman noted that pretrial services supports Epstein’s continued detention as well.
“There is no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the appearance of defendant as required and the safety of the community,” Berman said, quoting from the agency’s report.
Toward the end of the proceedings, two new accusers, Alice Farmer and Courtney Wild, stepped forward with their attorneys to emphasize that they would be afraid if Epstein were released.
“He was inappropriate with me, and I would prefer not to go into the details about labeling that at this time,” an emotional Farmer said, her voice cracking.
Telling the judge that that she was 16 years old when she had the “misfortune” to meet Epstein, Farmer alleged she was flown out to his ranch in New Mexico, where the New York Times recently reported the tycoon had been able to avoid sex-offender registration for his Florida conviction.
Wild revealed more about her story.
“I was sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein starting at the age of 14,” Wild declared.
“I would just like to ask the court to not grant him bond, to keep him in detention just for the safety of any other girls out there that are going through what I’m going through,” she continued. “It is a public case, and it’s just – he’s a scary person to have walking the streets.”
As with Epstein’s 2008 prosecution in Florida, the New York case paints a portrait of how Epstein’s enablers recruited his victims: Each would find an underage girl, often vulnerable or destitute, and offer cash to give the tycoon a massage that would turn sexual. One of the counts charge a sex-trafficking conspiracy, but no accomplices have yet been named.
Prosecutors say the girls were paid to lure others like them in a pyramid-like scheme that brought Epstein an untold number of victims, recently estimated by a federal judge in Florida to be more than 30.
Since Epstein’s latest arrest, that number has climbed with calls to the tip line 1-800-CALL-FBI. Its ranks are growing still, the government alleges. Reporting that more people have been calling in, Rossmiller said the investigation continues to “dramatically expand.”
One aspect of Epstein’s case that prosecutors have not been able to unravel, at least not publicly, is the contours of the sex-offender’s wealth. Prosecutors claim he makes $10 million per year on “whatever it is he does,” and a recent bail memo described an account linked to Epstein traced at least $500 million in self-reported assets to one unidentified bank.
“We’re just relying on the defendant’s word for all of this,” Rossmiller said, referring to Epstein’s assets.
Judge Berman, who previously allowed Epstein to file financial information under seal, also commented on the “lack of detail” in the sex offender’s “cursory” statement, the details of which he unsealed and made public after the proceedings.
Dated this June 30, the financial statement reported more than $559 million in total assets, comprised of more than $56 million in cash, $14 million in fixed income, $112 million in equities, $194 million in hedge funds and private equities and the remainder in real estate.
Berman did not take too much stock in those numbers.
“Respectfully, I don’t think that the financial summary tells me anything really,” the judge said. “For one thing, it’s some unverified list of assets, not audited, not certified, and not very detailed either.”
Years ago in the unrelated trial of Reza Zarrab, a gold trader who perpetrated the biggest money laundering scheme to Iran in U.S. history, the veteran jurist struck a blow against the phenomenon of well-heeled criminal defendants buying cushy bail packages.
The New York Times memorably described Zarrab’s requested bail package at the time as a “gilded cage,” a phrase echoed by the prosecution in describing Epstein request for armed guards to lock him up in his New York mansion.
For Berman, the arrangement smacked of a two-tiered system of justice for the rich and poor.
“Most importantly, the defendant’s privately funded armed guard proposal is unreasonable because it helps to foster inequity and unequal treatment in favor of a very small cohort of criminal defendants who are extremely wealthy, such as Mr. Zarrab,” Berman wrote in 2016.
Epstein’s attorney Martin Weinberg meanwhile complained about the difficulty his team has experienced trying to reach Epstein in the special housing unit of New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where inmates are held in isolation.
“We need him released, judge,” Weinberg said. “This is an enormously challenging case for defense counsel.”
But Berman said the same could be said of defendant unable to afford a $500 or $1,000 bail in Rikers Island.
“Everybody has the right to consult with counsel,” the judge said.
Weinberg also referenced the window of the Epstein’s alleged conduct, from 2002 to 2005, saying his client has “disciplined” himself in the 14 intervening years.
Rossmiller scoffing at that assertion, arguing that the statement concedes that Epstein is predisposed to sexually abuse underage girls.
“The defendant keeps telling on himself here,” the prosecutor said.
Farmer, one of the victims who addressed the court, ridiculed Epstein’s supposed reform too.
“If he’s continuing to engage with pornography of young women, I would say that would be quite the opposite of ‘disciplining,’” Farmer said, referring to the stash of child pornography that authorities reported finding in his apartment.
Judge Berman, who is a licensed social worker, also pointed out there are studies indicating that a 14-year lapse between offenses is not particularly meaningful. Berman later released a U.S. government study showing that recidivism jumps from 5% after three years to 24% after 15 years.
Trying to distinguish his client Epstein from those offenders, Weingarten insisted: “It’s not like he’s an out-of-control rapist,” adding, “He doesn’t fit within the paradigm of many of the sex offenders that are the subject of the research that your honor is accessing.”
Unpersuaded, Berman pointed to Epstein’s record of eluding authorities.
“The question is: How do you know that?” the judge asked.
Epstein’s Florida prosecution collapsed in 2008 with a secret plea deal that allowed him to plead guilty to state-level charges of soliciting prostitution and serve out a light 13-month sentence with frequent work-release privileges. The deal insulated Epstein’s suspected accomplices from prosecution and did not inform his accusers in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
In Florida, another federal judge is deciding whether the void that non-prosecution agreement for breaking the law.
That was hardly the only remarkably light treatment given to Epstein by authorities. Methodically considering the evidence, Berman pressed Epstein’s attorney on a recent New York Post report that the NYPD allowed the tycoon to skip judge-ordered check-ins. The judge said he will issue his ruling early Thursday morning in court.
“I will endeavor to finish by then and to be able to share with you my determination,” Berman said.