Epstein's teen sex trafficking ring worked like a pyramid scheme, according to victims, who say they were paid to give massages to Epstein, paid extra for sex acts and paid even more to recruit more girls between the ages of 13 and 16 into the ring. The girls were also, at times, allegedly offered up to Epstein's powerful friends.
"We had victims who didn't know each other, never met each other and they all basically independently told the same story," Michael Reiter told the Miami Herald. Reiter was police chief in Palm Beach, Florida — where Epstein resided — during the investigation. Two police officers also said that they were pressured by then-Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer to discontinue their investigation or downgrade the case to a misdemeanor.
In 2008, Epstein was convicted of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution and served 13 months in prison following a plea agreement. His conviction followed a series of dismissals of other, similar lawsuits that same year.
"Our judgment in this case, based on the evidence known at the time, was that it was better to have a billionaire serve time in jail, register as a sex offender and pay his victims restitution than risk a trial with a reduced likelihood of success," Acosta, then US attorney for Southern Florida — the top federal prosecutor in Miami — explained in a 2011 letter.
Acosta had negotiated the agreement with one of Epstein's lawyers, a former colleague of his at a prestigious Washington, DC, law firm. According to the Miami Herald, Acosta "didn't just buckle under pressure from Epstein's lawyers; he and other prosecutors worked with them to contain the case — even as the FBI was uncovering evidence of a wider sex trafficking operation." (Emphasis by Miami Herald).
At the time, Epstein, with Acosta's help, was able to avoid federal charges, immunize all co-conspirators from prosecution and simply register as a sex offender and settle the lawsuits from the roughly 30 victims suing him. The deal was also, potentially illegally, kept secret from Epstein's victims.
Acosta nevertheless has landed on the president's shortlist of potential nominees for the position of US Attorney General as he seeks a replacement for Jeff Sessions, according to a Bloomberg report.
Epstein repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in depositions for those lawsuits, in one case more than 200 times, the Miami Herald reports. Reporters for the outlet reviewed scores of court records, lawsuits, witness depositions and sealed documents and spoke to previously unidentified victims.
But damage from the plea deal went even further, as it effectively "shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims," the outlet reported.
The Miami Herald investigated the cases of about 80 women who say they were abused by Epstein between 2001 and 2006, but only four were willing to speak on video.
Meanwhile, even the lax 13-month prison sentence imposed on Epstein was no ordinary one: he was allowed to leave six days a week for work, and his year of house arrest that followed saw him flying out to New York and the Virgin Islands.
Epstein's private Boeing 727 — nicknamed the Lolita Express — hosted former President Bill Clinton a whopping 26 times. Friends of Epstein's that have been accused of sleeping with underage victims include President Donald Trump, Trump legal ally Alan Dershowitz and the UK's Prince Andrew. Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen were also associates of Epstein's and have been separately accused of sex acts with underage victims.
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) September 28, 2018
The accused all deny the allegations against them. Dershowitz worked on Epstein's legal team and helped furnish dossiers on the victims in order to discredit their testimonies. Trump vehemently denied the allegations against him levied by Katie Johnson, who says she was just 13 years old when she was raped by the president.
"I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,'' Trump told New York Magazine in 2002. "He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
One of the girls, Virginia Roberts, was recruited at the age of 15 while working a summer job at Mar-a-Lago. Roberts has accused Epstein of flying her across the world to "meet" Prince Andrew.
Despite the huge number of accusers and mountains of evidence against Epstein — including naked photographs of underage girls — he was able to avoid a thorough prosecution. The Miami Herald's report sheds light on how.
Epstein's December trial, the outlet says, is likely to bring new information to light, as many of the victims will get their first chance to testify after years of legal struggles.