When Jeffrey Epstein took his life in a jail cell one year ago — dozens of his victims feared their hope for justice died with him.
The registered sex offender, who made a mockery of the legal process since at least 2007, undermined the law one last time. Using orange sheets tied to the railing of a bunk bed in his cell, Epstein hanged himself, snapping a bone in his neck in three places.
The multimillionaire financier’s death triggered a wave of outrage, disappointment, denials and conspiracy theories that continue to this day.
“The immediate reaction was disappointment. She and I wanted him alive and well and prepared to face justice in a courtroom,” said attorney Dan Kaiser, who represents Epstein accuser Jennifer Araoz. “She felt deprived of that opportunity when he died. The anniversary has resurrected those feelings.”
Epstein was accused of running an elaborate underage sex trafficking scheme in which victims were lured into giving him massages that devolved into a routine of sexual abuse. He paid victims to bring in new underage girls, maintaining a steady stream of young lives for him to destroy, prosecutors said. Lawsuits against his estate allege that defiling his victims was part of his sick thrill.
Epstein’s suicide the night between Aug. 9 and 10 capped a frenzy of shocking revelations that emerged seemingly every day after his arrest the month prior for sex trafficking minors in the early 2000s. Prosecutors said they found a stash of nude photographs of underage girls in the fiend’s $77 million Upper East Side mansion. The feds cracked a safe belonging to Epstein, 66, and found a foreign passport with a fake name and his photo, diamonds and piles of cash. The passport, issued in the 1980s, listed Epstein’s residence as Saudi Arabia. He owned palatial retreats in Palm Beach, New Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“A year after his death it is disappointing that we still don’t have more answers to how it was that Jeffrey Epstein was allowed to die while in custody, or how he was able to manipulate the criminal justice system to evade real punishment for decades-long crimes,” Epstein accuser Teresa Helm said.
The government let down Epstein’s victims yet again. In 2007, then-Southern Florida U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta negotiated a sweetheart non-prosecution agreement with Epstein that allowed him to plead guilty to charges of procuring a minor for prostitution and serve a mere 13 months in Palm Beach County jail. Acosta would later resign as President Trump’s labor secretary as outrage mounted that he kept victims in the dark about the outrageous terms of the deal.
Blame fell on the overworked, underfunded Bureau of Prisons staff at the dysfunctional Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan for Epstein’s shocking suicide.
Araoz “is disappointed and angry at the Bureau of Prisons for not doing its job and protecting his welfare,” Kaiser said. The Queens woman who claims Epstein abused her at his Upper East Side mansion when she was 15 had wanted him alive to face criminal charges and her own civil lawsuit.
The death rocked the Justice Department and MCC, which holds some of the country’s highest-profile inmates.
Two correctional officers, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, are accused of falsifying records, sleeping on the job and shopping online as Epstein hatched his final plan. They’ve pleaded not guilty.
Attorney General William Barr pledged that the investigation into Epstein’s sex trafficking would continue.
“Any co-conspirators should not rest easy,” Barr said shortly after Epstein’s death.
That promise would prove true on July 2 with the arrest of Epstein’s alleged chief enabler, Ghislaine Maxwell, 58.
“The recent arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell and the continued investigation by the Justice Department gives us — the survivors — hope that justice will be served and the crimes that were committed will no longer go ignored,” said Helm. She has sued Epstein’s estate, claiming the sadist abused her in 2002 after hiring her at the age of 22 as a traveling masseuse.
During the nearly one year between the arrest of Epstein and Maxwell, conspiracy theories blew up, claiming he didn’t kill himself.
How could the Bureau of Prisons have allowed his suicide to occur — especially when he had attempted suicide only weeks prior?
Epstein signed a will two days before his death, moving his $630 million fortune into a trust. Victims’ attorneys say the move makes it harder for them to recover money for his abuse or determine the extent of his wealth.
The woman who considered herself Epstein’s girlfriend, Karyna Shuliak, was shocked by his suicide. She was the last person to speak with him on the phone, a source told the Daily News in March.
“When she hung up the phone she was not under the impression Epstein was suicidal,” the source said.
Epstein attorney Reid Weingarten said in a Manhattan Federal Court hearing that the defense team “did not see a despairing, despondent, suicidal person” during their final meetings.
Papers in a civil suit featuring allegations against many of Epstein’s famous friends were unsealed on Aug. 9 — the day before jail staff found him hanging. Those documents, which continue to be unsealed, feature allegations that former President Bill Clinton was on Epstein’s island. British royal Prince Andrew is also named in the papers, along with many others including billionaire financier Glenn Dubin, French model scout Jean Luc Brunel, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the owner of a large hotel chain and MIT scientist Marvin Minsky.
Prominent men who associated with Epstein have issued denials to varying degrees of success. Clinton has said he never set foot on Epstein’s island. Epstein’s former attorney, Alan Dershowitz, perhaps overshared, saying “I kept my underwear on during the massage” and repeatedly insisting he’s only had sex with his wife since he first met Epstein.
Prince Andrew’s denial was a royal mess. The Prince has long been dogged by accusations he sexually abused Epstein victim Virginia Giuffre when she was 17. Epstein “quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming,” Andrew said in a BBC interview last year.
Giuffre claimed Andrew was “sweating all over” her on a dance floor around 2001. Andrew, bizarrely, insisted that wasn’t possible.
“There’s a slight problem with … the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition, which is that I don’t sweat — or I didn’t sweat at the time,” Andrew said.
The awkward interview — and his pledge to cooperate with any investigation — resulted in an ongoing effort through diplomatic channels to get him to sit down with Manhattan federal prosecutors.
The indictment of Noel and Thomas provides a powerful rebuttal of Epstein conspiracy theories through a minute-by-minute description of Epstein’s final hours.
Meanwhile, Epstein accusers have the choice to participate in an out of court claims program designed by the administrator of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. So far, more than 25 claims have been submitted, according to a spokesman for the program that is independent from Epstein’s estate.
Accusers anxiously follow Maxwell’s case, hoping she does not suffer the same fate as Epstein. The alleged madam has pleaded not guilty to charges of grooming underage girls for Epstein’s sexual abuse in the mid-1990s. The British socialite allegedly played a critical role in Epstein’s scheme, normalizing his hyper-sexualized, perverse lifestyle that derailed perhaps 100 girls’ lives. Maxwell, Epstein’s alleged right-hand woman, understood the inner workings of his operation and many of the men who participated, victims’ attorneys say.
“Jeffrey Epstein’s death, regardless of circumstances, robbed his victims of the chance to confront him in court. What we need to remember about Epstein is not how he died, but the terrible damage he and his cohorts did to countless young girls when he was alive — and, by remembering, commit ourselves to bringing to justice his cohorts and enablers, and to never again tolerating such abuse,” said attorney David Boies, who represents some Epstein accusers.