The day of the search on Oct. 20, 2005, they found that most of Epstein’s computer hard drives, surveillance cameras and videos had been removed from the house, leaving loose, dangling wires, according to the police report.
But the girls’ description of the house squared with what detectives found, right down to the hot pink couch and the dresser drawer of sex toys in Epstein’s bathroom.
Michael Reiter, the retired Palm Beach police chief, said his own trash was disappearing from his house, as his life was put under Epstein’s microscope. Private investigators hired by Epstein’s lawyers even tracked down Reiter’s grade school teachers, the former chief said.
Questions were raised about donations that Epstein had made to the police department, even though Reiter had returned one of the donations shortly after the investigation began.
Lead detective Joseph Recarey, meanwhile, said he began to take different routes to and from work, and even switched vehicles because he knew he was being tailed.
“At some point it became like a cat-and-mouse game. I would stop at a red light and go. I knew they were there, and they knew I knew they were there. I was concerned about my kids because I didn’t know if it was someone that they hired just out of prison that would hurt me or my family,” Recarey said.
Despite relentless political pressure, Reiter and Recarey soldiered on, and their determination yielded evidence that supported most of the girls’ allegations, they said.
They had phone records that showed Epstein and his assistant, Kellen, had called many of the girls. Epstein’s flight logs showed that the calls were made when Epstein was in Palm Beach.
They obtained dozens of message pads from his home that read like a who’s who of famous people, including magician David Copperfield and Donald Trump, an indication of Epstein’s vast circle of influential friends.
There were also messages from girls, and their phone numbers matched those of many of the girls Recarey had interviewed, Recarey said.
They read: “Courtney called, she can come at 4,” or “Tanya can’t come at 7 p.m. tomorrow because she has soccer practice.”
They also found naked photographs of underage girls in Epstein’s closet, Recarey said.
There were also witnesses: Two of Epstein’s butlers gave Recarey sworn interviews, confirming that young girls had been coming and going at the house. One of the butlers, Alfredo Rodriguez, told Recarey that when he was tasked with cleaning up the master bath after Epstein’s sessions with the girls he often discovered sex toys.
Once, he accidentally stumbled on a high school girl, whom he identified, sleeping naked in Epstein’s spa, he testified in a 2009 court deposition.
Rodriguez said he was given the job of paying the girls, telling Recarey that he was “a human ATM machine” because he was ordered by Epstein to keep $2,000 on him at all times. He was also assigned to buy the girls gifts.
Rodriguez gave Recarey copies of pages from a book that Epstein and his staff kept with the names and phone numbers for many of the Palm Beach girls, Recarey said.
Rodriguez, however, held onto the bulk of Epstein’s “little black book,” and in November 2009 tried to sell it for $50,000 to an undercover FBI agent posing as a victim’s lawyer.
He was arrested, and sentenced in 2012 to federal prison, and died three years later following an illness. The book — listing personal phone numbers for a cavalcade of Epstein’s powerful friends and celebrities — eventually became public as part of a civil lawsuit.
It listed more than 100 female names and phone numbers under the headings “massage” in every city where Epstein had homes.
In May 2006, Recarey drew up probable cause affidavits, charging Epstein, two of his assistants and one recruiter with sex-related crimes.
Instead, then-Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer took what Recarey said was the unusual step of referring the case to a state grand jury. Epstein was indicted in state court on a minor charge of solicitation of prostitution.
Recarey said Krischer told him he didn’t believe Epstein’s accusers, and only two of them were called before the state grand jury investigating the case — even though police had lined up more than a dozen girls and witnesses at that time.
Believing that the case had been tainted, Reiter — that same month, May 2006 — took a very public stance against Krischer, writing a letter, which was released to the news media, calling on Krischer to remove himself from the case.
The chief then referred it to the FBI, which opened its own investigation in July 2006, FBI records show.
Reiter said he was effectively blackballed in some Palm Beach circles as a result of going over Krischer’s head, and their relationship, once strong, would never be the same.
Reiter has no regrets about what he did.
“There are challenges here that don’t exist in a lot of other places because of the affluence in the community, but the only way I could approach this case was that none of that matters,” he said. “The truth is still the truth. The facts are the facts. Everybody is treated the same.”
In the years that followed, several of the victims obtained lawyers and filed civil lawsuits against Epstein. About two dozen lawsuits were filed, starting in 2008. The early cases were particularly brutal for his victims, the court records show.
The girls faced fierce grilling from another pack of Epstein’s civil attorneys, who questioned them about their boyfriends, drinking, drug use, social media posts, their parents and even their medical histories.
One girl was asked about her abortions, and her parents, who were Catholic and knew nothing about the abortions, were also deposed and questioned.
Licata said the questions from Epstein’s civil lawyers were so intimate that she became paranoid that people were following her.
“His lawyers were just in my life inside and out. They asked if I had a baby, if I had an abortion, ‘did you sleep with 30 different guys’ and ‘do you think that played a part?’ I said, ‘you’re going to come at me like that when you represent a guy who is doing this to hundreds of girls? How do you sleep at night?’ ”
Jeffrey Epstein was born in Brooklyn, the son of a New York Parks Department worker. In one of several depositions he gave as part of the lawsuits filed against him, he said he attended the Cooper Union school for the advancement of science and art and then studied physics at New York University.
He never obtained a degree, instead going on to teach at the Dalton School, an elite K-12 private academy on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Various news profiles over the years have speculated about how he made his vast fortune, calling him an “International Moneyman of Mystery” and “The Talented Mr. Epstein.”
This much is known: He got his start on Wall Street after being offered a job by the father of one of his students. At Bear Stearns, he became a derivative specialist, applying complex math formulas and computer algorithms to evaluate financial data and trends.
He then struck out on his own, opening J. Epstein & Co. His fortunes improved when he became a financial adviser for Leslie Wexner, founder of The Limited stores and owner of Victoria’s Secret brands. Later, Epstein would boast that he would manage the portfolios of only those clients who had $1 billion or more.
Through Wexner, he acquired a seven-story stone mansion that is considered the largest private residence in Manhattan — a 21,000-square-foot fortress with heated sidewalks that spans the entire block on 71st Street between Fifth and Madison avenues.
He also owns a 10,000-acre ranch, named “Zorro,” in New Mexico, a private island called “Little St. James” in the Virgin Islands, the $13 million house in Palm Beach, a Gulfstream jet and, at one point, owned a Boeing 727.
He has never been in the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, largely because the magazine has never been able to determine the source or the size of his wealth.
He has been dogged by questions about his financial dealings. A former business partner, Steven Hoffenberg, sued him in 2016, claiming that Epstein was the mastermind behind a $500 million Ponzi scheme that Hoffenberg was imprisoned for in 1995.
Hoffenberg served 18 years for the scam, but he later dropped the lawsuit against Epstein.
In August, two of Hoffenberg’s former investors rekindled the lawsuit against Epstein, but the case was dropped in October.
Epstein and his associate, British-born socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, were also accused in a 2015 federal civil suit of organizing underage sex parties on his private plane, nicknamed “The Lolita Express,” and at Epstein’s various homes.
Maxwell, who has never been charged with wrongdoing, has denied allegations made in the lawsuit that she was Epstein’s “madam.” The suit, filed by victim Virginia Roberts, was settled in 2017.
It was Epstein’s contacts with powerful and famous people that first propelled him into the public spotlight. In 2002, he flew former President Bill Clinton, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Chris Tucker and others to South Africa on his private jet as part of a fact-finding AIDS mission in support of the Clinton Foundation.
But Epstein, a Clinton donor who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and causes, realized that his Democratic connections weren’t going to help him in 2006, when the federal prosecutor was Acosta, a conservative Republican appointed during the George W. Bush administration.
Epstein’s tactic: hire the most aggressive and politically connected lawyers that his money could buy.
At the top of his list: Kenneth Starr, a Republican icon because of his pursuit of Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation, which led to the impeachment (but not conviction) of the president after it was revealed he’d had sex with a young White House intern.
Like Acosta, Starr had worked at the prestigious law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Epstein also tapped Jay Lefkowitz, also of Kirkland, who worked as a domestic policy adviser and later as a special envoy to North Korea during the George W. Bush presidency.
Epstein also hired Bruce Reinhart, then an assistant U.S. attorney in Palm Beach.
Reinhart, now a U.S. magistrate, left the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Jan. 1, 2008, and went to work representing Epstein’s employees on Jan. 2, 2008, court records show.
In 2011, Reinhart was named in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act lawsuit, which accused him of violating Justice Department policies by switching sides, implying that he leveraged inside information about Epstein’s investigation to curry favor with Epstein.
Reinhart, in a sworn declaration attached to the Crime Victims’ Rights Act case, denied the allegation, saying he did not participate in Epstein’s criminal case and “never learned any confidential, non-public information about the Epstein matter.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has since disputed that, saying in court papers that he did possess confidential information about the case.
Contacted for this story, Reinhart, in an email, said he never represented Epstein — only Epstein’s pilots; his scheduler, Sarah Kellen; and Nadia Marcinkova, described by some victims as Epstein’s sex slave. Reinhart also pointed out that a complaint filed against him by victims’ lawyer Paul Cassell was dismissed by the Justice Department.
That same year, 2011, more girls continued to come forward, including Roberts, who claimed in a British tabloid story that Epstein directed her — while she was underage — to have sex, not only with him, but with other powerful men, including his attorney, Alan Dershowitz, and Prince Andrew.
Dershowitz and Andrew denied her claims, but after she filed a sworn affidavit in federal court in Miami, the ensuing media firestorm forced Acosta, then dean of the law school at Florida International University, to explain why he’d declined to prosecute Epstein.
In a written, public statement on March 20, 2011, Acosta asserted that the deal he struck with Epstein’s lawyers was harsher than it would have been had the case remained with the state prosecutor, Krischer, who favored charging Epstein with only a misdemeanor prostitution violation.
Acosta also described what he called a “year-long assault” on prosecutors by Epstein’s “army of legal superstars” who, he said, investigated individual prosecutors and their families, looking for “personal peccadilloes” to disqualify them from Epstein’s case.
Dershowitz, in an interview, denied that Epstein’s lawyers would ever investigate prosecutors.
Prosecution, defense work together
Documents nevertheless show that Acosta not only buckled under pressure from Epstein’s lawyers, but he and other prosecutors worked with them to contain the case, even as the FBI was uncovering evidence of victims and witnesses in other states, FBI and federal court documents show.
A 53-page federal indictment had been prepared in 2007, and subpoenas were served on several of Epstein’s employees, compelling them to testify before a federal grand jury.
The court records reveal that emails began to fly back and forth between prosecutors and Epstein’s legal team. Those emails show that federal prosecutors kept acquiescing to Epstein’s demands.
Prosecutors allowed Epstein’s lawyers to dictate the terms of each deal that they drew up, and repeatedly backed down on deadlines, so that the defense essentially controlled the pace of the negotiations, the emails and letters show.
It’s clear, from emails and other records, that prosecutors spent a lot of time figuring out a way to settle the case with the least amount of scandal. Instead of charging Epstein with a sex offense, prosecutors considered witness tampering and obstruction charges, and misdemeanors that would allow Epstein to secretly plead guilty in Miami, instead of in Palm Beach County, where most of the victims lived, thereby limiting media exposure and making it less likely for victims to appear at the sentencing.
“I’ve been spending some quality time with Title 18 [the U.S. criminal code] looking for misdemeanors,” the lead prosecutor, A. Marie Villafana, wrote to Epstein’s lawyers on Sept. 13, 2007, adding that she was trying to find “a factual basis” for one or more non-sex-related crimes to charge him with.
The email chain shows that prosecutors sometimes communicated with the defense team using private emails, and that their correspondence referenced discussions that they wanted to have by phone or in person, so that there would be no paper trail.
“It’s highly unusual and raises suspicions of something unethical happening when you see emails that say ‘call me, I don’t want to put this in writing.’ There’s no reason to worry about putting something in writing if there’s nothing improper or unethical in the case,” said former federal prosecutor Francey Hakes, who worked in the Justice Department’s Crimes Against Children unit.
On Sept. 24, 2007, another agreement was reached, but Epstein still wasn’t happy with it, emails show.
Lefkowitz continued to pressure the U.S. Attorney’s Office to keep the agreement secret, even though under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, prosecutors were required to inform the victims that a plea deal had been signed.
“We … object to your sending a letter to the alleged victims,” Lefkowitz wrote on Nov. 28. “ … Any such letter would immediately be leaked to the press, your actions will only have the effect of injuring Mr. Epstein and promoting spurious civil litigation directed at him. We also request that if your office believes that it must send a letter to go to the alleged victims … it should happen only after Mr. Epstein has entered his plea.”
By December, Epstein had still not agreed to a date for his plea hearing, and was technically in violation of the September agreement, which required him to appear in court by November, Acosta noted in a letter to Kenneth Starr.
“The [U.S. attorneys] who have been negotiating with defense counsel have for some time complained to me regarding the tactics used by the defense team,” Acosta wrote. “It appears to them that as soon as resolution is reached on one issue, defense counsel finds ways to challenge the resolution collaterally. … Some in our office are deeply concerned that defense counsel will continue to mount collateral challenges to provisions to the agreement, even after Mr. Epstein has entered his guilty plea and thus rendered the agreement difficult, if not impossible, to unwind.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
Villafana frequently showed her frustration.
“I thought we had worked very well together in resolving this dispute … I feel that I bent over backwards to keep in mind the effect that the agreement would have on Mr. Epstein,” Villafana wrote to Epstein attorney Lefkowitz on Dec. 13, 2007.
By then the deal had been signed for two months, and Jeffrey Sloman, Acosta’s top assistant, told Lefkowitz he intended to begin notifying Epstein’s victims.
An indignant Lefkowitz wrote to Acosta: “You … assured me that your office would not … contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants and their respective counsel in this matter.”
As the months went on, with the agreement still in limbo, federal prosecutors once again began to prepare indictments against Epstein, court records show.
The FBI investigation briefly resumed, and additional witnesses were interviewed in New York and New Mexico, the records show. In January 2008, several Epstein victims were sent letters informing them that the FBI investigation was “ongoing” as negotiations to finalize the plea bargain continued behind the scenes.
Starr finally appealed to the Justice Department in Washington, challenging federal jurisdiction of the case, but in May 2008, the Justice Department affirmed Acosta’s right to prosecute.