FBI raids Jeffrey Epstein’s private ‘paedophile island’ in Caribbean as sex trafficking probe continues after his death
- New evidence recovered from the depraved financier’s compound on Little St. James could be used to charge others in the still unfolding case
- Epstein died on Saturday from an apparent suicide in a New York detention centre while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges
More than a dozen FBI agents raided Jeffrey Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean on Monday, proving federal investigators are still fishing for evidence in their sex trafficking investigation of the multimillionaire financier.
A local fishing and snorkelling guide said she unwittingly led a group of tourists from Texas right to the edge of the dragnet at 10:24am and saw 15 to 20 agents scouring the convicted paedophile’s personal paradise.
“We were sailing directly into the FBI raid. Officers were everywhere. It was pretty nuts,” Captain Kelly Quinn with Salty Dog Day Sails told the New York Daily News.
She said her charter boat was alone in the cove near Epstein’s multimillion-dollar estate on Little St. James, south of St. Thomas, when she noticed the agents about 50 metres away on the dock.
“They had uniforms with FBI in big, bold yellow letters. They were combing the place, getting in golf carts, marching the perimeter, making their rounds, entering buildings,” she said.
Quinn said the agents arrived in Customs and Border Patrol boats and were on a bluff overlooking her curious crew and clients as they took a break from their snorkelling to watch.
“We were the only boat there. We saw some beautiful fish, swam with turtles and witnessed an FBI raid,” she said. “Everyone was surprised it didn’t happen a lot sooner.”
New evidence recovered from the island compound could be used to charge others in the still unfolding case or as fodder for a civil forfeiture action aimed at seizing the property to provide restitution to his victims.
After Epstein’s death, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman, the chief prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, said his investigation of Epstein would continue and underscored the fact the indictment included a conspiracy charge.
Berman’s office had not charged anyone as a co-conspirator, but a highly controversial nonprosecution deal struck between Epstein and federal officials in Florida in 2007 included language saying the agreement extended to four women identified as “potential co-conspirators”.
Epstein, 66, died from an apparent suicide while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges that were outside the scope of his earlier agreement.
His death is likely to set the stage for a messy battle over his vast, multimillion-dollar web of international real estate, financial holdings and shadowy shell accounts.
Epstein never married and had no known children. With both parents deceased, his younger brother Mark “Puggy” Epstein, 64, a New York real estate developer, appears to be his most obvious heir.
A man who identified himself as Mark abruptly hung up on without commenting on Monday.
Epstein’s furtive fortune includes a US$77 million mansion on New York’s Upper East Side where he allegedly abused girls between 2002 and 2005, many of them in a massage room, federal officials said as they sought to seize the posh pad following his arrest.
He also owned Little St. James in the US Virgin Islands, complete with a deluxe compound, and recently acquired an adjacent island known as Greater St. James.
In addition, he reportedly controlled a New Mexico property named Zorro Ranch previously valued at US$12 million, a plush pad in Paris just steps from the Arc de Triomphe and a gated mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.
No wills had been filed on Monday in either New York, Florida or the Virgin Islands, court clerks said.
If prosecutors decide to file lawsuits to seize Epstein’s luxury properties through civil forfeiture proceedings, it is possible they could acquire the holdings through a judge’s order or a trial and liquidate the property to form a victims’ restitution fund, said Sharon Cohen Levin, a former federal prosecutor with the Southern District of New York.
“I can’t imagine a scenario where prosecutors are not considering the prospect of using forfeiture as a means of providing victim compensation,” Levin said.
To succeed, prosecutors would have to file a complaint against each targeted asset, provide notice to anyone with legal interest in the property and ultimately prove it was somehow used in furtherance of a crime, she said.
For example, federal prosecutors could bring a civil forfeiture action against Epstein’s mansion on East 71st Street and lay out in the complaint what crimes they believe were committed at the seven-story property and their basis for believing it was used to facilitate the illegal activity, she said.
Likely evidence would be the trove of nude photographs depicting underage girls that FBI agents allegedly recovered from a safe in the mansion.
“If there’s a strong criminal case, these cases are generally easy to prove. It’s the same evidence that the government was going to present at trial,” she said.
“So we still might get a trial. The difference now is that instead of having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the government has to prove a preponderance,” a lower threshold that finds something is more likely to have occurred than not, she said.
She said prosecutors could go after Epstein’s properties in Paris and the US Virgin Islands if they have the evidence to back up their claims.
“Those are jurisdictions with strong diplomatic ties. The US Virgin Islands would not be problematic,” she said.
At least one lawyer for several of Epstein’s victims has called for an immediate freezing of the paedophile’s assets.
“Jeffrey Epstein hurt dozens if not hundreds of girls and women. His estate now has the chance to do the right thing and provide for his victims by freezing his assets, allowing all of them to come forward and present claims, and compensate them for the devastation this predator caused to their lives,” lawyer Lisa Bloom said on Monday.
“If the estate does not choose to do so, we will fight for our clients’ right for respect,” she said.
“I am in favour of any and all efforts to get justice for the victims. But normally a civil lawsuit results in far larger amounts than restitution in criminal cases. And the victim has complete control of her own civil case.”
Beyond civil claims, it’s also possible the estate will face duelling probate claims involving upstart heirs seeking a cut of the depraved financier’s fortune.
With that in mind, a company called Morse Genealogical Services posted a website, EpsteinHeirs.com, to solicit possible blood relatives.
“If you believe you may have given birth to a child fathered by the late Jeffrey Epstein who recently committed suicide, or that he may have been your biological father, please contact us immediately, without delay!!” the website reads.