NEW YORK, United States — Jeffrey Epstein, the former financier accused of molesting teenage girls and sex trafficking, is dead.
His apparent suicide in federal custody in New York prompted outrage among lawyers seeking justice for victims and set off a Department of Justice probe. Epstein wasn’t on a suicide watch, according to a person familiar with the case, though he had been monitored for a short time previously.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” and that Epstein’s death “raises serious questions that must be answered.” The FBI and the DOJ’s inspector general are investigating the circumstances of his death, Barr said in a statement.
Epstein, 66, was found unresponsive in his Lower Manhattan jail cell at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday after an apparent suicide attempt and was pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He hanged himself, ABC News and other outlets reported.
He was under federal criminal charges for sexually trafficking underage girls, while his accusers have also brought numerous civil lawsuits. Epstein was briefly placed on suicide watch after being found unconscious in his cell with marks on his neck on July 23, a week after his bail request was rejected.
“The coward and serial predator may have taken his own life but we shall continue to seek justice on behalf of our clients,” Josh Schiller, a lawyer for some of Epstein’s alleged victims, said in a text message.
Epstein’s death came less than a day after a court unsealed documents in a civil suit, which allege he and a friend sent a woman to have sex with a former governor, a former U.S. senator and an asset manager when she was a minor. All of them said the allegations were false.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Epstein’s death posed “yet another hurdle” for victims but signaled that others may be charged with aiding him. “Our investigation of the conduct charged in the Indictment – which included a conspiracy count – remains ongoing,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
A self-described “collector” of rich and powerful people, Epstein had links to a Who’s Who of prominent political and business figures. That circle, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and billionaire Leslie Wexner, all distanced themselves from the financier after his arrest in July. Among those who once socialized with him was future President Donald Trump.
Marc Fernich, one of Epstein’s lawyers, said in an emailed statement that there’s “plenty of blame to go around” for the “unthinkable tragedy,” including prosecutors, politicians, judges, jailers, plaintiffs’ lawyers and the media.
Conspiracy theories about possible efforts to silence Epstein erupted on social media, with topics such as #TrumpBodyCount and #ClintonBodyCount trending on Twitter.
U.S. prosecutors said Epstein used his wealth and power to sexually abuse dozens of young girls for years at his homes, paying them hundreds of dollars in cash for each encounter and hundreds more if they brought in more victims.
The alleged crimes occurred at Epstein’s residences in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, from 2002 to 2005, involving minors as young as 14. The U.S. accused him of “creating a vast network of victims.”
Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking in minors and conspiracy and said he fully complied with the law for more than 14 years.
His latest arrest came after he pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of soliciting prostitution and served 13 months in prison -- U.S. prosecutors in that state agreed not to charge him with federal offenses.
The agreement provoked outrage after the Miami Herald published an investigative series in late 2018 that led to the resignation of Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, who as U.S. attorney in Miami at the time worked out the deal with Epstein’s lawyers.
Wall Street Connections
His business operations attracted less attention even as federal prosecutors put his net worth at more than $500 million, and said he had an income of more than $10 million a year.
Epstein left little imprint on the financial markets but leveraged his connections with Wall Street to secure a steady flow of commissions and engagements, supporting a lifestyle that included properties in New Mexico, Paris and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he bought two private islands. He liked to shuttle between them by private jet and had at least 15 cars, according to federal authorities.
Epstein based much of his empire in the Virgin Islands, including Financial Trust Co., which he started in New York in 1981 as a money management firm called J. Epstein & Co. that he claimed catered only to billionaires.
Born on Jan. 20, 1953, and raised in Brooklyn, Epstein attended Cooper Union and NYU’s Courant Institute but left both without a degree. He joined Bear Stearns in 1976 as a junior assistant to a floor trader. In a swift rise, trading options, he made partner four years later, with former Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Cayne praising his skills. He left in 1981 to set up J. Epstein & Co.
Much of its operations remain unclear. His main client was Wexner, the founder of apparel maker L Brands. Epstein started managing Wexner’s money in the 1980s and a 2003 Vanity Fair profile said the pair had a close relationship. Epstein acquired Wexner’s Manhattan mansion in 1998.
Epstein served as a sort of charge d’affaires for Wexner, the chairman and CEO, on matters ranging from suburban planning to yacht design. Wexner said through a spokeswoman in July that he had severed ties with Epstein almost 12 years earlier, around the time of the financier’s arrest in Florida on charges he had sex with a minor.
Epstein’s connections were extensive. Clinton, Apollo Global Management LLC co-founder Leon Black and Glenn Dubin, co-founder of hedge fund Highbridge Capital Management, have all said they regret associating with him.
By Tom Metcalf with assistance from Hailey Waller, Erik Larson, James Ludden, Maria Jose Valero, Christian Berthelsen, Bob Van Voris, David Voreacos, Patricia Hurtado and David Glovin; Editors: Steven Gittelson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tony Czuczka, James Ludden.