Jeffrey Epstein charged with sex trafficking of underage girls

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 18: Jeffrey Epstein attends Launch of RADAR MAGAZINE at Hotel QT on May 18, 2005. (Photo by Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Federal prosecutors in New York on Monday charged American financier Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking of dozens of underage girls, more than a decade after he avoided similar charges in Florida in a plea deal.

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Epstein was accused of luring girls as young as 14 years old to visit his mansion in Manhattan and estate in Palm Beach, Florida for sex acts, and then paying them hundreds of dollars each. The alleged conduct occurred from at least 2002 to 2005.

"Epstein intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18, including because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age," the indictment said.

The indictment charged Epstein one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy.

Epstein, 66, was arrested on Saturday night and was expected to appear in federal court on Monday to hear the charges.

His lawyer, Jack Goldberger, said before the indictment was made public that Epstein will plead not guilty.

Epstein, a former hedge fund manager known for socializing with politicians and royalty, first came under investigation in 2005 after police in Palm Beach, Florida, received reports he had sexually abused minors in his mansion there.

He has said in court filings that his encounters with alleged victims were consensual and that he believed they were 18 when they occurred.

By 2007, Epstein was facing a potential federal indictment for sexually abusing dozens of girls as young as 14 between 1999 and 2007, directing others to abuse them and paying employees to bring victims to him, according to court filings.

However, Epstein struck a deal in which he pleaded guilty to a lesser Florida state felony prostitution charge. He served a 13-month sentence in county jail, during which he was allowed to leave during the day to go to his office.

The deal has been challenged in court by several of Epstein's accusers, who say they were denied a chance to have their views about it heard, in violation of the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act.

In February of this year, a U.S. district judge in Florida agreed, ruling that the deal violated the law.

Even so, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing last month there was no reason to cancel the agreement.

Among the prosecutors involved in the agreement was Alex Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and now U.S. Secretary of Labor for President Donald Trump. A spokeswoman for the Department of Labor on Sunday declined to comment on Epstein's arrest.

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Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives confronted Acosta about his role in the Epstein case in April when the labor secretary appeared before the House Appropriations subcommittee on a routine budget matter.

Acosta responded that human trafficking was "an in­cred­ibly important issue" and said his office's efforts ensured that Epstein faced jail time and had to register as a sex offender.

"I understand the frustration," Acosta told the subcommittee. "I think it's important to understand that he was going to get off with no jail time or restitution. It was the work of our office that resulted in him going to jail."

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A Justice Department office is investigating whether government attorneys committed professional misconduct in the Epstein case.

Brad Edwards, a lawyer who represents some of Epstein's accusers, told Reuters on Sunday that he had taken many calls from "victims crying tears of joy" since news broke of Epstein's arrest. "One just kept repeating that she was so happy he was finally off the streets," Edwards said.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Grant McCool and Howard Goller)