More than a decade after billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein’s controversial plea deal, federal prosecutors have begun yet another sex crimes case against him after discovering a “vast trove of lewd photographs,” including hundreds of meticulously labeled nude pictures which were locked in a safe, according to federal court documents.
Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York unsealed the new charges on Monday, accusing Epstein of running a sex-trafficking operation in which he lured underage girls – some as young as 14 – to his mansion located in Palm Beach, FL. Epstein reportedly received naked massage sessions from these underage girls and afterwards paid them, according to the indictment.
“in this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach,” the indictment said.
Jennifer Araoz recently stepped forward, claiming that Epstein raped her when she was just 15-years-old. According to Araoz, a young woman approached her outside her New York City high school in the fall of 2001. This woman seemed friendly and curious to Araoz and began asking her some personal questions regarding Araoz’s family, her upbringing and even their finances. Shortly after talking with Araoz, the woman mentioned that she knew a man who she thought of as kind and wealthy and that he also lived nearby. The man she was referring to was Jeffrey Epstein.
Araoz said that the first few times she visited Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse, the friendly woman came along too. The three would talk about her dream of becoming a Broadway actress and how her father passed away of AIDS when she was 12.
However, when Araoz visited Epstein without the friendly woman, he gave her a tour of his mansion that landed them in a room in which he described as his “favorite room in the house,” Araoz said. Within this room was a massage table on the floor and a painting of a nude young woman which hung from the wall.
According to Araoz, she returned to that same room regularly over the next year, where she was manipulated into undressing down to her underwear and had to give Epstein massages which resulted in him masturbating until climax and her leaving the mansion with $300.
In the fall of 2002, Araoz said that Epstein pressured her to do more after telling her to remove her underwear and further grabbing her 15-year-old body. “He raped me, forcefully raped me,” Araoz told NBC News in an exclusive interview. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”
“I was terrified, and I was telling him to stop. ‘Please stop,'” Araoz, now 32, said.
Epstein was charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy, facing a combined maximum sentence of up to 45 years in prison if convicted. These new charges are a revival of his previous case in 2008, in which he faced similar accusations involving girls who told police that they were brought to his South Florida mansion and assaulted. Federal prosecutors offered him a secret plea deal, shielding him from federal prosecution.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta defended his handling of the 2008 deal with Epstein where he would only serve 13 months in jail. Acosta, a former U.S. Attorney in Florida, claimed his office wasn’t involved in the case until it became clear that Florida prosecutors were “ready to let Epstein walk free.”
Mr. Acosta went to Twitter to defend his actions, saying that his prosecutors insisted Mr. Epstein go to jail and register as a sex offender due to the evidence that was available at the time.
“Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the N.Y. prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice,” he wrote.
According to Acosta, a trial would have been a “roll of the dice,” and he wanted to ensure than Epstein faced prison time. “Without the work of our prosecutors, Epstein would have just gotten away,” Acosta said.