He was a predator whose unquenchable thirst for underage girls classified him as a pervert.
Jeffrey Epstein, a financier whose estate was worth $577 million at his death, created what one lawyer aptly described as a pyramid sex trafficking scheme.
Epstein, having sated his lust, passed his victims on to friends in high places. Being supremely self-confident, he assumed he would never have to answer for his crimes. But like one of his friends, the Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein, he badly miscalculated.
Epstein is the subject of Lisa Bryant’s absorbing four-part Netflix series, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, which methodically lays bare his long and repelling record as a serial exploiter of women. Several are interviewed, as are a cast of related players: a former business associate, a policemen who worked on the case, and lawyers from both sides. Epstein himself appears in interrogation footage, but says nothing of value.
As Bryant suggests, he was a Gatsby-like figure who befriended powerful men like Donald Trump and was always surrounded by a bevy of young, attractive women. His girlfriend and prime procurer, Ghislaine, was the daughter of Robert Maxwell, a disgraced media mogul.
Accustomed to the high life, he owned a $77 million townhouse in Manhattan, a $15 million house in Palm Beach, a pint-sized island in the Caribbean that was his principal residence, a string of vacation homes in Europe, and a jet.
He was born and raised in Coney Island, New York, but Bryant leaves his parents out of the picture and refers to his brother merely in passing. A bright student, he landed a teaching job at an elite school and a position in a stock brokerage company by lying about his credentials.
Steven Hoffenberg, one of his former associates, regrets having hired him, but admits he was very competent and possessed an extraordinary ability to manipulate and control people.
According to Bryant, Epstein accumulated much of his wealth thanks to his personal and professional relationship with Leslie Wexner, a billionaire who acquired his fortune in the fashion industry. Here, too, Epstein utilized his connections to lure women into his web of deceit.
The first episode focuses on Maria Farmer and her younger sister, Annie, both of whom were molested by Epstein in the late 1990s. A British journalist who wrote a profile on Epstein for the mass-circulation magazine Vanity Fair inserted this damning information into her piece, but it was deleted by the editor, Graydon Carter, who moved in the same circles as Epstein.
Michael Reiter, the Palm Beach police chief, speaks at length about Epstein’s shenanigans, disclosing that his first victim was only 14 years old. A pedophile, he preyed on vulnerable underage girls from usually working-class backgrounds who lived in neighboring West Palm Beach. In exchange for a payment of $200, they were expected to give him a “massage.” During the course of the session, he would pleasure himself or engage in vaginal sex.
In his interactions with these girls, Epstein was invariably friendly, charming, charismatic, caring and kind, says one of the victims. One of them, Courtney Wild, admits she felt lucky to have befriended him. At his request, she recruited 40 to 50 girls to serve his carnal needs. Some were made available to his circle of friends, says Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a victim who would come to haunt him.
The Palm Beach police department launched an investigation of Epstein in 2005, and in the following year, he was charged with one felony count of solicitation of prostitution. The case imploded. Epstein had assembled a team of eight high-powered lawyers, and neither the victims nor his household employees were willing to talk.
The FBI took over the case in 2006, but dropped it shortly afterward.
In 2008, Epstein signed a plea deal with the U.S. district attorney in Miami, Alex Acosta, who was later appointed secretary of labor in the Trump administration.
Under the agreement, Epstein would serve 18 months in prison with a day release that enabled him to come and go as he pleased, but he actually spent only 13 months in jail. In 2017, the federal government opened an investigation into this suspicious sweetheart deal.
Bryant devotes practically an entire episode to Little St. James Island, Epstein’s private islet in the Virgin Islands chain. He invited friends and acquaintances to this palm-fringed paradise, and they had sexual access to the women who had been flown there for that express purpose.
Maxwell, the intermediary in these transactions, introduced Giuffre to Prince Andrew of Britain. “I was trafficked to him,” she says scornfully.
She claims she had sex with Alan Dershowitz, one of Epstein’s lawyers, at least six times. He heatedly denies the accusation: “I never had sex with an underage girl, or anyone related to Jeffrey Epstein.”
Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president, was a regular visitor to Little St. James Island, but Bryant stays well clear of insinuations that he had sexual relations there.
Accusations concerning Epstein gained traction with the emergence of the #MeToo movement. Around this juncture, Giuffre and about a dozen other women decided to go public with their explosive revelations about him.
Last July, Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges carrying a maximum penalty of 45 years. FBI agents, meanwhile, raided his mansion in New York City and found a trove of pornographic photographs of nude women.
A month layer, Epstein was found dead in his cell in the grim New York Metropolitan Correction Center. He had committed suicide by hanging himself. But observers wondered whether he had been murdered by “friends” whose embarrassing secrets he might have divulged in a trial.
The women whom he abused were dissatisfied with that outcome. “He managed to escape accountability,” complains Annie Farmer. “It wasn’t the ending anyone wanted,” asserts Shawna Rivera.
They had fervently hoped he would spend the rest of his days in a dank and uncomfortable prison cell, but, in a manner of speaking, Epstein outwitted them.