Jeffrey Epstein’s Accusers Get Their Day in Court
(Bloomberg) -- One after another, they told their stories of being molested as girls by Jeffrey Epstein, only to lose their chance to confront him in a court of law.
“I have suffered and he has won,” said Chauntae Davies, one of the first to speak at a hearing Tuesday in New York about the late wealth manager the U.S. says created an elaborate system for luring and attacking teenage girls.
The extraordinary hearing was convened by a federal judge in Manhattan who’s poised to close the U.S. criminal case against Epstein after he killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell this month. But it also served as a forum for Epstein’s many accusers to have their voices heard, after his first prosecution in Florida a decade ago was resolved with a hushed plea agreement and modest jail sentence.
Epstein, 66, was arrested in July and charged with sex trafficking in minors and conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty, sought release on bail and failed when the court ruled that his wealth and global assets made him a flight risk and a threat to the community. Returned to a federal lockup in Manhattan, he was found unconscious in his cell last month with marks on his neck, placed on suicide watch and later taken off that protocol. On Aug. 10, he was found dead in his cell.
The stories of 22 alleged victims were finally heard on Tuesday; 16 of them spoke in court, while six others had statements read by their lawyers. Half of them were identified by name. The others went by “Jane Doe,” Nos. 1 through 11. Most stayed composed. Some cried as they recounted what happened to them.
They clustered together as if in solidarity, held hands, shared tissues or patted one another in a sign of moral support just before they approached a podium inside the court. One woman brought her five-month-old baby daughter to the court. The child wore a T-shirt that said, “Strong like Mommy.”
They all told the judge they were just teenagers when they met Epstein, with the youngest of his accusers saying she was only 14 when the financier sexually assaulted her. Others recounted similar experiences, saying they had been lured by another women to meet Epstein with the promise of a job or a modeling career.
They spoke of assaults that made them abandon careers, contemplate suicide and struggle with intimate relationships. They resented that Epstein’s death deprived them of an opportunity to finally confront him and seek justice. They urged prosecutors to continue pursuing Epstein’s associates, who they say facilitated his predation. And they thanked U.S. District Judge Richard Berman for finally providing a forum for them to tell their stories.
Prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office said that their investigation was continuing and that nothing would inhibit the prosecution of new defendants. A separate investigation is being led by FBI agents and prosecutors into Epstein’s death. Defense lawyers questioned the official explanation -- that Epstein hanged himself -- noting that key cameras around Epstein’s cell weren’t working at the time of his death.
Prosecutors sought to dismiss the indictment against Epstein after his death, a routine occurrence when defendants die before trial. Berman took no action on that request at the close of the hearing; he may do so later by written order, but some of the women’s lawyers urged him to keep the record open, for additional victim statements or to retain oversight of the probe into Epstein’s death.
But mostly, it was a day for Epstein’s accusers to finally have their say.
Davies said Epstein and his associates made her feel like a part of their family, sending her to school, giving her a job and flying her around the world.
Then, one night, a tap at the door for a massage, and an attack.
“Jeffrey’s abuse would continue for the next three years, and I allowed it to continue, because I had been taken advantage of my entire life. I was conditioned to just accept it,” Davies told the judge. “Every day since, I have suffered, and he has won.”
Another woman, referred to as Jane Doe, said it was hard to explain why they didn’t run away.
“A lot of people asked why we spent so much time, why we stayed. It’s an experience that’s really hard to explain to people who haven’t gone through it,” she said. For each girl the answer is different, she said.
Epstein “was really strategic in how he approached each of us. Things happened really slowly over time,” she said. “You didn’t realize what was happening.”
He could turn on the charm, the women said, dropping the names of famous and powerful people he called friends, and dialing up movie stars and supermodels on speakerphone so they could listen in while he chatted with them. But those same boasts could quickly turn into threats if they didn’t do what he wanted.
Another anonymous accuser said she came to New York 15 years ago to pursue a modeling career and had signed on with an agency when she met Epstein, who she said sexually assaulted her at his home. “I’m just angry that he’s not alive anymore to pay the price for his actions,” she said.
Sarah Ransome, another accuser, urged the prosecutors: “Please, please finish what you have started. For a very long time, Jeffrey Epstein gamed the system at every level. When he realized he couldn’t do that any longer, he showed the world what a depraved individual he is by taking his own life.”
A lawyer for another accuser, Michelle Licata, read a statement from her that thanked the judge for giving the accusers a day in court and letting their voices be heard. She cited Epstein’s much-criticized deal more than a decade ago that allowed him to evade federal prosecution by pleading guilty to a Florida charge and serve only 13 months in prison while commuting daily to his job.
“The fact that I mattered this time, and the other victims mattered, is what counts,” she said in her statement, addressing Berman. “It means more to me than you will ever know.”
An attorney, Gloria Allred, read a letter from another anonymous accuser who says she was recruited while playing the violin and taken to Epstein’s home, where he assaulted her.
“Epstein died as he lived -- taking the easy way out without any responsibility,” her statement said.
The attorney David Boies, who represents several of the victims, said his clients would seek compensation from Epstein’s estate and continue to pursue his associates.
“Epstein did not act alone,” he said. “He could not have done what he did, on such scope and scale, for as many years as he did, without a number of other key individuals. Those individuals need to bear their share of responsibility and have their reckoning as well.”
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