Here’s what you should know about the Jeffrey Epstein scandal

Two South African women have sued Epstein’s estate because of the abuse they endured.

Jeffrey Epstein

Over the past year, the name Jeffrey Epstein has been thrown around a lot in the media. He has been linked to many well-known people and his death in August has brought about some wild conspiracy theories.

We tried to break down who exactly Jeffrey Epstein was, his involvement with Prince Andrew, as well as his ties to two South African women.

Who was Jeffrey Epstein?

He began his career as a maths teacher in the ’70s before joining the investment bank Bear Stearns in the ’80s. He then started his firm, J. Epstein and Co. According to Vox, he advertised his services to those who had assets that were worth more than $1 billion. 

He ran his business from Saint Thomas island in the US Virgin Islands for tax purposes. He also owned the island of Little St. James as well as the largest private residence in Manhattan. 

Epstein was known by many as a philanthropist. Notably, he donated $6,5 million to Harvard University for the creation of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. 

What happened the first time he was arrested?

According to The Daily Beast, in 2005 the step-mother of a 14-year-old girl phoned the Florida police to say that a wealthy man had molested her daughter. Soon after, the police found five other girls who claimed that Epstein had abused them.

In 2008, after years of investigation, he was arrested by the FBI and pleaded guilty to charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution. 

The court records that were obtained by the Miami Herald revealed that he had underage girls brought to his Palm Beach mansion. He then paid the girls to give him massages and subjected them to sexual abuse. It was also reported that he would offer girls money to recruit more girls for him at malls and house parties. One of the recruiters revealed that he said, ‘the younger, the better’.

Even though there was plenty of evidence against him to send him to prison for a long time, Epstein cut a deal with Alexander Acosta, the US attorney in Miami (Acosta went on to become the US Secretary of Labor under President Trump). Epstein only served 13 months (of his 18-month sentence) in a private wing of a Palm Beach County jail. According to the Palm Beach Daily News, he was granted leave six days of the week for sixteen hours, for ‘work release’, and agreed to be registered as a sex offender for life. 

Who were the famous people he was connected to?

In 2002, US President Donald Trump told New York Magazine, ‘I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.’

During the 2016 US presidential race, a woman who was going by the name of Katie Johnson sued Trump for raping her at one of Epstein’s parties when she was 13. She later dropped the suit. 

After Epstein’s arrest in 2019, Trump said that the two had a falling-out. ‘I haven’t spoken to him in 15 years. I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you,’ he was quoted as saying in the New York Times

Former US President Bill Clinton was also accused of flying in Epstein’s private plane (once with actor Kevin Spacey) to Africa and Asia. A public statement was released after Epstein’s arrest, saying, ‘President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago or those with which he has been recently charged in New York. In 2002 and 2003, President Clinton took a total of four trips on Jeffrey Epstein’s airplane: one to Europe, one to Asia and two to Africa, which included stops in connection with the work of the Clinton Foundation.’

What are his connections with Prince Andrew?

According to Prince Andrew, he met Epstein in 1999 through Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s girlfriend. Their paths crossed a few times, with Andrew even spending time on Epstein’s private island and Epstein attending an event at Windsor Castle. 

Andrew was spotted walking with Epstein in Central Park in 2010 after he left prison and was already a convicted sex offender. In an interview with BBC Newsnight, he said that he met up with Epstein to cut ties with him. 

The Guardian reported that legal documents revealed that Epstein directed a then-17-year-old Virginia Giuffre into sexual encounters with Prince Andrew. There was also a photo of Andrew with Giuffre and Epstein’s partner Maxwell, who has been accused of procuring underage girls for Epstein. 

Another woman, Johanna Sjoberg, was also revealed to have had sexual relations with Prince Andrew while staying at Epstein’s mansion. The court documents said, ‘Ms Sjoberg also testified about sexual acts that occurred with her, Prince Andrew and Ms Giuffre, when she and [Maxwell] were staying at Epstein’s Manhattan mansion.’

In the interview with BBC Newsnight, Andrew said he regretted being friends with Epstein and that he had let the royal family down. 

He also claimed to have no recollection of ever having met Giuffre…

Giuffre then gave an interview on BBC’s Panorama, where she called BS on Andrew’s response, saying, ‘I mean, come on. I’m calling BS on this because that’s what it is. He knows what happened. I know what happened, and there’s only one of us telling the truth, and I know that’s me.’

In November, Prince Andrew stepped back from all royal duties ‘for the foreseeable future.’

After Giuffre’s interview, Buckingham Palace released two statements: one that sympathised with Epstein’s victims and a second denying Andrew’s relations with Giuffre: ‘It is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation.’

What is the deal with his case?

Epstein was arrested a second time in July 2019 and charged with one count of sex trafficking minors and another for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. 

USA Today reported that the search of his mansion by the FBI turned up a ‘vast trove of lewd photographs of young-looking girls, including hundreds of meticulously labelled nude pictures locked in a safe, according to federal court documents.’

Epstein pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charges. He was denied bail and was being held at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Centre. In July, he was found semi-conscious in his cell. On August 10th, he was found dead in his cell, by apparent suicide. 

Who are the South African women involved in the scandal?

The Daily Mail reported that South African model Juliette Bryant, 37, sued Epstein’s estate in Manhattan Federal Court, alleging that the financier raped her several times. 

Bryant met Epstein in 2002 when she was a 20-year-old aspiring model. She said she met him through US model Naja Hill. ‘Hill described Epstein as a well-connected billionaire who could help her with her modelling career,’ according to the court records. 

Epstein was in South Africa with Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker, where they were doing work with the Clinton Foundation. Bryant said that she met with Epstein because she thought he would help her to boost her career. 

After meeting with Epstein at a restaurant, he invited her to listen to Bill Clinton’s speech in Cape Town. He asked her to bring her modelling portfolio with her and insinuated that he was ‘good friends’ with Lex Wexner, the owner of Victoria’s Secret. 

According to the lawsuit, he flew her out to New York City, and then to his private island. This is where she claims he repeatedly raped her. 

Bryant was flown to his homes in Paris, New Mexico, New York City and the Virgin Islands. However, she said during one incident Epstein wanted her to serve drinks on his private plane and she refused. She then flew back home to South Africa. She did not see Epstein again, but he continued to e-mail her, asking her for nude photographs up until June, a month before he was arrested. 

Another South African woman, Sarah Ransome, spoke to The Telegraph and said that she was introduced to Epstein via a woman in a New York nightclub when she was 22. 

She was then invited to Epstein’s private island where she said the abuse began:

 ‘I had been raped three times that day. A shark would have been my best friend at that point. I didn’t even think about it – it was just, get me away… There were some days I was raped three times a day. And then he would rape others,’ Ransome said.

Ransome said that she tried to escape the island by swimming, but a search party led by Epstein and Maxwell found her and dragged her back to the estate. Epstein, Maxwell and his assistants – Sarah Kellen and Lesley Groff – kept Ransome’s passport so that she couldn’t escape.

She eventually broke free in 2007 after Epstein tried to get her to recruit a new ‘personal assistant’ in South Africa and she refused. She was also told she needed to lose weight and was put on a strict diet that was damaging her health. Ransome eventually left the US to flee Epstein. 

What are the controversies surrounding his death?

The theories are a result of factors such as the removal of his cellmate, the fact that the two guards who were watching him fell asleep and the malfunction of two cameras in front of his cell. Epstein also claimed to have compromising information about many well-known people. 

Epstein’s defence attorney Reid Weingarten said he did not believe that Epstein’s death was a suicide. ‘We did not see a despairing, despondent, suicidal person,’ he said. 

Before Epstein died, people (including the lawyer of three of his victims, Spencer Kevin) predicted that he would be murdered in prison after his first attack. 

However, the FBI denounced all conspiracy theories regarding Epstein’s death. In a news release and an indictment, they said video surveillance confirmed that no-one entered the area where Epstein was locked in his cell. 

The two guards who were on duty that night, Michael Thomas and Tova Noel, were charged for allegedly ignoring the 75 mandatory checks on Epstein and fabricating records to cover it up in November. 

Video surveillance footage revealed that Epstein was in his cell for eight hours without being observed – the unit requires that inmates be checked up on twice an hour. They also discovered that the two guards sat at their desks and browsed the Internet, and spent two hours sleeping. However, they signed records saying that they had done the necessary checks. 

We just have to hope that Epstein’s victims receive justice and compensation for what they have had to deal with.

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