Paul Lewis in Washington and Jon Swaine in New York
The Guardian on Saturday 10 January 2015 08.14 EST
The desperate woman who telephoned Detective Michele Pagan of the Palm Beach police declined to give her name and would not leave a call-back number. But she had some information that she had to tell someone.
Her stepdaughter, a 14-year-old pupil at Royal Palm Beach high school, had told a friend that she’d had sex with a middle-aged man who gave her money.
The man was said to have long face and bushy eyebrows and he lived in a big house at the end of a dead-end street. His name was Jeff. A teacher found $300 in the 14-year-old’s purse.
That call to police – made 10 years ago this March – soon led Florida detectives to 358 El Brillo Way, a mansion owned by Jeffrey Epstein, one of America’s wealthiest hedge fund tycoons.
A decade later, the cascade of FBI investigations, secret plea deals and lawsuits which followed that telephone call would be felt 4,000 miles away, behind the gates of Buckingham Palace.
The connecting thread was Epstein, now 61, a convicted sex offender and one-time friend of Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. The allegation: that Epstein forced another of his teenage victims into sexual encounters with Andrew on three separate occasions.
The accusation, contained in a court filing first reported by the Guardian and Politico, has become headline news across the world this week, even as it was forcefully and repeatedly denied by the Palace.
It has thrown a spotlight on Andrew’s relationship with Epstein and resurfaced questions over whether the disgraced financier used his extraordinary wealth and power to elude justice.
There is no suggestion Andrew ever encountered the 14-year-old – referred to in police incident reports as ‘SG’ – whose stepmother’s call to police triggered the initial investigation into Epstein in 2005.
SG told detectives that Epstein had made her remove her clothes and give him a massage while he masturbated, according to a police report.
Within weeks the FBI was listening to Epstein’s calls, rifling through his trash and searching for other potential victims. They eventually identified around 40.
Assistant US attorney Ann Marie Villafaña relayed a summary of the investigation to Epstein’s counsel in an letter in 2007.
Jeffrey Epstein in custody in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2008. Photograph: Uma Sanghvi/AP
“Mr Epstein, through his assistants, would recruit underage females to travel to his home in Palm Beach to engage in lewd conduct in exchange for money,” it said. She added that some of the girls were expected to strip naked and give massages to Epstein while he masturbated, while others had full intercourse with the financier.
“Some of those victims went to Mr Epstein’s home only once,” Villafaña’s letter added. “Some went there as many as 100 times or more.”
One of those girls, referred to by police as AH, told detectives she was recruited by an associate of Epstein who overheard her tell a friend in a clothing store that she could not afford a holiday.
She claimed the erotic massages also led to Epstein asking her to engage sexually with an eastern European woman, Nada Marcinkova – a female member of his entourage allegedly bought from her parents in eastern Europe as a teenager – while he watched.
AH told detectives of her reluctance to go further than erotic massages with Epstein, who she said gave her $1,000 and a car. However, she recounted one incident during which Epstein “bent me over the table and put himself in me” without her permission. AH said Epstein stopped after she screamed ‘no’, but she was so sore after the incident that she had difficulty walking to her car.
When police eventually raided Epstein’s mansion, they discovered one of AH’s high school transcripts along with a container of peach flavoured “Joy Jelly” lubricant and Amazon receipts for explicit books such as Slave Craft: Roadmap For Erotic Servitude Principles.
There were dozens of stories from potential victims like AH and SG. An attorney who advised Epstein at the time said prosecutors did not believe AH to be credible.
But the accounts from around 40 Florida girls who said they were molested by Epstein were numerous and overlapping.
Despite this, the US government eventually agreed to allow Epstein to plead guilty to just one count of soliciting prostitution from an underage girl under Florida state law. In the end, he served just 13 months of an 18-month jail sentence.
The circumstances that led up to that secret plea agreement have proved an enduring controversy. Epstein agreed not to contest civil claims brought by the 40 women identified by the FBI, but escaped a prosecution that could have seen him jailed for the rest of his life.
Prosecutors agreed not to bring far more serious federal charges against Epstein, and not to charge “potential co-conspirators”, including Marcinova and three other named individuals.
Clearly, prosecutors had questions about the credibility of some of the teenage witnesses – doubts that were exacerbated when Epstein’s lawyers and private investigators dug up dirt on their Myspace and Facebook pages.
Yet Michael Reiter, the former Palm Beach police chief, believed Epstein had received “very unusual” treatment in the deal, negotiated between officials in the US Department of Justice and a fleet of the best lawyers money could buy.
However in a six-year legal battle, which is still ongoing, lawyers for some of those victims are challenging the plea agreement, which they say was negotiated without their knowledge and therefore violated their rights as victims.
At the very least, documents released through litigation suggest prosecutors cooperated with Epstein’s lawyers to keep the deal under wraps.
Using her personal Gmail account, for example, Villafaña proposed to one of Epstein’s lawyers that they could file associated legal papers in a different jurisdiction, a move she said “will hopefully cut the press coverage significantly”. Villafaña declined to comment on that email this week.
Epstein’s adversaries have long suspected that the hedge fund manager somehow used his influence to lobby for a “sweetheart” deal with prosecutors that protected him and his associates from serving significant jail time.
No evidence has been publicly unearthed to substantiate that theory, although Epstein’s private contacts book, seized by police, leaves no doubt he was once supremely well-connected.
There is no suggestion any of the individuals named in the book participated in or knew of Epstein’s abuse of minors, or were involved in any effort to pressure prosecutors.
But Epstein’s contacts book – seen by the Guardian – reads like a directory of the world’s global elite.
Under the letter B alone are listed Tony Blair, Michael Bloomberg, and Richard Branson. Elsewhere there are multiple contacts – typically at offices, homes, and via aides’ mobile phones – for Bill Clinton, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Dustin Hoffman, Naomi Campbell, and dozens of other A-listers.
The name that appears on page 31, opposite an entry for Formula 1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, looks innocuous alongside the directory of world-renowned figures. Epstein had 16 separate telephone numbers listed for this particular friend: Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
Prince Andrew. Photograph: Hugh Routledge/Rex
The Prince Andrew connection
Of all Epstein’s glamorous and influential friends, none has had their reputation as tarnished by their association with the disgraced financier as badly as the Queen’s second son.
The prince’s relationship with the playboy hedge fund manager had for years been cited as evidence of his poor judgment and it contributed, three years ago, to the termination of Andrew’s cherished role as an official UK trade envoy.
Andrew and Epstein made curious acquaintances. While Andrew benefited from the privilege bestowed by a British royal title, Epstein’s ascent is a classic American success story.
He was born in a rough Brooklyn neighbourhood, and never obtained a college degree. In 1976, he was plucked from a seemingly ordinary life as a mathematics teacher at a Manhattan private school in 1976 and given a job at the investment bank Bear Stearns.
Within six years he was working on his own, managing the portfolios of an exclusive – and secret – club of plutocrats said to only include billionaires. The scale of Epstein’s own net worth has long been a mystery, although the financier made little effort to conceal how he was spending his fortune.
Epstein became a major philanthropist, spending millions on science projects at Harvard University, and was famous for his extravagant parties. He was a modern-day Great Gatsby, enjoying bringing together film stars, property magnates and political leaders.
Andrew reportedly met Epstein in the 1990s after being introduced by Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of the the media mogul Robert Maxwell who, at the time, was the financier’s girlfriend.
The friendship returned to haunt Andrew this week courtesy of one the dozens of women the FBI identified as one Epstein’s potential victims: Virginia Roberts. Like dozens of the other teenagers, Roberts sued Epstein; the civil claim she lodged in a Florida court six years ago told a familiar story of exploitation.
Roberts was working for $9 an hour as a changing room assistant at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago beach club, where her father was a maintenance manager, when she claims she was recruited to work as a masseuse for Epstein. She claims the invitation came courtesy of Maxwell. It was 1998, and Roberts was 15 years old.
Her civil suit, in which Roberts is referred to as Jane Doe 102, alleged that Ghislaine Maxwell, now 53, and Epstein quickly began grooming her for sex. Despite being told by Epstein, on the cusp of her 16th birthday, that “he would soon have to trade her in because she was getting too old”, Roberts alleged she was thrust into a life of sexual servitude that lasted until 2002, when she fled to Thailand aged 19.
But in one important way Roberts’ allegations differ from those of many of the other Florida teenage girls who say they were victims of Epstein. Her lawsuit states that she was co-opted into Epstein’s inner-circle, flown by private jet to his ranch in New Mexico, his Caribbean island, and his 51,000-square-foot mansion in New York, reputedly the largest residence in Manhattan.
During the four years she claimed to have been a fixture in Epstein’s hedonistic world, she claimed she saw Epstein and his close associates abuse women from across the world, including three French 12-year-olds who she alleged were sent to him as a birthday present. That lawsuit did not identify any alleged perpetrators other than Maxwell and Epstein.
But Roberts’ lawsuit did imply there was more to her story. One elliptical reference alleged that Epstein “required” her to be sexually exploited by “politicians, academicians, businessmen”. These men were described in the document as Epstein’s “adult male peers, including royalty”. Epstein and Roberts settled the lawsuit out of court, with Epstein paying Roberts – just as he paid a series of other girls who were suing him – an undisclosed sum in compensation.
Her cryptic allegation about “royalty” may never have been clarified were it not for the 13-page document submitted to Florida’s southern district last week.
That court filing related to the long-running lawsuit in which lawyers for some of the victims are challenging Epstein’s controversial plea deal. It was being brought by two women, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. Roberts’s lawyers wanted her and another woman – listed as Jane Doe 3 and Jane Doe 4 – to be added as new plaintiffs.
The document briefly argued the case – and summarised the two women’s allegations. That summary elaborated on the claims that Roberts had made, in her 2009 lawsuit, about being loaned out by Epstein to rich and powerful men.
The court filing alleged that Epstein forced Roberts “to have sexual relations” on three separate occasions with “a member of the British Royal Family, Prince Andrew (a/k/a Duke of York)”. The encounters are alleged to have happened in New York, at Maxwell’s London home and in the US Virgin Islands as part of an “orgy with numerous other under-aged girls”.
Referred to as a “minor” in the document, Roberts is understood to have been aged 17 at the time she alleges the encounters took place. Epstein allegedly instructed Roberts “to give the prince whatever he required” and report back on the details of “the sexual abuse”.
“Epstein’s purposes in ‘lending’ Jane Doe (along with other young girls) to such powerful people were to ingratiate himself with them for business, personal, political, and financial gain,” the document alleged, “as well as to obtain potential blackmail information”.
The Guardian contacted Buckingham Palace on Thursday last week, a day before it intended to publish its first article about the allegations about Andrew. That evening a Palace spokesperson emailed a reporter, declining the opportunity to respond. “The Royal Household would never comment on an ongoing legal matter,” she said.
Buckingham Palace London England UK
Buckingham Palace has been employing staff on zero-hours contracts. Photograph: David Noton Photography/Alamy
After the Guardian published the article, however, there was a dramatic reversal from the Palace, which issued the first in what turned out to be a flurry of statements forcefully denying the allegations as “categorically untrue”.
The Palace later again denied “any form of sexual contact or relationship” between Andrew and Roberts, adding: “The allegations made are false and without any foundation.”
Maxwell also dismissed the allegations, which she said were “not new and have been fully responded to and shown to be untrue”. The statement released on her behalf added: “Ghislaine Maxwell’s original response to the lies and defamatory claims remains the same.”
Yet by then British newspapers were delving back into the story, republishing interviews Roberts had given in 2011 in which she detailed her encounters with Andrew but stopped short of alleging sexual contact.
Virginia Roberts, in Colorado on Saturday 3 January. Photograph: Karl Larsen/Karl Larsen/Coleman-Rayner
The stories were accompanied by a photograph, said to have been taken in 2001 at Maxwell’s London home, where Roberts alleged her first sexual encounter with the prince occurred. The image showed Andrew grinning with his arm around the 17-year-old’s midriff; Maxwell, also smiling, is in the background.
That image raises obvious questions for Andrew. Yet the strength of the denials issued by the Palace this week has not been matched by a willingness to address the details of the allegations made by Roberts. The Palace has declined to say, for example, why Andrew was in the company of a 17-year-old masseuse working for Epstein at Maxwell’s home.
The Palace also refuses to answer questions about Andrew’s friendship with Epstein, or confirm the several occasions the two men appear to have partied together.
Those reported encounters between Epstein and Andrew, some of which appear to be corroborated by flight logs for Epstein’s private planes, which have been reviewed by the Guardian, stretch back more than a decade. They include parties at Windsor Castle and Sandringham, the Queen’s Norfolk estate, an exclusive dinner in St Tropez and a holiday in Thailand when Andrew was pictured on a yacht surrounded by topless women.
Indeed, the Palace has never offered a public explanation for Andrew’s most controversial meeting with Epstein, which occurred in New York in 2011. That was two years after Epstein had been released from prison. He was, by then, a registered sex offender, and though some celebrities were still willing to be seen with him, he’d been abandoned by many of the more influential figures he previously called his friends.
Andrew’s face-to-face meeting with Epstein might have remained secret had the pair not decided to go for a stroll in Central Park, where they were photographed by a tabloid newspaper.
In the seven days since Roberts’s allegations were made public, pressure has mounted on Andrew to provide a more detailed explanation of the extent and nature of his friendship with Epstein.
That is partly because of the strategy adopted by another prominent figure, Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who faced similar accusations from Roberts in the same court filing.
Dershowitz’s denials were just as emphatic as those emanating from the Palace. But they were also considerably more detailed. Dershowitz also submitted himself to questioning from journalists – including five telephone conversations with the Guardian – and vowed to fight the allegations in court.
By Tuesday he had launched a legal bid to formally strike the “outrageous and impertinent” claims about him containing in court filing, promised imminent defamation proceedings against Roberts and her lawyers, in both US and English courts, and submitted a sworn affidavit denying the accusations.
Attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz discusses allegations of sex with an underage girl levelled against him, during an interview at his home in Miami Beach. Photograph: Andrew Innerarity/Reuters
“If they’re innocent, they should do what I’m doing,” Dershowitz told the Guardian when asked if others accused by Roberts should follow suit. “You can’t do what I’m doing unless you’re 100% certain of your innocence.”
Dershowitz quickly added that someone in Andrew’s position may be innocent and decide it “would be undignified to respond” in the same way.
Yet the aggressive legal strategy adopted by Dershowitz, a renowned criminal attorney who once served on the legal team advising OJ Simpson – who has occasionally written opinion pieces for the Guardian – raises the stakes for all involved.
Roberts’ lawyers appear willing to meet Dershowitz head on, filing their own, counter-defamation suit against the Harvard lawyer. Both sides are on a collision course, apparently determined to see the dispute resolved in court.
That opens the possibility that Roberts – and, perhaps, Andrew – could be called as witnesses.
It is just one of several civil proceedings that could results in Roberts taking the stand. Her lawyers are believed to be considering whether to submit a criminal complaint in the US Virgin Islands or London, a move that could trigger a fresh criminal investigation.
French model scout
There was one name in Roberts’ court filing that escaped the public attention heaped on others: Jean Luc Brunel.
Brunel, who is French and in his 60s, is the co-founder of of MC2 Model Management, a Miami-based modelling agency with offices in New York and Tel Aviv. A well-known model scout since the 1970s, Brunel is credited with launching the careers of Milla Jovovich, Christy Turlington and Sharon Stone.
But his career has sometimes been marred by controversy. A CBS 60 Minutes documentary once accused Brunel of sexually exploiting young women, an allegation he denied.
But Brunel’s close friendship with Epstein has never been in doubt. The model scout’s name appears frequently in the flight logs kept for Epstein’s private jets and prison records show he visited Epstein 67 times when he was in jail.
The 30 December court filing relaying Roberts’ allegations, however, went further than the innuendo previously that has occasionally surrounded Brunel’s friendship with Epstein. It explicitly alleged that Epstein was effectively exploiting Brunel’s access to young women for the purposes of sex trafficking.
“He would bring young girls (ranging to ages as young as twelve) to the United States for sexual purposes and farm them out to his friends, especially Epstein,” the filing states. “Brunel would offer the girls ‘modeling’ jobs. Many of the girls came from poor countries or impoverished backgrounds, and he lured them in with a promise of making good money.”
Roberts alleged she was forced to have sex with Brunel, too, and was made to “observe” the French model scout engaging in “sexual acts with dozens of underage girls”.
The Guardian made repeated attempts to contact Brunel to afford him them the opportunity to respond to the allegations of impropriety, including those contained in the 30 December court filing. He did not respond.
Whatever the truth of the allegations, Epstein’s friendship with Brunel certainly gave him access to the glamorous world of international modelling.
It chimed with Epstein’s reputation, cultivated through the early 2000s, as an international playboy with an intercontinental property portfolio, his own personal Gulfstream II and Boeing 727, a profile in Vanity Fair, and an apparently loyal coterie of beautiful young women that skirted the line.
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Donald Trump told New York magazine in October 2002. “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.”
However, when it came to female associates, the evidence now suggests Epstein cultivated two separate spheres that rarely overlapped.
One – restricted to a small group of women co-opted as permanent fixtures in Epstein’s entourage – was rooted in that world of almost unimaginable luxury.
The other comprised working-class Palm Beach teenagers who told police they were enticed into giving massages and sometimes more at Epstein’s mansion with the promise of cash.
Lawyers for SG, the 14-year-old whose stepmother initially triggered the investigation into Epstein, for example, accused Epstein in a lawsuit of cynically seeking out “economically disadvantaged underage girls” who would be “less likely to complain to authorities or have credibility if allegations of improper conduct were made”.
The story SG told police back in 2005 became grimly familiar. A rebellious type hailing from Palm Beach’s grittier west side, she told detectives she was recruited by Haley Robson, an 18-year-old working for Epstein.
Robson, one of the four named “potential co-conspirators” who were shielded from prosecution under Epstein’s plea agreement, told police she was “like a Heidi Fleiss”, the notorious Hollywood “madam” who claimed to procure women for rich and influential men in the movie industry.
Teenagers told police that after being transported to the mansion by Robson, they were met by another aide, Sarah Kellen, another named “potential co-conspirator” in the plea deal. A chef would often make them something to eat. Then, after being led by Kellen past walls adorned by pictures of naked women, they would arrive at an upstairs room where paid-for massages would allegedly descend into sexual abuse.
Jeffrey Epstein amassed a fortune while managing the portfolios of some of America’s richest. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features
Reached on the telephone this week, Robson declined to discuss what she called “all the Epstein stuff”. “I’ve moved past all that,” she said. “I have a child now. I’m not interested in speaking about it.”
Guy Fronstin, an attorney for Epstein, told police during the 2005 investigation that there had been a horrible misunderstanding. His client was simply “passionate about massages”, Fronstin said, pointing to a $100,000 donation to the Florida state ballet to pay for massage therapy. “The massages are therapeutic and spiritually sound for him,” Fronstin said. “That is why he has had many massages.”
That explanation stood in contrast to the account of Alfredo Rodriguez, a former housekeeper at the Palm Beach mansion, who told police that “he felt there was a lot more going on than just massages” given the cleanup operation that typically awaited him afterwards.
Rodriguez’s credibility as a witness was undermined after he was convicted for trying to sell a stolen copy of Epstein’s contact book to lawyers for some of the young girls.
Prior to that, he had described Epstein’s guests as “very young” and explained how he was ordered to keep at least $2,000 in cash on him at all times to pay for Epstein’s twice-daily massages. He felt like a “human ATM”, he told police. Rodriguez said he once had to deliver a dozen red roses to AG at school.
Epstein showed a different level of reward to the few who were permitted access to his inner circle.
If Roberts’ allegations are to believed, she was one of them. Another was Johanna Sjoberg, who alleges she was also recruited by Maxwell, when she was a student in Palm Beach, and became captivated by the luxurious lifestyle.
“I made a pact with the devil in exchange for excitement and glamour,” Sjoberg told an interviewer in 2007.
Like Roberts, Sjoberg spoke of being persuaded to progress from a routine massage to more intimate activity. She said Epstein flew her to the Caribbean retreat, advising there would be “sex stuff” going on.
Sjoberg, who was already in her early 20s and has said she was surprised at allegations involving Epstein and underage girls, later visited his New York mansion. “I didn’t grow up poor,” she said, “but I realised there was more money there than I could ever have imagined.”
Epstein’s flight logs show that he took frequent trips to the island with named girls such as Roberts and Sjoberg. According to one account provided by Roberts, Sjoberg was present during her second encounter with Andrew, in New York.
Roberts and Sjoberg are both crucial witnesses in the whole saga. The pair are among the very few one of the few alleged Palm Beach victims to cross over into Epstein’s other world, a place where his chosen women were ferried around the world in the company of presidents and princes.
Sjoberg, now 35 and running a beauty salon, declined this week to talk further about her experiences.
Roberts is now 30, a mother of three, and married. Since the contents of her lawyers’ court filing was made public last week, she is believed to have gone into hiding in Colorado.
Her only public statement about the affair was the one she issued to the Guardian after Maxwell, Dershowitz and the Andrew issued their fervent denials.
“I am looking forward to vindicating my rights as an innocent victim and pursuing all available recourse,” she said. “I’m not going to be bullied back into silence.”
To contact the authors of this story email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org