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The Women Who Enabled Jeffrey Epstein

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From schedulers to socialites, they helped keep the late financier’s sex trafficking scheme operating, or helped rehabilitate him after he faced jail time. Now some say they’re victims.


It was a crisp, gray day in January 2020 when I stepped out of my Uber onto what looked like industrial wasteland, a concrete-scape dotted with smokestacks and graffitied shipping containers. I pushed through the glass door of an old brick factory and found myself inside the pristine white walls of the Mana Contemporary arts center. In the lobby, I waited until a petite woman with jet black hair walked in with her Yorkshire terrier, Mozie.

This was Rina Oh, and she had asked me to meet her at the studio space in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she paints and sculpts. A recurring subject of her art is Jeffrey Epstein, the well-connected financier who died in a New York jail cell in 2019, while being held on sex-trafficking charges. Oh’s studio featured an oil painting of Epstein’s friend Prince Andrew as Bacchus, the god of wine, and, next to it, a painting of a nude Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been charged with recruiting underage girls for Epstein, holding the forbidden fruit in what Oh calls the “Garden of Sin.” The tone of the paintings was neither critical nor celebratory—just strange.

Oh’s fascination with Epstein is not abstract. She knew him personally—as someone who was in a romantic relationship with Epstein that came to include finding other women for him to meet. Although Oh had never spoken to the press or to the authorities, she was willing to share her story with me for a podcast I was working on about Epstein, called “Broken: Seeking Justice.” I wanted to understand what it was like to be part of his circle, and why she had done it.

Oh, now 42, told me she had met Epstein in 2000. She was 21 at the time and living in the New York suburbs with her parents when a friend introduced her to the man who would become what Oh described as a rich, older boyfriend. “I found myself a really great art patron who’s going to buy artwork from me,” she initially thought. Epstein even offered to pay for her to attend classes at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and, for a time, secured a studio for her in SoHo.

But it soon became clear Epstein wasn’t just a boyfriend or a benefactor. “The whole thing got really sketchy when he started … asking me, ‘Are there any cute girls in your class that you can bring over here?’” Oh told me. Oh might have been creeped out, but she complied with the requests: She told me she introduced three young adult women to Epstein.

Two of Epstein’s accusers, in fact, say Oh did more than that. Marijke Chartouni, a friend whom Oh introduced to Epstein when she was 20, told me she was sexually assaulted by both Oh and Epstein in her first, and only, encounter with him. Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of Epstein’s most vocal victims, who says she was recruited into Epstein’s orbit by Maxwell, also accuses Oh of violence. In a draft of a memoir filed as evidence in a defamation lawsuit, Giuffre wrote that Oh “loved bondage, whipping, hitting and cutting her sex partner with little sharp knives until they subdued [sic] to her punishment in agonizing pain.” In an interview, Giuffre showed me a scar on her upper thigh that she said came from one of these sex acts. She was 17 at the time.


When I asked about Giuffre’s allegation, Oh said she had met Giuffre, but she called the accusation “a complete fabricated lie.” As for the incident with Chartouni, Oh acknowledges that a sexual encounter took place. But in another interview after our Jersey City meeting, she told me she did not “attack” Chartouni. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what was going to happen. If you had a bad experience, you know, you had a bad experience, but I was not abusive,” Oh said. In later interviews, Oh blamed Epstein for “manipulating” her—and said she believes Epstein abused her, too, in the same encounter with Chartouni.

Ultimately, Oh said the women she brought to Epstein wanted to meet him and that she did not know what would happen once she introduced them. Still, Chartouni and Giuffre say they believe Oh was complicit in the abuse they suffered.

Jeffrey Epstein has become a near-universal villain in the public eye. Dozens of women, some of whom were as young as 14 at the time, have accused him of molesting them over two decades, primarily in the 1990s and 2000s, in Florida, New York and New Mexico, as well as on his private Caribbean island. A number of powerful men, from Britain’s Prince Andrew to lawyer Alan Dershowitz, have been accused in court documents of having sex with a young woman Epstein introduced them to, allegations both men deny. One male associate of Epstein’s has been charged in France. Other influential men were friends with Epstein or accepted his money. Yet after reporting on Epstein for months and speaking to associates like Oh, I came to a realization: Beyond these men exists a group of women, possibly even larger, who helped keep Epstein’s massive sex-trafficking operation running for more than 20 years.

Dozens of these women worked for Epstein, formally or informally. If you think of this group as a pyramid, at the top sits Maxwell, a longtime Epstein employee and confidante who now stands accused of recruiting minors for Epstein and sex-trafficking a 14-year-old girl, charges she denies. Below her were women Epstein employed as assistants, who allegedly scheduled and managed dozens of minors for Epstein to abuse. There were also women like Oh who brought friends to meet Epstein and received gifts or access to his wealth.

These women aren’t household names, even for people following Epstein’s story. But his victims say they were key to grooming and deceiving them and allowing Epstein to operate with impunity. In fact, most of Epstein’s victims were introduced to him through other women, according to the 12 victims I’ve spoken with over the past year and a half, as well as dozens of allegations in court and in the media. Often, victims say, it was the women around Epstein who tried to make them feel comfortable, as if what they were experiencing was normal or harmless.

Once Epstein began to face legal scrutiny, other women made it easier for him to rehabilitate himself and reemerge with his power and social cachet largely intact. Two women served as the lead prosecutors on his case when he first faced charges, in 2006, and were closely involved in crafting his federal non-prosecution agreement, plea deal and lenient sentence. For those without deep knowledge of the case, Epstein’s short incarceration of 13 months in a county jail could be read as a signal that, whatever crime he had committed, it wasn’t that bad. After his release, a number of female socialites and professionals helped to welcome Epstein, by then a registered sex offender, back into elite circles. His abuse then continued, court documents assert.


To point this out is not to excuse any of the men or prestigious institutions—universities, banks, funds—that also helped to protect Epstein, nor is it meant to hold women to a higher standard. But as a woman myself, I have been struck by the sheer number of women around Epstein, and many of the victims I’ve spoken with say they feel especially betrayed by those who violated the unspoken rule that women protect other women, especially minors.

This dynamic is becoming more complicated as victims seek money from a compensation fund set up by Epstein’s estate. The fund—designed by lawyers involved in other high-profile cases of victim compensation, including 9/11—has received more than 175 claims since last summer and paid out more than $67 million to an unspecified number of individuals. Among those who have sought or received restitution are women like Chartouni, who were purely victims of Epstein’s predation, but also women whose cases are more complex—those who both introduced other women to Epstein and who say they were abused by him. Epstein wielded his power, wealth and age over women who were both victims and victimizers, and he worked to convert the former into the latter, leaning on the women he lured in to find more adult and teenage women for him.

Oh, in fact, also has applied for restitution and is being represented by the same victims’ rights lawyer as Chartouni. In an email to POLITICO, Oh characterized Epstein’s offers of tuition and the SoHo studio as tools of his “prolonged and repeated” sexual abuse. “You don’t know it’s happening to you,” Oh told me in one of our interviews. Epstein eventually dumped her after she refused to meet some of his friends for dinner. “I was lied to, and I was used,” she said. “And unlike many, many people, I walked away.”

More than three years into the #MeToo movement, the Epstein saga offers an extreme—and still evolving—example of how complex questions of responsibility can get in cases of sexual abuse. In Epstein’s world, women both were victims of a hostile environment and sometimes also reaped the benefits of their association with him, or worse. Still, exactly how Jeffrey Epstein got away with years of abuse remains an open question—one many of his victims are still working to expose. Answering it requires understanding the complicated motivations and actions of the many women around him.



The Lady of the House

Of all of Epstein’s female associates, Ghislaine Maxwell, a beguiling woman with a posh British accent, held the most power. Her involvement with Epstein has been detailed in media reports and court documents, including as part of a defamation lawsuit Giuffre filed against Maxwell in 2015. But employees of Epstein’s painted a fuller picture in interviews.

Epstein and Maxwell connected in 1991, after the mysterious death of Maxwell’s father, media mogul Robert Maxwell. At first, they were just dating. In 1999, Epstein began paying Maxwell to manage his various properties and staff. According to court documents, Epstein had assaulted three girls prior to 1991, but victims and staff say Maxwell’s entry into his life marked a turning point—that, before long, he was sexually abusing as many as three girls per day.

In February of last year, I sat down with Giuffre and Juan Alessi, Epstein’s former houseman, who worked for him from 1991 to 2002. We met at Alessi’s home in Florida, a mini-mansion on a golf course, just miles away from Epstein’s own Palm Beach mansion. The reunion between Giuffre and Alessi seemed heartfelt; they hadn’t spoken since she was a teenager, and here she was on his doorstep, a grown woman with three children. They embraced and then stepped into his home, where they sat on his tufted couch and recounted how Maxwell had recruited her for Epstein.

Alessi, who had not previously spoken to the media about Epstein, told me that one day in 2000 he was driving Maxwell around Palm Beach, where Epstein owned one of several homes, to find teenage girls, a regular occurrence. Maxwell spotted the 16-year-old Giuffre from the street at former President Donald Trump’s beach club, Mar-a-Lago, where Giuffre worked at the spa, and demanded that Alessi pull over. He waited in the convertible, sweating, while Maxwell went into the club and persuaded Giuffre to work as Epstein’s traveling masseuse. “It was an enterprise,” Alessi said.


Giuffre told me she thought she had landed a dream job. Later that night, she says, her father dropped her off at Epstein’s house for what she and other victims have called “the audition.” Giuffre has said in court documents and interviews that Maxwell escorted her up the stairs to Epstein’s room, where what began as a massage turned into Maxwell and Epstein coercing Giuffre into sex acts. In court documents and in interviews, other victims, too, have said Maxwell participated in their abuse and sometimes photographed it.

Maxwell came across as self-possessed, her confidence almost putting those around her at ease. Maria Farmer, 51, worked for Epstein and Maxwell in the 1990s, helping Epstein acquire art and greeting guests at his Manhattan townhouse, she wrote in a 2019 affidavit; she met Epstein at an art show where some of her work was on display. She told me that each day, when the bells chimed at the nearby prep school, Maxwell would call her town car. “Before she was leaving the house, she would get like all hysterical and go, ‘I need to get the nubiles!’” Farmer recalled in an interview. She said Maxwell would bring her Yorkshire terrier, Max, and they would circle the East 70s. When Maxwell spotted a teen, she would order the driver to pull over.

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At the time, Maxwell and Epstein posed as “model scouts,” according to Farmer. It wasn’t that far-fetched: Victoria’s Secret owner Les Wexner was Epstein’s client and friend. But Epstein managed Wexner’s money, not talent. “Ghislaine would say, you know, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get a model, gotta get a Victoria’s Secret model,’” Farmer said. “I was dumb enough to believe it. I believed it, until I didn’t.” She saw girls arriving at Epstein’s home, she wrote in the affidavit, filed on behalf of one of Epstein’s victims, and she told me they usually left distressed.

Farmer has her own story about Maxwell, as well: In her affidavit, she accused Maxwell and Epstein of sexually assaulting her in 1996. Afterward, she wrote, they threatened her and cut her off from “art related opportunities.” She said her career and life were ruined.

Maxwell and Epstein’s relationship eventually shifted from romantic to practical; she remained on his payroll and continued to work for him even after they broke up. In 2000, Epstein gave her a multimillion-dollar townhouse on the Upper East Side. Along the way, she reportedly introduced him to many of the influential people in his Rolodex.

To date, Maxwell is the only one of Epstein’s associates who has faced criminal charges in the United States. On July 2, she was arrested by the Southern District of New York on six charges related to conspiring with Epstein to sexually abuse minors, as well as perjury for sworn statements made as part of Giuffre’s lawsuit (which ended in a settlement). In March, she faced new charges of sex-trafficking a minor for Epstein and paying her. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty and now sits in a Brooklyn jail cell awaiting her trial, which is scheduled for November.

As part of a statement sent to POLITICO just before the newer charges came out, her brother Ian Maxwell said: “Ghislaine is looking forward to a fair trial where she fully expects to be exonerated.”

There’s no dispute among Epstein’s victims about the role they believe Maxwell played. Some even told me they feel more betrayed by Maxwell than by Epstein, because she was the one who recruited them in the first place. “She would be able to figure out what it was that a possible victim wanted or needed,” Giuffre said. “And because she looked like a nice Mary Poppins figure, you kind of trusted her.”

“She could care less about who we were, what had happened to us in the past,” Giuffre continued, “as long as it benefitted her.”



The Assistants

One of the most astonishing things about Epstein’s empire was its scale: Hundreds of women and girls were allegedly abused. None of this would have been possible just with Maxwell riding around in a car. Epstein’s victims needed to be arranged, compensated and instructed to bring more victims. A second tier of women employed as “assistants” kept the wheels of the sex- trafficking enterprise turning.

None of these women has been charged with wrongdoing connected to Epstein, but they have been named in legal documents and by victims. Sarah Kellen, Nadia Marcinkova, Lesley Groff and Adriana Ross all were named as unindicted co-conspirators in Epstein’s 2008 non-prosecution agreement. According to lawsuits filed by Epstein’s victims, court testimony and police reports, Kellen, Groff and Ross were tasked with scheduling and managing the teenage girls coming in and out of his houses, including collecting contact information, taking messages and arranging the girls’ travel.

Kellen (who has also gone by the name Sarah Kensington), 41, was Epstein’s personal assistant. In lawsuits and victim interviews, she has been described as Maxwell’s “lieutenant,” or second in command. Multiple victims have said in court documents that she was instrumental in their abuse, including escorting them up to Epstein’s room. When police began investigating Epstein’s behavior in Florida in the mid-2000s, they sought an arrest warrant for Kellen, though the Palm Beach County state attorney’s office denied the request, citing insufficient evidence.

It’s Kellen whom Courtney Wild, 33, remembers most vividly from the day she first walked through Epstein’s doors in Palm Beach in 2002. Wild was just 14, still in middle school with a mouth full of braces. To her, Kellen’s friendliness made the situation seem normal.

“You’re 14 years old and you go to a mansion, and then Sarah Kellen—I mean, she’s a beautiful woman, too, she’s very nice, you know—escorts me upstairs,” Wild said in an interview. “It’s weird. But I just kind of went with the flow of what everybody else was doing.” (In 2008, Wild sued the federal government for violating the rights of Epstein’s victims by striking his non-prosecution agreement without their knowledge, a case that is ongoing. She has been a public advocate for victims’ rights since and has spoken openly about her story.)

Once she was recruited, Wild says she was told she had another option: Instead of having sex with Epstein, she could be paid to recruit others. And she wasn’t alone. During a raid on Epstein’s house in 2005, police found phone logs, signed by Kellen, with the names of teenagers who were called for confirmation of “work.” Epstein essentially was running an enterprise at Royal Palm Beach High School. According to victim testimony given to the Palm Beach police, each teen would earn around $200 if she brought a new friend to Epstein. This spread throughout the school. Although Palm Beach is known for its wealth, surrounding towns are less affluent. For girls from underprivileged families, $200 was a big deal. Wild was living in a trailer park at the time with a mother who struggled with addiction. She told me she feared she would become homeless without the money she was earning from Epstein.

Kellen visited Epstein during and after his first incarceration multiple times, according to prison records. But she considers herself one of Epstein’s victims, too. Born into a strict family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she started working for Epstein when she was 22, after divorcing her first husband, and becoming estranged from her parents and community. “When Sarah was targeted by Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, she, like many of their victims, was struggling financially and emotionally,” her spokesperson said in a statement. “Soon after Sarah was brought into Epstein’s world, he began to sexually and psychologically abuse her—abuse that endured for years.”

Kellen’s representative said Kellen did schedule appointments and massages for Epstein and Maxwell, but that she never recruited “young girls” for them. The spokesperson would not say whether Kellen has applied for victims’ compensation.


Wild told me it’s upsetting for her to hear that Kellen calls herself a victim. “How could you do this?” she said tearily. “She was over the age of 21 … so I feel like she was in a state of mind to make good and bad decisions, and she repeatedly made the wrong decision.”

Police reports have stated that another “assistant” of Epstein’s, Marcinkova, now 36, engaged in sex acts with Epstein’s victims nearly two decades ago. After Epstein was jailed in Florida, she visited him at least 54 times, according to media reports. In a statement to POLITICO, her lawyer said that Marcinkova, too, was victimized by Epstein. According to a Palm Beach police report, Epstein once told a victim that he had purchased Marcinkova at age 15 from her family in Yugoslavia to be his sex slave. “Nadia wants to speak out about her victimization and help Epstein’s other survivors,” the lawyer’s statement said. “Unfortunately, she is not yet able to comment publicly.” The lawyer would not say whether Marcinkova has applied for victims’ compensation.

Ross, 38, who also has gone by Adriana Mucinska, has avoided commenting about her association with Epstein, including refusing to answer questions in a 2010 deposition. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Groff, 54, worked as Epstein’s executive assistant in Manhattan when she was in her 30s. According to court documents filed in a 2019 lawsuit by victim Jennifer Araoz, Groff was critical in facilitating Epstein’s sexual abuse. She looked after Epstein’s victims, booked their travel and made sure they maintained “rules of behavior,” according to another lawsuit. In a statement to POLITICO, Groff’s lawyer said she “never witnessed anything improper or illegal” while working for Epstein and that she has “always maintained her innocence” in the Araoz case.

That case was dropped when Araoz accepted payment from the victims’ compensation fund, which has a provision saying applicants cannot sue Epstein’s employees. It’s a way to safeguard the estate, whose executors are two longtime Epstein lawyers, from future legal action and financial liability; any estate employee who was sued might then sue the estate to recoup losses. Dan Weiner, an attorney for the co-executors of Epstein’s estate, wrote in an email that the provision was meant to provide as much closure as possible. Ongoing litigation “would defeat the Program’s goal of fully and finally resolving claims against the Estate arising from Mr. Epstein’s conduct,” Weiner wrote.

But multiple victims have told me the provision has made them more reluctant to apply for restitution. “The language that this document is made up of seems to only protect a lot of the other co-conspirators, and it just seems to benefit the lawyers,” Chartouni said.



The ‘Recruiters’

Beyond Maxwell and Epstein’s assistants was a larger, more informal network of women who were lured by Epstein’s gifts—cash, trips, college credits, apartments or access to his powerful contacts—to bring other women to him. In some cases, they scoured nightclubs or restaurants for Epstein’s type, which he described to Wild and other victims as “the younger the better.”

Epstein’s victims commonly use the term “recruiters,” including in court allegations, to refer to the adult women like Oh who sought out others for Epstein, and who, they believe, should be held accountable for their actions. Still, “recruitment” in Epstein’s world was a gray area. Even the adult recruiters were still much younger than Epstein. And, insidiously, Epstein often tasked the minors he abused with bringing their friends to him, too.

It’s unclear exactly how many adult recruiters Epstein had and who they were; many of their names remain hidden. Paolo Zampolli, the founder of a modeling agency in New York, told me Epstein’s recruiters were so rampant in Manhattan that they became known in the modeling and nightclub world as “Jeffrey’s girls.”

Chartouni, who consented to be named for this article, was a 20-year-old model from a small town in Alaska and a recent transplant to Manhattan when Oh brought her to Epstein’s massive townhouse. “It is literally like Alice in Wonderland, like walking through the rabbit hole as soon as you got in that door,” Chartouni told me. She recalls that Oh asked if she wanted to meet a friend of hers—“which could be interpreted in so many different ways,” Chartouni said.

“[Oh] made it seem also so normative,” she said. “It was just like everyone had a part, and I didn’t know it.” After the incident with Oh and Epstein, she never saw him again.

When pressed about Chartouni’s allegation of assault, Oh admitted to being “in the room” with Epstein and Chartouni, but said, “My side of the story is I did not abuse anyone, period. People that knew about him wanted to meet him. And I brought those people there, period.” She insisted she did not know how Epstein would treat Chartouni. Today, Oh says Epstein abused both her and Chartouni in the encounter, which is part of the reason she is seeking victim compensation herself.

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A spokesperson for the compensation fund declined to comment for this article, but the fund has published guidelines stating that individuals who “allegedly assisted Epstein in procuring other victims-survivors” can apply for compensation “where there is a credible basis to determine that the individual acted under duress as a result of her own sexual abuse by Epstein.”

Camille Biros, who helped to set up the Epstein compensation fund but is not involved in determining its payouts, said adult women like Oh could be eligible for compensation based on factors such as the frequency and level of abuse they faced, its impact, whether they were threatened and what kind of corroboration is provided. “If they are not a minor, maybe their mental capacity is not up to the number of years old they are,” said Biros, who has managed high-profile compensation funds for victims of terrorist attacks, plane crashes and sexual abuse. “There are a number of things to consider.”

Anita Teekah, senior director of the anti-trafficking program at the New York nonprofit Safe Horizon, added that it is not unusual for sex traffickers to enlist their victims as recruiters to protect themselves from legal jeopardy.

Biros also said she believes unequivocally that any minor who brought others to Epstein is not at fault. Giuffre and Wild, for example, both of whom came from disadvantaged families, were tasked with finding friends for Epstein.

But when Giuffre learned that Oh, too, had called herself a victim of Epstein’s, her response was unambiguous: “I am never ever going to forgive her and definitely do not consider her to be a victim,” she wrote in a text message.

Chartouni, who has received compensation from the victims’ fund, said she has found some healing in the fact that Oh said she was sorry about the experience, and perhaps even a degree of solidarity with another woman who was caught up in Epstein’s web. “You don’t know how much you can ask of people with this kind of situation,” Chartouni said. “They’re all traumatized as well.”



The Justice System

When Epstein faced charges in Florida, many of his victims cooperated with investigators, hoping to see him brought to justice. Instead, they came away feeling betrayed by the justice system, including two female prosecutors assigned to oversee their case.

In 2006, Epstein was charged in Palm Beach County with solicitation of prostitution, to which he pleaded not guilty. Despite the fact that, between the Palm Beach police and the FBI, dozens of victims were identified, Epstein was offered a plea deal in 2008 that allowed him to spend just 13 months in a county jail, in his own wing with private security and with work release six days per week.

While they are far from the only people involved in the case, two women were the lead prosecutors: Lanna Belohlavek, an assistant state attorney for Palm Beach County, and Marie Villafaña, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Both acted under the direction of their respective male bosses, but, importantly, they served as the point of contact with the victims and their lawyers, who say they often felt ignored and misled. Ultimately, it is Belohlavek’s and Villafaña’s names that are on Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement, plea deal and light jail sentence.

The two women were handed compelling evidence. The late detective Joe Recarey of the Palm Beach Police Department investigated for more than a year, identifying five teenage victims and 17 witnesses. Yet, according to an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the results of which were released this week, Belohlavek did not interview a single victim to build the case against Epstein. “She was definitely being cagey,” Spencer Kuvin, a Florida-based lawyer who represented some of Epstein’s victims, told me. He said Belohlavek would not use his clients as witnesses, even though a police report from one of them had launched the case.

Recarey said in a 2010 deposition that Belohlavek told him she concluded there were “no victims here.” Her boss, State Attorney Barry Krischer, told the FDLE he believed Epstein’s teenage victims might have engaged in prostitution under Florida law. Epstein’s legal team also provided Belohlavek with what the FDLE called “derogatory information” about the victims, including their Myspace pages, which showed them drinking, smoking marijuana and kissing boys.

According to the FDLE and files made public by the state attorney’s office, Belohlavek and Epstein’s lawyers began discussing the possibility of a plea deal that would have allowed Epstein to avoid incarceration. When the negotiations fell through, Krischer called a grand jury to decide whether to charge Epstein—a rare move for a sex crime in Florida, and one that was seen as a way to bury the case. Belohlavek, whom a fellow prosecutor in the office described as Krischer’s “pawn,” then presented just one 14-year-old witness before the jury. (Krischer told the FDLE two other victims had been invited to testify but declined to.) Epstein was charged with a single count of solicitation of prostitution in July 2006. He was out on bail in time for lunch.

According to the FDLE investigation, Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter believed Belohlavek wanted the “case to go away,” while Recarey said she was “trying to brush the case under the carpet.”



The FDLE investigation found that the state attorney’s office did not break any laws in its handling of the Epstein case. Belohlavek told investigators she did not pursue more serious charges against Epstein because she had concerns about whether the victims’ stories would hold up under questioning in a trial. She also said she was limited by state law, including statutes of limitation. She previously has called Epstein’s behavior “reprehensible.” Belohlavek, who currently works in private practice, did not respond to a request for comment.

After the grand jury charge, the legal saga was far from over. In the spring of 2006, Recarey and Reiter, furious about how the state was still handling the case, met with an FBI agent and Villafaña, a 37-year-old prosecutor from the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami who was well-respected for her handling of child exploitation cases. Villafaña and the FBI then worked on the case for more than nine months, identifying new victims and uncovering an interstate trafficking operation, which she laid out in an 82-page prosecution memo and proposed 60-count indictment.

“It was a slam dunk,” said Bradley Edwards, the Florida-based lawyer who represents Chartouni and Oh, as well as Wild, as victims. “I never had a case like that with that much evidence.”

But according to a 2020 report from the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which investigated the handling of Epstein’s case, Villafaña’s boss at the time, U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, instructed her to strike a plea deal in which Epstein would serve only two years in prison. Although Villafaña objected internally, she went ahead with negotiating a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein’s lawyers and drafting its language. The final deal said Epstein would plead guilty to two state charges (procuring a minor for prostitution and felony solicitation), serve 18 months in jail, register as a sex offender and make restitution to his victims. In exchange, no charges were filed in federal court, and any named or unnamed co-conspirators were protected from being prosecuted for any involvement in the Florida case.

In the process of ironing out the non-prosecution agreement, Villafaña spent more time talking to Epstein’s “dream team” of politically connected lawyers than to the victims or their lawyers, according to emails made public in court and in the OPR report, as well as testimony from lawyers involved. In fact, the victims were not notified about the deal, even after it was signed in the fall of 2007. When Epstein ultimately was sentenced, Kuvin, one of the main lawyers for the victims, showed up thinking it was a routine hearing, he told me; he said he wasn’t aware the case was so far advanced.


The OPR report blames Acosta, above all, for “poor judgment.” It also makes clear that Villafaña wanted tougher treatment for Epstein and that she believed the victims should be notified about the non-prosecution agreement. “After all the hell they put me through, I don’t feel like celebrating 18 months,” she wrote to one colleague after Epstein’s sentencing. “He should be spending 18 years in jail.”

While victim notification was not required by law, the OPR report concluded: “the lack of consultation was part of a series of government interactions with victims that ultimately led to public and court condemnation of the government’s treatment of the victims, reflected poorly on the [DOJ] as a whole, and is contradictory to the Department’s mission to minimize the frustration and confusion that victims of a crime endure.”

In 2019, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami had violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, writing, “While the Government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the NPA with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims.” Marra stopped short of throwing out Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement, something Wild and the other victims have advocated. (A federal appeals court later ruled that the CVRA would have applied only if there had been federal charges against Epstein; the court still called the case a “national disgrace.”)



“[Villafaña] was in a tough, tough, tough place,” said former federal prosecutor Paul Pelletier, who worked with her in the Southern District of Florida but not at the time of the Epstein case. “There’s not a lot you can do.” He pointed to a few possibilities: “You can quit. You can appeal to Main Justice. … You can say, ‘I’m dealing with a child predator, and my office is mechanically doing it all wrong.’ But none of these options would likely lead to a satisfactory result.” If Villafaña had told the victims about the deal, though, he added, they could have derailed it by drawing public attention to it: “I firmly believe that with the spotlight that the victims would have brought on it, it would have scuttled the deal.”

Villafaña still works for the government, in a supervisory role for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A lawyer representing her defended her handling of the case, saying in a statement: “Ms. Villafaña believes the injustice in this case is a direct result of implicit biases based on gender and socioeconomic status—biases that allowed Mr. Epstein’s defense team unparalleled access to the decision-makers at the Justice Department, while the victims, Ms. Villafaña, and the FBI agents working the case were silenced.”

Wild doesn’t see Villafaña as someone who was silenced in the same way Epstein’s victims were. She still remembers the day in early 2008 when she met Villafaña for an interview in West Palm Beach. Wild recalls being assured she would “get justice.” She later learned the plea deal already had been signed. (At the time, Villafaña thought she still had a chance of filing federal charges against Epstein, who she believed might breach the non-prosecution agreement, according to the OPR report.) Wild told me she has long hoped for an apology from Villafaña.

“I was sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein,” Wild said. “But I was revictimized by the government.”

The Socialites and Professionals

While many of the women around Epstein have said their complicity resulted from a sense of powerlessness, another group, perhaps more inexplicable, were the high-society women who helped to legitimize him after his time in jail. With their help, Epstein waltzed back onto exclusive guest lists and into private parties, sending a signal to the elite that he was not a pariah. Men played this role, too, but by the time Epstein was known to have targeted girls, his connections with influential women took on special significance.

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One of Epstein’s longtime defenders was his former girlfriend of 11 years, Eva Andersson-Dubin, a doctor, former Miss Sweden and now the wife of the billionaire financier Glenn Dubin. In 2007, while Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement was being negotiated, his legal team sent the Palm Beach state attorney’s office a laudatory testimonial from Eva Dubin. “I could not ask for a better friend or godfather to my children,” she wrote. Two years later, after Epstein’s guilty plea, she wrote an email to Epstein’s probation officer, saying she was aware of Epstein’s status as a registered sex offender but that she was “100 percent comfortable” having him around her children. Later in the month, according to Business Insider, Epstein spent his first Thanksgiving after his release at the Dubins’ Palm Beach home.



Witnesses have suggested in court that Eva Dubin was familiar with Epstein’s behavior. Giuffre wrote in her draft memoir that in 2001 Epstein had ordered her to give Dubin a massage that included rubbing her breasts, which were sore from pregnancy, at the Breakers, a Palm Beach resort. In a 2016 deposition, the Dubins’ butler, Rinaldo Rizzo, recalled speaking to a “distraught” and “quivering” 15-year-old Swedish girl in the couple’s kitchen in 2005. According to Rizzo, the teenager claimed to be Epstein’s assistant, and described being pressured by Epstein’s female associates to have sex on his private island (she did not specify with whom). Rizzo testified that Eva Dubin walked into the kitchen after the story had been told and said the teenager would be working for the Dubins as a nanny.

A spokesperson for the family said, “The Dubins were horrified by and completely unaware of Jeffrey Epstein’s unspeakable conduct. They categorically deny the allegations [by Giuffre and Rizzo] and have evidence disproving them.” (The spokesperson showed POLITICO these materials over Zoom but did not share a copy or respond to additional questions.)



Hollywood party planner Peggy Siegal assisted Epstein’s social reintegration by including him on guest lists for exclusive parties. Considered a social power broker in New York and Los Angeles, Siegal allowed Epstein to attend a film screening she organized in Southampton in 2010. The event, also attended by Rudy Giuliani, Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross and others, took place just two months after Epstein had gotten out of prison. In 2011, Siegal threw a dinner party at Epstein’s townhouse for Prince Andrew that also included Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos and Chelsea Handler.

Siegal previously has said that she was not aware Epstein had been accused of abusing minors. (After his sentencing, Epstein tried to downplay his charges publicly.) A friend of Siegal’s, speaking on her behalf, told POLITICO that Epstein would call Siegal from time to time to request party invitations but that she did not seek him out. The friend also said Epstein had attended the Southampton party as a guest of a guest.

Another way Epstein sought to rehabilitate himself after his jail time was through philanthropy, particularly in the sciences, where seemingly innocuous or peripheral contacts helped to restore his social credibility.

In 1998, he had hired Melanie Walker, a recent medical school graduate who is now a neurological surgeon, as a part-time scientific consultant; that year, Epstein also purchased his private island, “Little St. Jeff’s,” where he planned to build a research center. Years later, Walker worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she was a mutual connection of Gates and Epstein. During that time, in 2011, Epstein met with Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, and e-mailed Walker and another colleague afterward to offer his impressions, according to two sources familiar with the exchange. Gates and Epstein met “numerous” times thereafter to talk about philanthropy, according to the New York Times. Asked to comment, a Gates spokesperson said that “multiple high-profile people” had suggested Gates meet with Epstein, and that Gates “regrets ever having” done so. A spokesperson for Walker declined to comment.

Former Apple and Microsoft executive Linda Stone knew Epstein at least as far back as the mid-1990s, when he hosted dinners for scientists at his New York home. In the early 2000s, she worked with him to organize a scientific symposium in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Years later, Stone introduced Epstein to Joi Ito, then the director of MIT’s Media Lab, an MIT investigation later found. While Stone, Ito and Epstein were attending a TED conference in California in 2013, Stone wrote an email with the subject line “Jeff + Joi” and one line of body text: “Intro!” Ito told MIT’s investigators that he and Epstein then met in a hallway at the conference.

The next month, when Ito faced internal pushback about the Media Lab accepting money from Epstein, Ito wrote to one colleague: “[Epstein] has a tainted past, but Linda assures me that he’s awesome.” He later emailed Stone for her advice about how to handle the pushback. Her response, as quoted in the MIT investigation, noted that Epstein had given money to Harvard and to science and technology causes. “Good to show that list,” she wrote. Between 2013 and 2017, Epstein donated $525,000 to the Media Lab, according to MIT. (In 2019, Ito apologized for accepting the donations and resigned.) Stone declined to comment.



Members of the media, too, played a role in softening Epstein’s image. In 2003, journalist Vicky Ward planned to report in Vanity Fair that Epstein had sexually assaulted Maria Farmer, the woman who worked as greeter for Epstein, along with her sister, Annie. The magazine’s editor, Graydon Carter, facing pressure from Epstein, decided against publishing the Farmers’ account; he later said Ward lacked sufficient sourcing. The resulting article, titled “The Talented Mr. Epstein,” focused instead on Epstein’s lavish lifestyle and mysterious wealth. Ward publicly has blamed Carter for the omission. But eight years after the article’s publication, she wrote a soft-focus blog post about Maxwell and Epstein that has gotten less attention.

In the post, which has been taken down but is still findable online, Ward described “not knowing quite whom to believe” while reporting the 2003 article, and offered an updated assessment of Maxwell and Epstein, whom she “kept running into” at parties in the years after the story ran. Maxwell, Ward wrote, was “always the most interesting, the most vivacious, the most unusual person in any room. I’ve spent hours talking to her about the Third World at a bar until two a.m. She is as passionate as she is knowledgeable. She is curious.” As for Epstein, who was a registered sex offender at the time, Ward referred to the felony as “sexual peccadilloes.” She openly subscribed to the idea that Epstein’s wealth had sustained him for years and would continue to: “In this city, money makes up for all sorts of blemishes.”

Asked to comment, Ward told POLITICO that the blog post “has my byline but was commissioned and edited—and published—by Vanity Fair.” (It also appeared on Ward’s personal website, which she said “automatically” pulled the text from Vanity Fair.) Ward said she did not write or approve of the phrase “sexual peccadillos.” Asked to clarify, she said she would explain further “in my own narrative” in an upcoming podcast and documentary.

“I understand the optics of subsequent events and I absolutely understand why Maria feels as she does towards me,” Ward added. “It is a source of great personal sorrow. I think she is a woman of remarkable courage.”

Farmer, who had placed her trust in Vanity Fair to tell her story, has not forgotten Ward’s actions. Ward “befriended the monsters,” Farmer told me. “I will never forgive her.”



The Man at the Center of It All

One thing that has always struck me about Epstein is that people who knew him well say he wasn’t that charming. Sure, he was rich and powerful, and offered young women with very little a taste of his lifestyle and a promise to fulfill their dreams. But he didn’t have that irresistible cult-leader quality. Instead, Epstein had infrastructure. Not just houses and jets, but the people around him—so many of them women, who delivered more girls to satiate his sexual desires, while giving off the impression that everybody’s doing it.

That perception was critical to Epstein’s operation. He wanted everyone around him to appear happy. And he wanted the young women to know he was not only rich but powerful, so he name-dropped, incessantly. He hung pictures of famous people on his walls. His atmosphere was part of his allure. Without it, he would just be a creep in a mansion.

And maybe that’s why so many women looked the other way. The teenage victims took their cues from the beautiful women Epstein employed, who kept up the appearance of a world of wealth and play. The sense of normalization then rippled outward to society at large, where more powerful women failed to call out Epstein’s behavior, or downplayed it, whether because of outside pressure or their own blind spots. So, the myth of Epstein’s world persisted, while the real man at the center of it all kept abusing.

For so many years, Epstein’s victims’ cries for help were never heard; as young women, they weren’t taken seriously. The power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victims was hardly taken into consideration. Attitudes were so different back then that Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution—as if a minor could be a prostitute. That language alone silenced victims like Wild, who heard the word “prostitute” and thought that she was guilty, a criminal.

Today, Florida law acknowledges that minors can’t consent to “prostitution.” And now, more and more women around Epstein are seeking the justice they have been denied, taking agency to expose Epstein and his enablers. Virginia Giuffre, who has been called a liar by some of the most powerful people and institutions in the world, including Buckingham Palace, has spent time on the road trying to get witnesses to verify her accounts. Courtney Wild has spent more than a decade fighting to overturn Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement and to strengthen the law for victims’ rights. Marijke Chartouni decided to track down the woman who brought her to Epstein—that’s how I learned of Oh myself—and is helping other victims to do the same; she’s already helped one other survivor.


Yet, there is still so much about Epstein’s world that hasn’t been exposed, and the women who ultimately know the most are the ones who were closest to him. If Epstein’s house of cards was built by women, that means it’s also women who can reveal the true extent of his crimes.

Oh, to her credit, ultimately helped to confirm Chartouni’s allegations of abuse by Epstein. Despite their dispute about what happened 20 years ago, Oh was a witness who placed Chartouni and Epstein in the same room together—which she says she attested to in an affidavit submitted as part of Chartouni’s case for compensation. Having spent more than a year in Epstein’s orbit, Oh presumably could be a valuable witness for investigations into Maxwell and others, too. So could plenty of other women. Yet very few have been willing to come forward.

To me, the fact that so many women know so much more, yet have stayed silent, might be the most depressing part of this story.

Chartouni, a mother of two in Washington State, understands the power of testimony like Oh’s. She sees it as a way not just to hold others accountable, but also to find closure, she told me. “This is a service that we can all provide for each other,” Chartouni said. “It’s not just to, you know, be vindictive and, like, call people out for the things they did.”

It’s also, she said, to heal.


Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/05/14/jeffrey-epstein-investigation-women-487157

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