STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
An indictment for financier Jeffrey Epstein begins with a devastating sentence. Over the course of many years, the indictment says, the defendant sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach and other locations. These new criminal charges come against a well-connected billionaire who once pleaded guilty to lesser charges involving victims who were underage. The indictment, unsealed this morning in New York, goes on for 14 pages, and NPR's Quil Lawrence has been reading in New York.
Hi there, Quil.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: From what you read, what was the form of the abuse that was described?
LAWRENCE: It seems to be the same thing that we had heard and read about having happened in Florida that was exposed in a huge story by the Miami Herald last year, that Jeffrey Epstein would lure underage girls to his mansions either in New York or in Florida or elsewhere, and that he would have told them they were coming to give him a massage. It was a nude massage. That would turn into some sort of groping or even sexual assault.
And that he also - the conspiracy charge against him is that he was also recruiting these girls to bring other young girls to his mansion. So the indictment claims that he had created a huge network with dozens and dozens of young girls - as young as 14 - who would come to his mansions, and - where they would be abused.
INSKEEP: I trust that none of the victims is named here, but there is a series of specific cases that is laid out. Is that right?
LAWRENCE: That's right. And these were - there had previously been a plea deal, as you know, in Florida, where there were dozens of victims named. The Miami Herald report found 60 victims. There's speculation that there could be hundreds of victims. And it was these victims who were not informed of the secret plea deal 11 years ago that let him off with a lighter sentence. And the fact that they were not informed has sort of opened it up. Judges have said that that's illegal, that they weren't informed of the plea deal, and that's what's opened it up to new prosecution.
INSKEEP: OK, this is significant because Carrie Johnson, our national justice correspondent, has pointed out that Epstein's lawyers could conceivably say, listen; we already did a plea deal on these crimes. You can't be reprosecuting these crimes. You're telling me there is additional information, there are additional victims who had no input on that arrangement years ago, and so it's possible to go back again and represent them in court.
LAWRENCE: The problem - and my understanding of the plea deal 11 years ago is that it was secret - kept secret from the victims, and then that has been considered illegal. But we don't know if - there were probably new victims here because they're talking about New York as well as Florida. The previous plea deal was a state deal in Florida.
INSKEEP: What does this mean for Alex Acosta, who's currently the secretary of labor under President Trump and was the federal prosecutor who engineered that deal?
LAWRENCE: Well, we don't know what it means for them other than bringing up something where he apparently gave what many have called an extremely light sentence to a serial sex offender who was politically connected with both Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton. But of course, Donald Trump later gave Alex Acosta a Cabinet position. So many people are speculating about that, but we don't have anything specifically new today.
INSKEEP: Compelled to note that President Trump himself has been directly connected to Epstein, spoke of him as a good friend and praised him as someone who was - that liked to party and liked women on the younger side in a magazine interview years ago. He's been linked to Bill Clinton as well. Is there any clue in this indictment of connections of a darker kind to any famous person?
LAWRENCE: Nothing that I've seen so far, and just a quick reading of the indictment says that. They're concentrating on this network of underage girls that this billionaire was able to lure to his mansions around the world. And this billionaire is now in jail after having gotten off a flight - a private jet. He flew in from France, and he was arrested as he landed in New Jersey.
INSKEEP: Quil, thanks for the real-time reporting, really appreciate it.
LAWRENCE: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence in New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.