ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein was charged today with sex trafficking of minors at a New York federal court. Prosecutors claim Epstein preyed for years on dozens of girls as young as 14. In 2008, he escaped major prison time for essentially the same charges in Florida when prosecutors arranged a secret plea deal. One of those prosecutors was Alex Acosta, who is now secretary of labor in the Trump administration. Today in the Manhattan federal court, Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges. NPR's Quil Lawrence was at the courthouse and joins us now. Hi, Quil.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about the charges that Epstein faces in New York.
LAWRENCE: It's two charges, one of sex trafficking of minors, the other of conspiracy to do the same. And it involves, as you say, dozens and dozens of girls, many of them very young. They were brought to his homes, his mansions around the country where he would pay them for massage that turned into nude massage and would eventually end up in sexual abuse in many, many cases, according to the attorney general - according to the U.S. attorney, rather. And U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in the Southern District of New York said that these were extremely vulnerable victims. And sometimes they actually ended up recruiting others.
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GEOFFREY BERMAN: Epstein also paid certain victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused. This allowed Epstein to create an ever-expanding web of new victims.
LAWRENCE: So he was arrested on Saturday. And they searched his Upper East Side Manhattan mansion. And they say they found nude photos there. They've encouraged other victims to come forward, other possible victims of Jeffrey Epstein. And here's Special Agent Bill Sweeney talking at the courthouse today.
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BILL SWEENEY: Those who have been victimized by child sexual predators are frequently haunted by memories of these crimes well into their adulthood, often for the rest of their lives. They bear the burden of someone else's criminal behavior.
SHAPIRO: So, Quil, explain. There were previous charges in Florida. But these are all connected with crimes that allegedly took place in New York.
LAWRENCE: Right. They can be Florida as well, but these are federal charges. The New York district attorney said it doesn't matter that he was already charged in Florida because these are charges leveled in New York and possibly with victims who were brought to his New York mansion.
SHAPIRO: And let's talk about that Florida plea deal for a moment. There's been a lot of investigative reporting that has illuminated what transpired leading to a 13-month sentence for charges of sexually abusing dozens of young girls. Tell us more about what was involved there.
LAWRENCE: Right. It was a secret plea deal, and the terms were not revealed to the victims. And for that reason, a Florida judge may now invalidate that plea deal. But this all came to light because of a Miami Herald report which made public that Epstein got just those 13 months of jail time. He had to register as a sex offender, but he could go to work. He could leave jail and go to work six days a week.
SHAPIRO: And key to that deal was Alex Acosta, who was at the time a prosecutor in Florida - is now labor secretary in the Trump administration. What does all of this mean for him?
LAWRENCE: Right. So there are a lot of big names associated with his case. Epstein was connected with people like Bill Clinton and with Donald Trump. Trump said in 2002 that Epstein was fun to be with and mentioned that he liked women on the younger side. So Acosta hasn't commented about this. But some have called for his resignation because he signed off on this deal when he was a federal prosecutor. The Miami Herald report also spurred new interest from the Senate when they confirmed Attorney General Barr in January. He promised to follow up on the case.
And we may be seeing sort of a combination of the #MeToo era, the Miami Herald doing that report, pressure on the attorney general. And then we have this case brought. And Epstein was flying on his private jet from Paris on Saturday. He landed in New Jersey just outside New York City across the river here. And federal authorities were waiting for him. And now he's in detention awaiting a bail hearing on Thursday.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Quil Lawrence joining us from New York. Thanks, Quil.
LAWRENCE: Thanks, Ari.
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