U.S. Virgin Islands sues Jeffrey Epstein estate over alleged abuse of girls on private island
Attorney general says late financier used private Caribbean islands as a 'safe haven' to traffic minors
Jeffrey Epstein used his private Caribbean islands as a "safe haven" to traffic and sexually abuse dozens of underage girls and women up until 2018, according to a lawsuit filed by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Denise George, alleges that the late financier was bringing girls who appeared to be as young as 11 or 12 to his private island, Little Saint James, starting in 2001.
Epstein took his own life in August in a Manhattan jail cell after he pleaded not guilty to abusing and trafficking women and girls in Manhattan and Florida from 2002 to 2005.
This new lawsuit alleges Epstein's alleged crimes are much broader, and that he went to great lengths — including buying a database to track the movements of the girls — to carry out his operations.
"He created this safe haven for himself to be able to conduct this kind of activity, keep them captive and ... to be able to shield himself from law enforcement scrutiny and public scrutiny," George told As It Happens host Carol Off.
'Alarmed and outraged'
Before his death, Epstein, through his lawyers, denied any wrongdoing, saying he'd kept a clean record since his 2008 conviction in Florida.
George began her investigation into Epstein shortly after she came into office in April 2019, after receiving multiple inquiries from people who alleged something was afoot on the island, as well as reading media reports.
She said she was "alarmed and outraged" by what she uncovered.
"The islands and the way they are situated, as well as Epstein's power and wealth — it made it very conducive for him to be able to conceal his actions," George said.
Little Saint James, which Epstein has owned since 1998, is more than three kilometres from the nearest large island, St. Thomas.
Epstein then allegedly bought nearby Great St. James in 2016, using a straw purchaser to conceal his identity, to keep people from monitoring him from there, and keep victims from escaping to the island.
In one undated incident in the lawsuit, according to the New York Times, a 15-year-old girl tried to swim off the island in an effort to escape the abuse. Epstein allegedly captured her and took her passport away.
The lawsuit also alleges that Epstein refused to allow investigators to enter Little St. James beyond its dock as recently as July 2018.
The lawsuit seeks the forfeiture of Epstein's two islands, as well as the dissolution of his numerous shell companies.
Epstein's estate is estimated to be worth $577.7 million US.
This is the first lawsuit from a government entity, but dozens of Epstein's victims have also filed similar lawsuits against his estate.
The estate's executors have set up a fund to compensate victims, but George said she worries that there are too many "strings attached."
A lawyer for the estate said in a statement to Reuters that they reject the claim there are any "confidentiality requirements," and said the fund is not intended to shield anyone from liability.
Money could go to victims
George said if they win the lawsuit, they will ask the court if they can use funds to assist victims that were harmed by Epstein in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Epstein has been connected to high-profile people, including Prince Andrew. The prince was forced to step down from his royal duties last November over the friendship and allegations that he had sex with Virginia Roberts when she was underage, including once at Epstein's Virgin Islands estate. Prince Andrew denies the allegations.
George said the investigation is still underway and, if there is evidence, charges may be laid against those who assisted Epstein.
Written by Sarah Jackson with files from Reuters. Produced by Kate Swoger.