PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Mega-millionaire and part-time Palm Beacher Jeffrey Epstein on Monday entered a plea of not guilty on new charges of sex trafficking minors.
The new federal case in New York could potentially send the high-flying financier to prison for up to 45 years, what could amount to a life sentence for the 66-year-old.
Epstein’s new charges, similar to an earlier case, rely on allegations of sex with underage girls more than a decade ago at both his Palm Beach estate and his residence in New York City.
Federal agents arrested Epstein over the weekend at a New York City area airport as he returned from a stay in Europe.
On Monday, federal prosecutors discussed the new case against Epstein at a news conference.
“First, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and second, the substantive crime of sex trafficking underage girls,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, enumerating the two counts.
Berman said the indictment accuses Epstein of engaging in sex acts with dozens of underage girls at his New York and Palm Beach homes from at least 2002 until 2005.
“The underage girls were initially recruited to provide Epstein with massages and often did so nude or partially nude,” he said. “These massages became increasingly sexual in nature and would typically include one or more sex acts.”
Berman said Epstein or unnamed employees paid the girls hundreds of dollars and prosecutors said some victims even recruited more victims.
“That’s how he continued to expand the number of new victims,” he said.
More than 10 years ago when similar allegations surfaced, federal prosecutors in South Florida struck a so-called non-prosecution agreement with Epstein.
The feds guaranteed they would not charge Epstein or his associates in exchange for sending the criminal case being sent to the state level, specifically Palm Beach County.
Epstein ultimately pleaded guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution.
The plea deal in Circuit Court led to Epstein serving 13 months at the Palm Beach County Stockade, with most days spent on “work release” at a downtown office near his attorney.
On Monday, members of the media asked about the old South Florida non-prosecution agreement.
“That agreement only binds, by its terms, only binds the Southern District of Florida,” Berman said. “The Southern District of New York is not bound by that agreement.”
And while the allegations are similar, the sex trafficking charges are different.
“They’re basically saying that this was an organized scheme to traffic not one, but multiple, multiple girls,” said Patrick McKamey, a former homicide prosecutor now practicing criminal defense in West Palm Beach.
McKamey said prosecutors are alleging Epstein “used his power and wealth and network of employees, (his) contacts, to facilitate the sexual abuse.”
The New York prosecutors also said they are seeking to have Epstein held no bond until his case is resolved.
Berman called Epstein a huge flight risk because of his wealth, citing his two airplanes and multiple homes, including some abroad.
The judge set a Thursday hearing to address the request for pre-trial detention.
Prosecutors also revealed more about the raid on Epstein’s Manhattan home over the weekend.
They said agents seized new evidence, including nude pictures of what appeared to be underage girls.
With new evidence, there’s the potential of additional charges for Epstein on top of the sex trafficking counts he’s already facing.
The FBI also asked potential new victims to come forward, by calling 1-800-CALL FBI.