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I Tried to Warn You About Sleazy Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2003

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Billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein, who has been accused of sexually assaulting underage girls for more than a decade, will appear in federal court today in Manhattan on sex trafficking charges. He was arrested on Saturday for allegedly running a sex trafficking operation by luring underage girls as young as 14 years old to his mansion in Manhattan. Epstein was previously accused of molesting and trafficking dozens of underage girls in Florida, but he ended up serving just 13 months in county jail after the U.S. prosecutor in Florida, Alexander Acosta, cut whats been described as one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history. The plea deal allowed Epstein to avoid a federal trial and possible life in prison, and effectively ended anFBIprobe into the case. Acosta is now Donald Trumps labor secretary. Epstein has counted Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton among his friends. We speak with Vicky Ward, an investigative journalist who profiled Jeffrey Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003 in a piece headlined The Talented Mr. Epstein. The magazines editor at the time, Graydon Carter, cut out the testimonies of two young women Epstein allegedly molested who had spoken to Ward on the record. Ward later wrote about the incident for The Daily Beast in an article headlined I Tried to Warn You About Sleazy Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2003.

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How Trumps Labor Secretary Cut a Deal for Multimillionaire & Serial Sexual Abuser Jeffrey Epstein

I Tried to Warn You About Sleazy Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2003

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AMYGOODMAN:This isDemocracy Now!Im Amy Goodman. Billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein, who has been accused of sexually assaulting underage girls for more than a decade, was arrested Saturday on sex trafficking charges. He was arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Hell appear in federal court today.The New York Timesreportshes being accused of running a sex trafficking operation by luring underage girlssome as young as 14 years oldto his mansion in Manhattan.

He was previously accused of molesting and trafficking dozens, and potentially hundreds, of underage girls in Florida. But Epstein ended up serving just 13 months in county jail after the U.S. prosecutor in Florida, Alexander Acosta, cut whats been described as one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history. The plea deal allowed Epstein to avoid a federal trial and possible life in prison, and effectively ended anFBIprobe into the case. Alex Acosta is now Donald Trumps labor secretary.

Jeffrey Epstein has counted Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton among his friends. Theyve flown with him. Trump toldNew Yorkmagazine in 2002, Ive known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. Hes a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side, Trump said about his friend Jeffrey Epstein. Again, this was before all the charges were brought. In 2000, Trump was photographed with Epstein at Trumps Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

To talk about what led up to Epsteins most recent arrest and what comes next, were joined by Vicky Ward, an investigative journalist who profiled Jeffrey Epstein forVanity Fairin 2003 in apieceheadlined The Talented Mr. Epstein. The magazines editor at the time, Graydon Carter, cut out the testimonies of two young women Epstein allegedly molested, who had spoken to Ward on the record, one of them underage. Ward wrote about what happened with her Epstein reporting forThe Daily Beastin anarticleheadlined I Tried to Warn You About Sleazy Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2003.

Welcome back toDemocracy Now!Its great to have you with us, Vicky.

AMYGOODMAN:So, for people who do not understand who this man ishes referred to as billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epsteinwho is he, and what do you believe he is being charged with right now? The indictment is about to be opened.

VICKYWARD:So, I dont think hes a hedge fund manager. He is certainly very wealthy. There is great mystery as to how he actually made his money. He tells people that he adviseshe takes a percentage, and he advises billionaires only. He wont take anyone poorer than a billionaire. And he takes a cut, which adds up to a lot of money. This, when I investigated him in 2002, really turned out to be untrue.

What was interesting was that the man who claimed to have sort of taught Jeffrey many financial tricks, and who claims to this day that Jeffrey has his money, is a gentleman by the name of Steve Hoffenberg, who went to jail for 20 years for committing the biggest Ponzi scheme pre-Bernie Madoff. So, the mystery of Jeffrey Epsteins wealth has never been clarified.

AMYGOODMAN:He started out as a Dalton teacher, right?

AMYGOODMAN:A teacher at the private school in Manhattan.

VICKYWARD:Absolutely. And he then went to Bear Stearns. He left Bear Stearns, the investment bank, under very mysterious circumstances. And whats interesting about that is that he seemed to have a curious power over the two gentlemen who ran Bear Stearns, James Cayne and Ace Greenberg. And he was certainly questioned by theSECback in the day.

AMYGOODMAN:The Securities and Exchange Commission.

VICKYWARD:Yes, as to what he might have known about an insider trading case to do with a company called St. Joe Minerals Corp., in which both Ace Greenberg and Jimmy Cayne were also questioned. So, you know, this is a man who definitely trades in the knowledge he has over the rich and famous, and uses it for leverage. He also introduces rich and famous people, like Bill Clinton, like Donald Trump, to girls.

You then asked me about the charges today. I think whats so interesting about the charges today is that theyre the resultthe indictments that are going to be unsealed are the result not only of the FBIs work, but of the Public Corruption Unit, which does suggestand obviously Im speculating herethat bribery may have been involved. And why thats so important is, for me, who tried to expose this man for what he is back in two thousand andI was actually reporting it late 2002, the piece ran in 2003is he has, ever since then, got away. Hes been untouchable. His money has somehow bought him the ability to evade justice. And so Im fascinated by the fact that the Public Corruption Unit has been involved in this investigation, as well as theFBI.

AMYGOODMAN:So, in 2018, theMiami Heraldpublished an award-winningseriesof articles exposing Epsteins crimes and the high-powered people who protected him. The series is called Perversion of Justice. This is a clip from a video accompanying the piece, where we hear the voices of the women describing what happened to them.

VIRGINIAROBERTS:I went from an abusive situation to being a runaway to living in foster homes to just already being hardened by life on the streets.

JENA-LISAJONES:The other girls that I personally know of that went were coming from trailer parks that were having gun shootings, drugs.

COURTNEYWILD:My mother was on drugs at the time, and she couldnt provide for me. And I was pretty much homeless.

JACKSCAROLA:One child would be lured over, would be paid substantial sums of money, would be offered the further inducement of being paid a bounty for anybody else that she was able to bring to Epstein. A network developed where many young girls in the same kinds of circumstance wound up being victimized.

JENA-LISAJONES:The three of us slid into the backseat of the cab, and we drove, and I remember just driving down Okeechobee Boulevard and thinking how I had never been on Palm Beach Island before, in my whole entire life that I had lived in West Palm Beach.

COURTNEYWILD:By the time I was 16, I brought him up to 75 girls, all the ages of, you know, 14, 15, 16, people going from eighth grade to ninth grade. At just school parties is where I would recruit them from.

VIRGINIAROBERTS:All Jeffrey cared about was Go find me more girls. His appetite was insatiable. He couldnt stop. He wanted new, fresh, young faces every single day.

AMYGOODMAN:That video from theMiami Herald. TheMiami Heralddid this incrediblethree-part series, Perversion of Justice, by Julie Brown. Vicky Ward, you were doing the first pieces back in 2003. How old are your twin daughters right now?

AMYGOODMAN:So, that is very significant, because you were pregnant at the time you were doing this piece.

AMYGOODMAN:Can you describe what happened to you when you wrote this piece? You spoke to Jeffrey Epstein.

VICKYWARD:Oh, multiple times, multiple times. He wheeled out, you know, all these important bankers and academics and financiers to talk to me. And he would call me all the time, but he would threaten me. He would talk, and then he would say, You know, Vicky, if I dont like this piece, you know, something is going to happen to your unborn children. You know, and that way, he would sort of say it, you know, lightly, but I went to the magazines general counsel at the time.

AMYGOODMAN:So, you actually put security on them in theNICU, in the

VICKYWARD:When they came early, he had asked me what hospital they were going to be born at. So I actually did put security on them. They were born two months prematurely. And I did. And I think one of the reasons it took me so long to revisit this story is that it was obviously extremely traumatic, not least because, you know, getting the two young women who talked to me to go on the record, verifying with sources around them their accounts of what had happened to them, was extraordinarily harrowing and difficult. And

VICKYWARD:who alleged that Jeffrey Epstein had assaulted each of them separately, on separate occasions, but one of them at the time was underage. And it was a classic story of two young women who did not come from a particularly rich family. The younger one wanted to go to an Ivy League school. Jeffrey offered to pay for this, but only if he got to know this young woman better. And he was very plausible. He had his girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, whovery charming, well educated, British sort of socialite around New York

AMYGOODMAN:Shes the daughter of Robert Maxwell

AMYGOODMAN:former owner of theNew York Daily News.

VICKYWARD:Yes. So, Ghislaine was the one who phoned these young womens mother to reassure her how safe they would be, andbecause, of course, the poor mother now blames herself terribly for what happened. And, you know, I talked tothere were numerous people. The artist Eric Fischl was a friend of the older daughter. They all verified. They remembered these two women recounting their trauma at the time, so brave. We all go through this, and then to suddenly find, at the 11th hour, that somehow Jeffrey got to the editor of the magazine. This story was being pulled. I was told

AMYGOODMAN:Wait a second. He came into Cond Nasts offices?

VICKYWARD:Yes, he came in. I had had noI was not told about this. He came in. He had a private meeting with the magazines then-editor, Graydon Carter, after which I was informed that Graydon believed Jeffrey Epstein. I was told that Jeffrey Epstein had told Graydon that he was, quote-unquote, sensitive about the women. And so they would be pulled from the story. So it would now be a business story. And

VICKYWARD:Well, it was a business story that explained that Jeffrey Epstein was not who he claimed to be in his professional life. But the very powerful, awful stories of what happened to these women got taken out. And I was

AMYGOODMAN:And these girls, are they involved with the case thats being opened today, where hes being brought into a Manhattan court?

VICKYWARD:I dont know. I have heardI have not confirmed that. I haveone source has told me that possibly they are, which, for me, would be

VICKYWARD:Sixteen years later. Because one of the things that has haunted me is that there I was, trying to expose this man in 2003, and the originalthe firstFBIinvestigation, the one that got neutered by Alexander Acosta, didnt begin until 2006, so its always been on my conscience that for three years he molested hundreds of sort of helpless, poor women who were in no position to fight back against him.

AMYGOODMAN:Well end it with him, whos now President Trumps labor secretary, was the U.S. attorney in Florida at the time.

AMYGOODMAN:This sweetheart deal, to say the least

AMYGOODMAN:I mean, Jeffrey Epstein, if found guilty at the time of molesting, assaulting the number of women who had brought cases, something nearly around 40

AMYGOODMAN:could have gone to jail for life in prison.

VICKYWARD:If Alexander Acosta had let theFBIto continue with its investigation. But instead, there was thisthat he had one meeting with Jay Lefkowitz, a member of Jeffrey Epsteins powerhouse, massive sort of legal team, and he did theyou know, he later justified the plea deal that was cut, the nonprosecution agreement, that was significantly, by the way, not just helpful to Jeffrey Epstein, but helpful to four conspirators who had enabled him. He claimed later, Well, you know, the womens testimony might not have stood up. This was the best deal I could get. But, in fact, we now know that he actually broke the law. Youre not allowed to cut a deal like that and not tell victims, who were cooperating with a separateFBIinvestigation, which is what happened. They were completely blindsided by this thing.

And finally, this yearand I have to say thank you to Julie Brown, theMiami Heraldjournalist, for highlighting the issue before Congress, and thank you to Ben Sasse, the Republican senator from Nebraska, for joining with 15 Democrats and going back to the Justice Department and saying, What on Earth happened? This is a clear miscarriage of justice. Investigate it, because I think its against that political climate of goodwill that you now have theFBIsaying, OK, lets go back.

AMYGOODMAN:Very quickly, as we end, the relationship that Jeffrey Epstein had with President Clinton? Flew him numerous times around the world.

VICKYWARD:Yes. Well, he called that planeright?if you can believe it, the Lolita Express, which

VICKYWARD:Jeffrey Epstein, which gives you some idea of the lack of humility of this person. His powerI think the whole reason he has got away for so long is the extraordinary network of powerful people that he could bring down with him. That is why hes remained untouchable for so long. So his friendships are not insignificant; theyre a big part of this story.

AMYGOODMAN:Well, we will certainly continue to follow this. Vicky Ward, investigative journalist who profiled Jeffrey Epstein forVanity Fairin 2003 in apieceheadlined The Talented Mr. Epstein.

When we come back, we look at the shocking case in Alabama where prosecutors have dropped manslaughter charges against a pregnant woman whose pregnancy ended after she was shot in the stomach by a co-worker, then she herself was charged with manslaughter. Stay with us.

AMYGOODMAN:Bim Bom by João Gilberto. The legendary Brazilian composer and performer and father of bossa nova died Saturday at the age of 88.

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