(NEW YORK) — Multiple alleged victims of the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein shared their stories and called for federal prosecutors to continue their investigation and bring his co-conspirators “to justice” in a hearing on Tuesday.
A nearly three-hour proceeding, conducted by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman, was requested by prosecutors with the Southern District of New York to officially close the criminal case against Epstein following the multimillionaire’s death by suicide earlier this month.
Epstein was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of minor girls at his homes in New York, Florida and on a private island in the Virgin Islands.
Judge Berman addressed the packed first-floor courtroom in Lower Manhattan by calling the news of Epstein’s death “certainly shocking” and a “stunning turn of events.”
Epstein was found hanging by a bed sheet inside the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was being held pending trial for sex trafficking and other charges. If convicted, Epstein faced 45 years in prison.
Attorney Brad Edwards, who has represented 15 of Epstein’s accusers for more than a decade, said in a statement before Tuesday’s hearing that it would be a “historic day for crime victims.”
“This case has ended in the most unfortunate way, marking layers of tragedy. However, this hearing has great significance. While it does not provide complete closure, it solidifies the fact that victims are an integral part of the process,” Edwards wrote.
At the hearing, several of the alleged female victims told painful anecdotes about how they were allegedly introduced to Epstein, recruited by Ghislaine Maxwell or Sarah Kellen and taken to his Upper East Side home where they were sexually abused.
The 1994 Violence Against Women Act protects, in part, the identity of a victim of sexual assault. Nonetheless, more than a dozen of the alleged victims decided to reveal their identities at the proceedings.
Michelle Licata wrote a letter that was read by her attorney in court about how she was treated during the Florida investigation into allegations against Epstein more than a decade ago. In that 2008 case, Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting a prostitute and procuring an underage girl for prostitution. He was then ordered to register as a sex offender.
“I was treated like I did not matter. I’m mad and confused he committed suicide,” wrote Licata who thanked the New York prosecutors that “I was a part of the process this time.”
“Jane Doe No. 11,” whose statements were read by her attorney Gloria Allred, said she was a 16-year-old virgin when Epstein allegedly raped her. She wrote that Epstein promised her a letter of recommendation for Harvard and that an “innocent massage turned sexual.”
“I was no more than a teenage prostitute. I was his slave,” she wrote. She added that when she tried to cancel massage appointments, Epstein told her “I’ll bury you. I own this f—— town.”
“It’s not about how he died, but how he lived,” said Virigina Roberts Giuffre, who had aspirations of being a “real massage therapist” and says she was recruited at the Mar-a-Lago Club at the age of 17. “The reckoning must not end, it must continue. He did not act alone. We trust the government is listening and the others will be brought to justice.”
Assistant United States Attorney Maureen Comey said a dismissal of the indictment against Epstein doesn’t stop the prosecution of new defendants, the investigation into potential co-conspirators, or the government seeking civil forfeitures.
“This doesn’t lessen the government’s resolve to stand up for victims and the government will continue to provide services to victims,” Comey said to the judge, adding that there is an ongoing active federal and grand jury investigation.
Epstein’s estate is estimated to be worth $577.6 million, including about $56.5 million in cash, according to court filings.
The financier had ties with President Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and Britain’s Prince Andrew.
Epstein’s attorneys Reid Weingarten and Marty Weinberg used the proceedings on Tuesday to call for the judge to step in and investigate their client’s death.
“The elephant in the room is what happened to our client,” said Weingarten, who cited improprieties in the federal lock up located a stone’s throw away from the courthouse, as well as the failings of jail officials and correction officers.
“In a word: Yikes,” said Weingarten.
The medical examiner’s office found that Epstein died of suicide by hanging — something Epstein’s defense team has challenged with their own medical expert who indicated that a break in his neck was more consistent with strangulation, but did not exclude suicide.
Weingarten also revealed that he was in touch with Epstein just before his death and he did not see a despondent, suicidal person.
Weinberg added it “strikes us as implausible” that Epstein would kill himself two days before the government was due to respond to “a significant motion to dismiss.”
Two days before Epstein’s death, he made significant changes to his will in which over $500 million was transferred to a trust fund. The will’s amendment has the possibility to prevent the alleged victims from collecting damages in their lawsuits filed under the state’s Child Victims Act. The act allows child sex victims to file a lawsuit against their abuser at any time after the offense until the age of 55.
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