While Jeffrey Epstein’s death by apparent suicide means his alleged victims won’t have their day in court with him on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges, they—and the authorities—may still get some justice.
By most accounts, Epstein’s death essentially ends the criminal case against him. But prosecutors can take civil forfeiture action against his estate presumably worth hundreds of millions, says former federal and state prosecutor Elie Honig.
“If (prosecutors) can get a judge to hear that they have a preponderance of the evidence, that could work in their favor,” said Honig, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the same office that charged Epstein.
Honig, currently a legal analyst for CNN, said Epstein’s suicide, if it is ruled as such, could actually help convince a judge that the victim’s claims have merit.
Epstein was found unresponsive in his jail cell on August 10 while he was awaiting trial at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. The multimillionaire financier was previously on suicide watch where he would be roomed with a cellmate and have prison staff check on him every half-hour. But, for more than a week leading up to Epstein’s death, those frequent checks reportedly weren’t occurring.
“The future looked very bleak for Mr. Epstein due to the disclosures and possible civil suits as he was potentially facing a significant jail sentence and public humiliation,” said Steven Clark, a former district attorney in Santa Clara County, California. “(Epstein) was used to a certain lifestyle and the walls were closing in and he apparently had no exit strategy.”
Last month, Epstein pleaded not guilty to one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. Prosecutors claim Epstein paid girls as young as 14 to participate in sex acts from 2001 to 2005 his luxurious Upper East Side mansion and a home in Palm Beach, Florida.
He faced a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison if convicted of both counts. Now, many of Epstein’s accomplices may face the wrath, said Attorney General William Barr, whose Department of Justice is in charge of the jail where Epstein died.
“Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who is complicit with Epstein,” Barr told reporters on August 10. “Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it.”
One name that continues to pop up is Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who is one of Epstein’s longtime friends and who is accused in court filings of helping bring underage girls to Epstein. According to the Miami Herald, in a lawsuit that was recently unsealed, Maxwell denied allegations she assisted Epstein with meeting young women.
Honig said about his former legal colleagues in New York, “The Southern District will not rest easy until they bring the other conspirators to justice.”
There will be a lot of pressure on prosecutors especially now with Epstein’s death to find out who else was involved, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, and a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Even with the criminal case closed, Epstein’s accusers will have the option of seeking civil cases against his estate, Levenson added. “The burden of proof is less in civil cases,” Levenson added.
Kerry Lawrence, a New York state-based former federal prosecutor who also worked in the Southern District of New York, said, while Epstein “may no longer have any involvement, his legacy will live on actively for the next several years.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Bloom, an attorney for two of Epstein’s accusers, said she plans to file lawsuits under the “Child Victims Act,” which takes effect on Aug. 14 in New York. One unique stipulation with the state law is starting in February 2020, there will be a one-year period when any adult survivors of child sexual abuse could sue an abuser or a negligent institution no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.
Bloom also posted several tweets on Twitter on August 10, including one demanding that Epstein’s estate “freeze all his assets” and hold them for his victims who are filing civil cases.
“Their lives have been shattered by his sexual assaults, their careers derailed. They deserve full and fair compensation NOW,” she said. “Predator Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. On behalf of the victims I represent, we would have preferred he lived to face justice...Victims deserve to be made whole for the lifelong damage he caused. We’re just getting started.”
Bloom did not immediately return a request for further comment on August 12.
Levenson, the law professor, said that executors of Epstein’s estate, which could be a family member, business associate or lawyers, will likely “take a deep breath,” to review what the potential lawsuits heading its way and if any can be defended in court.
“I don’t know if there’s a lot of profit in defending all of them. There may be a lot of incentive to resolve most of them,” she said. “Either way, it will definitely be an uphill battle for them.”
It is not immediately known if Epstein had a will. And, the exact size of Epstein’s estate also remains a mystery, but federal prosecutors said the estate includes the luxurious $77 million eight-story manse in Manhattan, where he allegedly ran his trafficking ring, an island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a ranch in New Mexico and the property in Palm Beach and another in Paris.
Epstein also reportedly had a net worth of more than $500 million, federal prosecutors said in court documents last month.
Honig adds, “This is far from over.”