Wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein was charged with the sex trafficking of "dozens" of underage girls in a federal indictment unsealed Monday morning in New York in advance of a court appearance there by the onetime friend of President Donald Trump and ex-President Bill Clinton.
Epstein, 66, is accused in the indictment of sexually exploiting many "minor girls" between 2002 and 2005 in New York and Florida, according to prosecutors, who urged any other women who were abused by Epstein to contact the FBI.
Some of the girls were as young as 14 at the time of the alleged abuse, according to court records in Manhattan federal court. Epstein is charged there with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.
Epstein faces a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison if convicted.
"The alleged behavior shocks the conscience," said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, at a press conference. He also said his office planned to ask a judge to detain Epstein pending trial without bail.
"We believe he has every incentive to flee the jurisdiction," said Berman.
The prosecutor noted that federal agents, while executing a search warrant, had seized "nude photographs of what appeared to be underage girls" from Epstein's New York mansion on Saturday.
The case is being handled by the "public corruption unit" of Berman's office.
He pleaded not guilty Monday and was ordered held without bail pending a detention hearing on July 15. His lawyer signalled Epstein will seek to have the case tossed out because the allegations are covered by a non-prosecution agreement the moneyman cut with federal prosecutors in Miami more than a decade ago.
The new indictment says Epstein, who was arrested on Saturday after flying back to the United States from France, would give the girls he is accused of abusing "hundreds of dollars in cash" after they engaged in sex acts with him at his mansion on East 71st Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side, or at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate.
The girls allegedly were originally lured into contact with Epstein under the pretext that they would be giving him "massages," according to the indictment.
And "in order to maintain and increase his supply of victims, Epstein also paid certain of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused by Epstein," the indictment said.
"In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit," it said.
Prosecutors say that Epstein worked and conspired with employees, associates and others "who facilitated his conduct by, among other things, contacting victims and scheduling their sexual encounters with Epstein."
"Certain recruiters brought dozens of additional minor girls to the New York [r]esidence to give massages to and engage in sex acts with Jeffrey Epstein," according to the indictment.
The indictment says that "Epstein intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18, including because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age."
Prosecutors plan to ask a judge to have Epstein forfeit his Manhattan mansion, which is estimated by Zillow.com to be valued at more than $37 million.
The Palm Beach, Florida, resident was arrested Saturday at Teterboro airport in New Jersey after flying in from Paris on his private plane.
Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution, according to his plea agreement on charges brought in Florida.
The police case file for the probe, which began in 2005 and which led to that guilty plea, notes that investigators sought to charge Epstein and two assistants with crimes tied to his sexual behavior with underage females at his home.
The case file includes claims that mirror the ones filed in the new federal indictment in New York.
After pleading guilty to only the procuring charge, Epstein was sentenced to 13 months incarceration. But most of that time was spent on work release or in the private wing of a jail.
He is registered as a sex offender in Florida under a nonprosecution agreement he signed with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami. At that time, the top prosecutor in that office was Alex Acosta, who currently is the U.S. Labor secretary.
Berman, the head of the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, told reporters Monday that the deal Epstein signed with Acosta's office is only binding on prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida, not on Berman's office.
The Justice Department in February began an investigation into how federal prosecutors handled Epstein's case at the time the deal was signed with the office then led by Acosta.
The Miami Herald has reported that Acosta helped arrange a deal in which Epstein would only face a state charge and agreed to keep the deal secret from other alleged victims of Epstein's until the case was presented in court.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has called the deal "an epic miscarriage of justice."
Trump in 2002 had said he knew Epstein for more than a decade and called him a "terrific guy" who is "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 told New York Magazine at the time. "No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
Flight records obtained by NBC News show that former President Clinton flew on one of Epstein's private planes several times.
Epstein is a former options trader for Bear Stearns Cos. who later started his own company, J. Epstein & Co. Vanity Fair has reported that he had been the primary investor of and money manager for Leslie Wexner, the founder of Limited Brands, now called L Brands Inc.