In 2011, he joked about it.
Epstein, however, now has distinctly less reason to make light of the crimes he has admitted to: On Saturday, returning to the New York City area from an extended vacation in France, he was arrested on charges of sex trafficking of minors. And yesterday a new indictment against him—this one brought by the Southern District of New York—was unsealed. In a press conference, the SDNY attorney Geoffrey Berman made clear that the impunity Epstein has enjoyed—the kind that, enabled by extreme wealth, makes deals and then makes jokes—may have finally found its limits. “This conduct, as alleged, went on for years and involved dozens of young girls, some as young as 14,” Berman said. He added, “The alleged behavior shocks the conscience.”
Epstein, during a brief court appearance yesterday, pleaded not guilty. And while Berman was correct that the behavior documented in the indictment “shocks the conscience,” the indictment has another valence: Part of the shock here is how decidedly not shocking the alleged behavior is. The Miami Herald’s pathbreaking reporting on Epstein, conducted by the investigative reporter Julie K. Brown, was published in November 2018. The indictment brought by the SDNY is notably similar to the one brought against Epstein more than 10 years ago. It details a scheme that turned girls and young women into what the SDNY refers to as “victim-recruiters.” The Epstein modus operandi described both in court filings and in journalistic accounts has much in common with allegations about other rich, famous, and powerful men who have been accused of treating people as mere instruments of their own desires. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” the president, Epstein’s sometime associate, infamously bragged, once again saying, with stunning efficiency, the quiet part loud.
Jeffrey Epstein was not a star in the conventional sense. But he seems to have made use of the blunt physics of stardom: People orbited around him. He had armies of people—a labor force of its own—in his employ. His wealth appears to have afforded him his own brand of gravity. “His world seems to be at an astral distance from normal humanity,” Philip Weiss wrote of Epstein in a 2007 profile for New York magazine. It was titled “The Fantasist.”
That insulation might help explain another gutting element of the Epstein allegations: how blatantly—how teasingly—he flaunted his behavior. Epstein’s private jet was widely known as the “Lolita Express.” (Bill Clinton traveled on the plane; so did, reportedly, Prince Andrew, and Kevin Spacey, and Donald Trump.) When the writer Vicky Ward profiled Epstein for a 2003 article in Vanity Fair, she visited him in his Manhattan townhouse to conduct an interview. “The only book he’d left out for me to see,” Ward would later write, “was a paperback by the Marquis de Sade.” In the guest bathrooms of his Palm Beach mansion, Epstein reportedly kept soaps molded to resemble genitalia. In that house—and as the FBI agents discovered during their raid of his home on Saturday, in his Manhattan residence—he also kept pictures of naked girls.