- Vicky Wardinvestigative journalist.
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 what’s 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 an FBI probe into the case. Acosta is now Donald Trump’s 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 magazine’s 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.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m 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. He’ll appear in federal court today. The New York Times reports he’s being accused of running a sex trafficking operation by luring underage girls—some as young as 14 years old—to 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 what’s 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 an FBI probe into the case. Alex Acosta is now Donald Trump’s labor secretary.
Jeffrey Epstein has counted Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton among his friends. They’ve flown with him. Trump told New York magazine in 2002, “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s 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 Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.
To talk about what led up to Epstein’s most recent arrest and what comes next, we’re joined by Vicky Ward, an investigative journalist who profiled Jeffrey Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003 in a piece headlined “The Talented Mr. Epstein.” The magazine’s 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 for The Daily Beast in an article headlined “I Tried to Warn You About Sleazy Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2003.”
Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Vicky.
VICKY WARD: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, for people who do not understand who this man is—he’s referred to as billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein—who is he, and what do you believe he is being charged with right now? The indictment is about to be opened.
VICKY WARD: So, I don’t think he’s 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 advises—he takes a percentage, and he advises billionaires only. He won’t 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 Epstein’s wealth has never been clarified.
AMY GOODMAN: He started out as a Dalton teacher, right?
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: A teacher at the private school in Manhattan.
VICKY WARD: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Math teacher.
VICKY WARD: Absolutely. And he then went to Bear Stearns. He left Bear Stearns, the investment bank, under very mysterious circumstances. And what’s 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 the SEC back in the day.
AMY GOODMAN: The Securities and Exchange Commission.
VICKY WARD: 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 what’s so interesting about the charges today is that they’re the result—the indictments that are going to be unsealed are the result not only of the FBI’s work, but of the Public Corruption Unit, which does suggest—and obviously I’m speculating here—that bribery may have been involved. And why that’s so important is, for me, who tried to expose this man for what he is back in two thousand and—I was actually reporting it late 2002, the piece ran in 2003—is he has, ever since then, got away. He’s been untouchable. His money has somehow bought him the ability to evade justice. And so I’m fascinated by the fact that the Public Corruption Unit has been involved in this investigation, as well as the FBI.
AMY GOODMAN: So, in 2018, the Miami Herald published an award-winning series of articles exposing Epstein’s 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.
VIRGINIA ROBERTS: 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-LISA JONES: The other girls that I personally know of that went were coming from trailer parks that were having gun shootings, drugs.
COURTNEY WILD: My mother was on drugs at the time, and she couldn’t provide for me. And I was pretty much homeless.
JACK SCAROLA: 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-LISA JONES: 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.
COURTNEY WILD: 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.
VIRGINIA ROBERTS: All Jeffrey cared about was “Go find me more girls.” His appetite was insatiable. He couldn’t stop. He wanted new, fresh, young faces every single day.
AMY GOODMAN: That video from the Miami Herald. The Miami Herald did this incredible three-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?
VICKY WARD: Twin sons, 16.
AMY GOODMAN: Twin sons.
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Sixteen years old.
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is very significant, because you were pregnant at the time you were doing this piece.
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what happened to you when you wrote this piece? You spoke to Jeffrey Epstein.
VICKY WARD: 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 don’t 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 magazine’s general counsel at the time.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you actually put security on them in the NICU, in the—
VICKY WARD: 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—
AMY GOODMAN: So, these are two sisters.
VICKY WARD: Yes. And two sisters who—
AMY GOODMAN: Alleged.
VICKY WARD: —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, who—very charming, well educated, British sort of socialite around New York—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is very significant.
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: She’s the daughter of Robert Maxwell—
VICKY WARD: Maxwell.
AMY GOODMAN: —former owner of the New York Daily News.
VICKY WARD: Yes. So, Ghislaine was the one who phoned these young women’s mother to reassure her how safe they would be, and—because, of course, the poor mother now blames herself terribly for what happened. And, you know, I talked to—there 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—
AMY GOODMAN: Wait a second. He came into Condé Nast’s offices?
VICKY WARD: Yes, he came in. I had had no—I was not told about this. He came in. He had a private meeting with the magazine’s 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—
AMY GOODMAN: About what? A business story.
VICKY WARD: 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—
AMY GOODMAN: And these girls, are they involved with the case that’s being opened today, where he’s being brought into a Manhattan court?
VICKY WARD: I don’t know. I have heard—I have not confirmed that. I have—one source has told me that possibly they are, which, for me, would be—
AMY GOODMAN: Sixteen years later.
VICKY WARD: 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 original—the first FBI investigation, the one that got neutered by Alexander Acosta, didn’t begin until 2006, so it’s 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.
AMY GOODMAN: Alex Acosta.
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll end it with him, who’s now President Trump’s labor secretary, was the U.S. attorney in Florida at the time.
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: This sweetheart deal, to say the least—
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: 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—
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —could have gone to jail for life in prison.
VICKY WARD: If Alexander Acosta had let the FBI to continue with its investigation. But instead, there was this—that he had one meeting with Jay Lefkowitz, a member of Jeffrey Epstein’s powerhouse, massive sort of legal team, and he did the—you 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 women’s 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. You’re not allowed to cut a deal like that and not tell victims, who were cooperating with a separate FBI investigation, which is what happened. They were completely blindsided by this thing.
And finally, this year—and I have to say thank you to Julie Brown, the Miami Herald journalist, 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 it’s against that political climate of goodwill that you now have the FBI saying, “OK, let’s go back.”
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, as we end, the relationship that Jeffrey Epstein had with President Clinton? Flew him numerous times around the world.
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And with President Trump?
VICKY WARD: Yes. Well, he called that plane—right?—if you can believe it, the “Lolita Express,” which—
AMY GOODMAN: Who called it?
VICKY WARD: Jeffrey Epstein, which gives you some idea of the lack of humility of this person. His power—I 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 he’s remained untouchable for so long. So his friendships are not insignificant; they’re a big part of this story.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue to follow this. Vicky Ward, investigative journalist who profiled Jeffrey Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003 in a piece headlined “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.
AMY GOODMAN: “Bim Bom” by João Gilberto. The legendary Brazilian composer and performer and father of bossa nova died Saturday at the age of 88.