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Mansion or jail for Jeffrey Epstein? Judge makes decision on bail today  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

NEW YORK – A federal judge on Thursday denied bail for wealthy financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who now must await trial on sex-trafficking charges in a jail cell rather than his stately Manhattan mansion.

During a brief court hearing, Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman called the bail proposal submitted by Epstein's defense team "irretrievably inadequate" and said the safety of the community and individuals was his primary concern.

"The court begins with 'dangerousness' because that concept is at the heart of this case. It finds that the government has shown by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Epstein threatens the safety of another person and of the community," Berman wrote in a 32-page ruling.

"I don't think any bail package overcomes the danger to others," the judge said in court before the ruling was posted in the Epstein case docket.

He added that items federal investigators found in a safe in the financier's Manhattan mansion – more than $71,000 in cash, 48 diamonds, and an expired Austrian passport with a fake name and Epstein's photo on it – also played a role in the bail denial because they showed the defendant is a flight risk.

Berman said he considered Monday's court declarations of Annie Farmer and Courtney Wild, young women who said they had been victimized by Epstein and feared what might happen if he were granted bail.

In the ruling, the judge added that "the court is also concerned for new victims."

"Mr. Epstein's alleged excessive attraction to sexual conduct with or in the presence of minor girls — which is said to include his soliciting and receiving massages from young girls and young women perhaps as many as four times a day — appears likely to be uncontrollable," the ruling said. "Accordingly, Mr. Epstein's past sexual conduct is not likely to have abated or been successfully suppressed by fierce determination, as his defense counsel suggests."

Berman's ruling noted that federal investigators found a "substantial collection of photographic trophies of his victims and other young females" in Epstein's Manhattan mansion.

Epstein defense lawyer Martin Weinberg hinted the ruling might be appealed. Epstein, who has pleaded not guilty, appeared at the hearing in a dark blue jail smock and pants. He showed no visible emotion at the ruling.

Lawyer Lisa Bloom, who said she represents Epstein's three accusers, released a statement saying the women were "pleased" with Berman's ruling.

"It gives us hope that justice may truly be possible against this sex offender who has hurt so many for so long," Bloom said.

The defense bail proposal called for allowing Epstein to stay at the Manhattan mansion, with around-the-clock armed guards, global position system monitoring and other security precautions.

They said the financier would sign any bond, no matter what the amount, and secure it with a mortgage on the mansion and other guarantees to ensure he would appear for trial.

The defense team also pointed to Epstein's "spotless 14-year record of walking the straight and narrow" since he was the target of previous state and federal investigations of sex crimes in Florida.

Manhattan federal prosecutors argued that Epstein poses both a community danger and a flight risk – the determining factors in most bail applications. They noted that a search of the Manhattan mansion found many nude or semi-nude photos of young girls, some appearing to be minors.

Citing Epstein's wealth, which he self-certified without independent verification as more than $500 million in cash, stocks, bonds and other assets, the prosecutors said he had ample means and motive to flee from prosecution. 

“The government is currently unaware of whether the defendant maintains similar stashes of cash and/or jewels at his multiple properties," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe wrote in a letter to the court. "Such ready cash and loose diamonds are consistent with the capability to leave the jurisdiction at a moment’s notice."

Berman's ruling also cited the cursory nature of Epstein's financial disclosure so far, stating that "there is no mention of any expenses, liabilities, or indebtedness."

Moe's letter to the court said federal investigators are trying to determine how an expired foreign passport seized from the safe was obtained and whether it is real or fake. Either way, it shows Epstein knows how to obtain false travel documents and adds to the risk he will flee, Moe said.

Epstein lawyer Marc Fernich was dismissive of the passport, submitting a separate letter to the court that said the passport was Austrian and expired more than three decades ago. He said Epstein, as a wealthy member of the Jewish faith, acquired the passport "when hijackings were prevalent" in the Middle East.

"The passport was for personal protection in the event of travel to dangerous areas, only to be presented to potential kidnappers, hijackers or terrorists should violent episodes occur," Fernich wrote.

In a Friday court filing, Epstein's lawyers added that Epstein "was given the passport at issue by a friend" and wrote that the financier "never used the document to travel internationally and never presented it to any immigration or customs authority." 

Barring a successful appeal of the bail ruling, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan will remain the temporary home for Epstein, 66, as he and his lawyers prepare for trial.

 An indictment unsealed last week charges him with sex trafficking and conspiracy. He is accused of sexually abusing "dozens of minor girls" in his lavish Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, homes from 2002 to 2005.

Prosecutors said this week that additional women have come forward to accuse Epstein since the indictment was unsealed.

The indictment comes 11 years after Epstein avoided what could have been a lengthy prison sentence when he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution.

The lesser state penalty was imposed after federal prosecutors in Florida prepared but did not submit a criminal indictment that could have brought tougher punishment upon a conviction. Instead, they reached a nonprosecution agreement with Epstein that was contingent on his guilty plea to the state charges.

Epstein was required to register as a sex offender under terms of the deal.

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