The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands is suing the estate of late financier Jeffrey Epstein, claiming that he was behind a criminal enterprise which facilitated the trafficking of young women and female children to his secluded private islands, where they were held captive, raped and sexually assaulted. Though there are more than 20 women who are formally seeking compensation from Epstein’s $577 million estate, this lawsuit marks the first brought by a government.
According to the complaint, Epstein, whose August 2019 death was ruled a suicide, lured girls as young as 13 into a human trafficking operation, after promising them money for school, health care, or to take care of their families. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that Epstein and his associates transported the young women and girls to the U.S. Virgin Islands via private plane, and enforced their sexual servitude by confiscating their passports, controlling their communication, and threatening violence.
Once trafficked, the suit alleges that the women and girls were then were forced “to recruit others to perform services and engage in sexual acts — a trafficking pyramid scheme.” Epstein also allegedly kept a computerized database to track their availability and movements.
The defendants in the case are Epstein’s estate, along with five shell companies that the lawsuit alleges acted as a front for his human trafficking enterprise. Darren Indyke and Richard Kahn are both executors of Epstein’s estate, as well as officers of two of the other entities listed in the suit.
The lawsuit is significant in that it broadens the scope of Epstein’s alleged wrongdoing. In July, Manhattan prosecutors charged Epstein with sexually exploiting dozens of women and girls in New York and Florida, but only had evidence of his criminal activity through 2005, The New York Times reports. The U.S. Virgin Islands’ lawsuit alleges that he continued trafficking women and girls in the Caribbean until 2018. These new charges stem from a several-months-long investigation conducted by U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George and her team.
“This administration wants to speak with a voice that is loud and clear that human trafficking and sex crimes will not be tolerated in the Virgin Islands,” George tells Rolling Stone in a statement. “We seek to take back the Islands that became a safe haven for the unconscionable conduct alleged in our complaint. And we seek to hold accountable those who broke these laws, and to make clear our intention to enforce our laws.”
Epstein’s alleged acts were in violation of the Virgin Islands Uniform Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act, and the Virgin Islands’ Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Acts (CICO), both of which permit the government of the Virgin Islands to acquire assets, impose civil penalties, and seek damages for any crimes committed.
“The Virgin Islands has aggressive laws against human trafficking and criminal enterprises, and the complaint alleges that Jeffrey Epstein and [his] co-conspirators engaged in both,” says George.
Though the U.S. Virgin Islands is the first government to sue Epstein’s estate, it’s possible that other jurisdictions where he owned property, like New Mexico, Florida or New York, might follow suit, says Jason Turchin, a victims’ rights attorney. A government can sue an estate when there are assets that were used as part of a crime — in this case, Epstein’s property on the Virgin Islands, including Little St. James, the private island Epstein purchased in 1998 “as the perfect hideaway for trafficking young women and underage girls for sexual servitude, child abuse and sexual assault,” according to the lawsuit. It also includes Great St. James, an island Epstein purchased in 2016 “to further shield his conduct on Little St. James from view, prevent his detection by law enforcement or the public, and allow him to continue and conceal his criminal enterprise,” the suit alleges.
The aim of the lawsuit is to recoup any and all benefits that Epstein and his associates accrued as a result of their alleged human trafficking operations in the Virgin Islands. This would involve forfeiture of Little Saint James and Great Saint James, as well as the dissolution of the shell companies that served as fronts for his human trafficking operation. Though it is unclear at this point what will happen to the seized assets, The New York Times reports that George is considering disbursing them to the women and girls who were trafficked and abused by Epstein in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Epstein’s estate “continues to engage in a course of conduct aimed at concealing criminal activities” by proposing a voluntary claims resolution program to resolve sexual abuse claims against Epstein in November 2019. According to the lawsuit, the so-called “Program” would impose “confidentiality requirements and requires any claimant accepting an award under the program to sacrifice any other claims against ‘Any other person or entity arising from or related to Mr. Epstein’s conduct.’”
However, Daniel H. Weiner, the attorney for the co-executors of Epstein’s estate, says that the lawsuit incorrectly represents the victims’ compensation program — specifically, the imposed confidentiality requirements. “Individuals participating in the Program have absolutely no obligation to keep confidential any aspects of their claim, including the factual assertions underlying their claims,” Weiner tells Rolling Stone in an email statement. Instead, the program, as currently proposed, imposes confidentiality restrictions on the estate and its representatives and administrator, “out of respect for the privacy of claimants and to assure claimants that they are free to keep their claims confidential if they wish,” he says.
“The suggestion that the Program was intended to conceal any information or to shield anyone from liability or accountability is unfounded, directly contrary to the details of the proposed Program, and false,” Weiner’s statement says. At this point, Weiner says that the co-executors of Epstein’s estate have no further comment on this or any other pending litigation.
Though the lawsuit has been filed, George says that the investigation into Epstein and his estate in the U.S. Virgin Islands is ongoing. She encourages anyone who was trafficked or abused in the Virgin Islands — or their counsel — to get in touch with her office via a hotline (800-998-7559), “Whether they’ve come forward previously or not.”