Accuser says Jeffrey Epstein raped her when she was 15

 

NEW YORK (AP) — A new accuser of Jeffrey Epstein said Wednesday that the wealthy financier raped her in his New York mansion when she was 15.

epstein

FILE - In this July 30, 2008 file photo, Jeffrey Epstein, center, appears in court in West Palm Beach, Fla. The wealthy financier pleaded not guilty in federal court in New York on Monday, July 8, 2019, to sex trafficking charges following his arrest over the weekend. Epstein will have to remain behind bars until his bail hearing on July 15. (Uma Sanghvi/Palm Beach Post via AP, File)


Jennifer Araoz filed court papers seeking information from Epstein in preparation for suing him, and she aired her allegations on NBC's "Today" show , though she said she hasn't discussed them with authorities.

The 32-year-old makeup artist told "Today" she never went to police because she feared retribution from the well-connected Epstein.

"What hurts me even more so is that if I wasn't afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn't have done it to other girls," Araoz said. "I feel really guilty to this day."

Messages were left with Epstein's attorneys seeking comment.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined to comment on Araoz's claims. Messages were left with New York police seeking comment on Araoz's allegations.

The new allegation comes two days after federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein with abusing dozens of underage girls at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, Florida, in the early 2000s.

Epstein, a 66-year-old Wall Street master of high finance with friends in very high places , pleaded not guilty Monday to sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges— an indictment that could land him behind bars for up to 45 years.

His lawyers said in court that the allegations in the indictment couldn't amount to statutory rape because there was no penetration.

Epstein has not been charged with assaulting Araoz. But the woman's account contradicts his defense attorneys' contention that Epstein never used violence or coerced anyone who gave him massages.

"She was a child — a child on welfare, with no father, who was groomed, recruited and preyed upon," said one of Araoz's lawyers, Kimberly Lerner. Araoz's father died when she was 12.

Araoz, in her court filing and TV interview, said her first contact with Epstein came in 2001, when she was a 14-year-old high school freshman at a performing-arts high school, aspiring to become an actress. She said she was approached outside her school by a woman who told her that Epstein was a caring person who would help her with her career.

Araoz found Epstein welcoming, showing her his mansion filled with exotic taxidermy and elaborately painted ceilings, while his staff offered her wine and cheese, she said. After a few weeks of visits, each ending with a $300 payment, she said she was escorted to a "massage room," with a ceiling painted to resemble angels in a blue sky. There, she said, she would give him massages that would often lead to sex acts.

"I take care of you, you take care of me," Epstein told her, according to her court papers.

She said Epstein had a painting of a naked woman that he said resembled her; she also recalled prosthetic breasts he would play with while bathing.

"It was very odd," she said.

The visits continued once or twice a week until she turned 15, when she said Epstein told her to remove her underwear and climb on top of him.

She said she told him she didn't want to but that he forcibly had sex with her anyway.

"I don't want to say I was screaming, or anything of that nature. But I was terrified. And I was telling him to stop," she said in the "Today" interview.

"He had no intentions of stopping," she said. "He knew exactly what he was doing."

Araoz said she was "terrified" after the assault and never returned to Epstein's home. She even left her high school because it was so close to his mansion.

Epstein's staff continued reaching out to her for about a year, Araoz said, but she didn't respond.

Prosecutors said a search of Epstein's Upper East Side mansion yielded a vast trove of hundreds or even thousands of lewd photos of young women or girls.

The defense team says the federal charges should be dismissed in light of a once-secret agreement that allowed Epstein to avoid a potentially lengthy prison sentence — a case involving nearly identical allegations of Epstein sexually abusing underage girls.

Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges over a decade ago and spent 13 months in jail. That plea deal was supposed to protect Epstein from federal prosecution, his lawyers said.

Federal prosecutors say the Florida deal does not apply to the Southern District of New York. They said the charges unsealed this week overlap with the earlier case but include new allegations and victims from New York.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz, Kiley Armstrong and Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report


 

Whispers, suspicion about Epstein on Caribbean island

By DÁNICA COTO Associated Press

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) — Ask about Jeffrey Epstein on St. Thomas and rooms go quiet. Some people leave. Those who share stories speak in barely audible tones.

The 66-year-old billionaire bought Little St. James Island off this U.S. Caribbean territory more than two decades ago and began to transform it — clearing the native vegetation, ringing the property with towering palm trees and planting two massive U.S. flags on either end. When guides took scuba divers to spots near the island, security guards would walk to the water's edge.

It was off-putting to residents of St. Thomas — a lush tropical island east of Puerto Rico with winding roads through mountains dotted with dainty Danish colonial-era homes. Then, when Epstein pleaded guilty in a 2008 to soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution, his need for privacy began to appear more sinister.

"Everybody called it 'Pedophile Island,'" said Kevin Goodrich, who is from St. Thomas and operates boat charters. "It's our dark corner."

Many people who worked for Epstein told The Associated Press this week that they had signed long non-disclosure agreements, and refused to talk. One former employee who declined to be identified said Epstein once had five boats, including a large ferry in which he transported up to 200 workers from St. Thomas to his island every day for construction work.

The man said he saw a handful of young women when he was on Epstein's property but he believed they were older than 18.

"When he was there, it was keep to yourself and do your thing," the man recalled, adding that Epstein paid well and would give away older machinery and surplus including lumber to his employees.

Epstein built a stone mansion with cream-colored walls and a bright turquoise roof surrounded by several other structures including the maids' quarters and a massive, square-shaped white building on one end of the island. Workers told each other it was a music room fitted with a grand piano and acoustic walls. Its gold dome flew off during the deadly 2017 hurricane season. Locals recalled seeing Epstein's black helicopter flying back and forth from the tiny international airport in St. Thomas to his helipad on Little St. James Island, a roughly 75-acre retreat a little over a mile (about 2 kilometers) southeast of St. Thomas.

Epstein later bought neighboring Great St. James Island, which once was popular with locals and tourists for its main attraction, Christmas Cove, a place where you could hang out and order pizza and have it delivered via boat.

"He wasn't well received," recalled Spencer Consolvo, a St. Thomas native who runs a tourist shop near a large marina. "People think he's too rich to be policed properly."

Federal authorities consider the smaller of the two islands to be Epstein's primary residence in the United States, a place where at least one alleged victim said in a court affidavit that she participated in an orgy, as well as had sex with Epstein and other people. She said she saw former U.S. President Bill Clinton on the island, but that she never saw him having sex with anyone. A Clinton spokesman issued a statement saying he never visited there.

A day after he pleaded not guilty in a New York courtroom to charges of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls, there was scant movement on the Caribbean island. Hurricane shutters covered the windows, locals hadn't seen any lights at night and a lone worker drove a bright blue golf cart around the property.

At a nearby office that locals say Epstein owns in a seaside strip mall, a man in a T-shirt and sunglasses on his head opened the door a crack, shook his head vehemently when asked about Epstein and locked the door. The firm, Southern Trust Company Inc., hired Cecile de Jongh, wife of former Gov. John de Jongh, as its office manager, according to records with the U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority.

Meanwhile, Epstein's arrest also prompted the U.S. Virgin Islands representative in Congress, Stacey Plaskett, to announce she would give the money Epstein had donated to her campaigns to charitable groups.

Now that Epstein has been arrested a second time, locals say tourists are increasingly asking about his islands when they visit St. Thomas. A woman who did not want to be identified for fear of losing her job running a charter company said she was elated when Epstein got arrested but is now vexed at tourists' curiosity, saying she reluctantly shares whispered details of his case to prying adults if children are around.

Some of that fascination aggravates Vernon Morgan, a taxi driver and St. Thomas native.

"It brought some kind of notoriety to the Virgin Islands," he said. "We would much rather that the Virgin Islands be seen in a different light."