NEW YORK –The apparent suicide of financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein early Saturday could lead to more accusers and witnesses stepping forward as well as a flurry of civil suits against the multimillionaire’s estate, according to legal experts.
Authorities believe Epstein, 66, hanged himself at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, a law enforcement official told CNN — less than a day after a court unsealed documents detailing disturbing claims against him and associates. His attorney is calling for an investigation into his death.
“The federal criminal case will end with his death,” CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said. “But on the civil side, those cases will continue. They’ll now be converted into an action against the estate of Jeffrey Epstein.”
One such lawsuit could be filed as soon as Wednesday by a woman who alleges Epstein raped her when she was 15. That’s the day that New York’s Child Victims Act takes effect, giving adult survivors of child sexual abuse one year to sue an abuser for offenses in New York, no matter how long ago the abuse allegedly occurred.
The Southern District of New York’s investigation into Epstein’s conduct is ongoing, a person familiar with the investigation said. Though Epstein was the only person charged, court papers described three unnamed employees who scheduled his alleged “massages” that escalated to sexual acts and paid victims with hundreds of dollars in cash.
“Today’s events are disturbing, and we are deeply aware of their potential to present yet another hurdle to giving Epstein’s many victims their day in Court,” Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.
“To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the Indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing.”
Former prosecutor: ‘Fear factor’ for victims gone
Epstein was jailed since early July, when he pleaded not guilty to federal charges accusing him of sex trafficking dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14 years old.
Federal prosecutors said the politically-connected financier used employees and associates to lure girls to his residences and then paid some of his victims to recruit other girls for him to abuse.
Legal experts believe Epstein’s death could eliminate the intimidation and bare-knuckle tactics that both accusers and witnesses told police they faced after Florida authorities opened a previous investigation against him.
“Epstein being no longer around, no longer alive, will make it easier for victims to come forward,” said Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.
“While he was locked up … there still (was) a fear factor. Does he have other people who can help him? Does he hire someone to come harass me? And now that’s gone.”
The push for charges against alleged accomplices
Attorneys for Epstein accusers on Saturday held out hope that federal prosecutors will pursue charges against associates who allegedly facilitated his crimes over the years.
“The reckoning of accountability begun by the voices of brave and truthful victims should not end with Jeffrey Epstein’s cowardly and shameful suicide,” said Sigrid McCawley, attorney for Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who has claimed that Epstein kept her as a teenage “sex slave.”
“We are hopeful that the government will continue to investigate and will focus on those who participated and facilitated Epstein’s horrifying sex trafficking scheme that damaged so many.”
Jennifer Araoz, who claims Epstein raped her when she was 15, in a statement urged authorities “to pursue and prosecute his accomplices and enablers, and ensure redress for his victims.”
Attorney Brad Edwards, who represents multiple Epstein accusers, said his “many co-conspirators who may have been fearful to speak out against him have been relieved of that excuse; this is their last chance to speak up.”
His death unlikely to stop revelations about prominent men
The case against Epstein exposed the names of prominent men in politics and business who associated with him over the years and who various accusers have alleged participated in his activities. They include President Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former US Sen. George Mitchell — all of whom have denied any wrongdoing.
Epstein’s death is not expected to end new revelations about these luminaries and others, according to legal experts.
“Their names are going to be prominently mentioned probably for years to come as these Epstein lawsuits wend their way through the courts,” Callan said.
“But you could also expect there could be actions against other prominent individuals filed as lawyers pore through discovery materials that have not been unsealed by the courts and as investigations into Epstein’s background continue.”
Epstein-related cases will live on, expert says
A federal judge in mid-July ordered Epstein to remain in jail pending trial, turning down the multimillionaire’s request to return to his Upper East Side mansion under supervision.
Epstein faced similar accusations in Florida in 2007 but signed a plea deal that year with federal prosecutors in Miami allowing him to avoid federal sex trafficking charges and plead guilty to lesser state prostitution charges.
Epstein was placed on a suicide watch after he was found July 23 in his Manhattan jail cell with marks on his neck, a law enforcement source and a source familiar with the incident said at the time.
Psychologists with the Bureau of Prisons took him off suicide watch at the end of July, according to a source familiar with Epstein’s incarceration.
Epstein’s attorney, Marc Fernich, released a statement calling for an investigation into his client’s death. He places blame on several parties, including “overzealous prosecutors,” “pandering politicians,” “compliant judges” and a “hysterical press corps.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed the death, saying Epstein was found unresponsive in his special housing unit cell at Metropolitan Correctional Center around 6:30 a.m. ET.
He was pronounced dead at a hospital. The legal questions surrounding his life, however, likely face a different fate.
“You’re going to see this Epstein case living on … for many years to come,” Callan said.