A Place to Hang your Head: The Dark and Twisted Tale of Jeffrey Epstein

(Photo: The New York Times)

By Daniel Wright-Mason – Editor-in-Chief

The Life

Jeffrey Epstein, a name that plagued much of the news cycle for the latter half of 2019, is both a disturbing and enigmatic figure both in life and death, and was mere weeks from testifying in one of the biggest sex trafficking rings in U.S history, before his sudden death on August 10th 2019.But who exactly was he?

On the face of things, he was an investment banker, working for the firm Bear Sterns in the 1970s’, before founding his own company ‘J. Epstein and Co.’, in 1982. This company specifically marketed itself as one for “those with assets worth more than $1 billion” , and operated out of the notorious tax-haven of the U.S Virgin Islands. He claimed to possess a huge amount of wealth, owning a huge townhouse in New York, and consistently giving large sums of money to institutions and organisations, including both the Republican and Democratic parties, and Harvard University. Forbes however, dispute this figure, saying in 2010, “The source of his wealth—a money management firm—generates no public records, nor has his client list ever been released.” There is also very little evidence of much actual investment by his company, which would seem strange for an industry in which firms are dependent on their reputation. When interviewed by New York Magazine in 2002, Epstein was described by a prominent Wall-Street broker as a “mysterious, Gatsbyesque figure. He likes people to think that he is very rich, and he cultivates this air of aloofness. The whole thing is weird.”. Another said, “He once told me he had 300 people working for him, and I’ve also heard that he manages Rockefeller money. But one never knows. It’s like looking at the Wizard of Oz – there may be less there than meets the eye.”.

But what is definitely known about Epstein, was his taste in expensive friends. Perhaps the most longstanding and prominent of these was British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of disgraced publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell, with the two having been linked as associates for decades. Epstein also had links to both former President Bill Clinton, and current President Donald Trump, who in 2002, said that Epstein “enjoys his social life.” And that “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen 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.” During a similar period, Bill Clinton is believed to have flown on at least 11 flights aboard Epstein’s private jet, with the logs showing that these flights were shared with several women who federal prosecutors believe “procured underage girls to sexually service Epstein and his friends and acted as a ‘potential co-conspirator’ in his crimes.” One of these women was  Ghislaine Maxwell. Similar stories of Epstein’s flights were attested to by Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wollf, who claimed that Epstein “was followed onto the plane by — how shall I say this? — by three teenage girls not his daughters” who were “18, 19, 20, who knows” and “model-like.

In 2007, charges began to be filed against Epstein, made by multiple women, some of whom were underage. Findings made by the Miami Herald suggested that ‘at least 80 women’ had been involved. The lead detective on the case likened Epstein’s operation to a “sexual pyramid scheme”, in which girls would be recruited and then tasked with recruiting more girls. Many of the victims claimed that Ghislaine Maxwell was involved with this process, although no charges were formally filed. All in all, the FBI had prepared a 53-page sex crimes indictment for Epstein in 2007, which should have put him away for life. However, as is often the way with billionaires with collections of powerful friends, he was not. Instead, he cut a deal with former Florida States Attorney (and former Secretary of Labor under Donald Trump), Alexander Acosta, who agreed  to keep the trial largely in secret, including a  “non-prosecution agreement,” and granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators.” In exchange, Epstein pleaded guilty to charges of ‘solicitation of prostitution’ and ‘procurement of minors for prostitution’, and was sentenced to a mere 18 months. Of this, he served just 13 months, – not in federal or state prison, but in a private wing of a Palm Beach county jail. On top of this, he was granted “work release to go to a “comfortable office” for 12 hours a day, six days a week, despite the fact that the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Department prohibited work release for sex offenders.”. All in all, a derisory  punishment that both protected Epstein from punishment for his heinous crimes, and kept the identities and deeds of his potential co-conspirators out of the press. Much of this was made possible by Epstein’s vast fortune, which allowed him to bombard victims, and their lawyers, until Acosta finally caved and granted a “sweetheart” deal.

This was, until July 2019, when Epstein was stopped at an airport in New Jersey, and placed under arrest on charges of sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. In Federal court, this was expected to result in up to 45 years in prison and forfeiture of his Manhattan townhouse, if he was found guilty. This case seemed to present a new opportunity to indict  Epstein and hold  those around him to account  for their collusion As one of the prosecutors stated, “we hope that prosecutors will not stop with Mr. Epstein because there were many other people who participated with him and made the sex trafficking possible,”. Similarly, journalists investigating the story suggested that “There are probably quite a few important people, powerful people, who are sweating it out right now, we’ll have to wait and see whether Epstein is going to name names.”.

However, on the 10th August 2019, Jeffrey Epstein was found hung in his New York jail cell, in questionable  circumstances . His death ‘effectively ends’ the investigation into sex trafficking and conspiracy charges, according to a federal prosecutor for the case. Epstein’s demise, formally deemed to be suicide, was certainly opportune for those who were at risk of being named by him and provides an abrupt dead end for prosecutors  probing just how far Epstein’s sickening cult extended . Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of suspicion surrounding Epstein, with accusations of cover ups spanning almost two decades.

The Web

In November of 2019, footage was leaked by notorious right-wing activist group Project Veritas of ABC journalist Amy Robach bemoaning to her colleagues about a quashed 2015 interview with Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre, who claimed she was trafficked aged 17 in order to sleep with Prince Andrew, through Jeffrey Epstein. In the clip, Robach suggests that she not only had multiple attesting witnesses of Epstein’s crimes, but that one of the accuser’s  lawyers told her “there will come a day when we will realise Jeffrey Epstein was the most prolific predator this country has ever known”. Despite the absolute severity of this claim, and  the apparent evidence that backed it up, Robach claimed that she’d “tried for three years to get it on [air], to no avail”, and that the network’s  initial response was to say “Who’s Jefferey Epstein? No one knows who that is”. She also claimed that she’d received threats from the Royal Family over accusations of Prince Andrew’s involvement, who is seen pictured with his arm around Giuffre’s waist in 2001, and that “we were so afraid that we wouldn’t be able to interview Kate and Will, that also quashed the story”. Robach has since contradicted this statement however, now claiming that “In the years since no one ever told me or the team to stop reporting on Jeffrey Epstein”.

This is not the first time media outlets have been accused of suppressing stories involving Epstein after receiving threats, or financial motivation. Along with the ABC case, National Public Radio (NPR), identified another two instances  by major publications, going back as early as 2002. In the first instance, an article by Vanity Fair on Epstein included interviews with Epstein accusers Maria and Annie Farmer, with the former being just 15 during the time of the alleged events. Reportedly after this, but before the article was published, Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter was “bombarded”, by calls from Epstein, telling him to drop any reference or suggestion of any alleged involvement he had with young women. When the article was finally published, months later, it was without the interview from the Farmer sisters. During the 2019 Epstein trial, the sisters recounted this, and stated “We hoped the story would put people on notice and they would be stopped from abusing other young girls and young women. That didn’t happen. In the end, the story that ran erased our voices.”. Despite the omission  of this interview, shortly after the article was published, Graydon Carter found a single bullet outside the door of his Manhattan home. Three years later, after the magazine began another story on the women around Epstein, Carter found a severed cat’s  head on the front yard of his Connecticut home. Once again, this underlying threat of violence, the mysterious shadow of someone who can reach anyone anywhere, seemed to follow Epstein. And if Graydon Carter seemed to be something of  a victim in this scenario , it is worth noting that in 2014, he hosted an Academy Awards after party, in which the guest of honour was none other than Ghislaine Maxwell.

The second story comes from the New York Times (NYT), and involves a piece released shortly before Epstein’s brief incarceration in 2008, which likened Epstein to Gulliver from Jonathan Swift’s classic novel ‘Gulliver’s Travel’s, and suggested that he may have been guilty of soliciting adult prostitutes, with no mention of the dozens of underage girls who had just been identified by federal agents. This flowery description is made especially problematic when it was uncovered that the author, Landon Thomas Jr, not only considered Epstein ‘as a friend’ and had previously stated that he would not investigate him, but he had also allowed Epstein to make a $30,000 donation to a charitable organisation of Thomas’s choice, a clear violation of not only NYT practise, but of journalistic principles. Whilst there is no evidence that this directly influenced Thomas to tone down his piece on Epstein, it undoubtedly calls his integrity into account. As well as this, in 2019, NYT corporate director Joichi Ito was forced to resign from all of his positions, after it was revealed he had accepted both personal and business donations from Epstein, , believed to be in the region of $7.5m, after Epstein had been convicted of being a sex offender. Brought together, these stories form a sinister picture of major media figures either too scared, too enamoured or in some cases, too financially entwined with and by Epstein, that they have failed to expose  the full details  of his disgusting actions for almost two decades.

And it does not even stop with the media. The aforementioned case of Virginia Giuffre has also highlighted  criticism of the London Metropolitan Police, over claims that they had  suddenly dropped her case. This came after Giuffre herself stated that Scotland Yard had initially agreed to forensically examine the house of Ghislaine Maxwell, but abruptly halted  the examination  entirely, which Giuffre claimed was “Corruption at the highest level of government”.  Perhaps even more darkly, she felt the need to  clarify that she was “not suicidal”, and that “too many evil people want to see me quieted”. Whilst purely speculative, it could perhaps be suggested  that her possible connection with Prince Andrew, and the Palace’s alleged previous attempts to deny this connection (as suggested in the ABC story), makes it not outside of the grounds of possibility that pressure was brought to bear on the  police

It is perhaps at this point where there is a separation of the ‘conspirators’ and the non-conspirators’, after all, there is no definitive answer either way, and now  there may never be. However just like with Epstein in life, there seems to be a whole host of ominous coincidences in his death.

The Death

Almost immediately after Epstein’s death on 9th August 2019, theories began to emerge about the validity of the report that he had committed suicide. After all, a billionaire sex trafficker with known links to some of the world’s richest and most powerful, winding up dead mere weeks before possibly revealing co-conspirators, would be rather convenient with those at risk of being named. This inevitably led to the popularisation of the phrase ‘Epstein didn’t kill himself’, which has been circulating the internet since the event, even being tweeted by a Republican Congressman and joked by Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes. However, what began as  humour saw the gradual seeping   into the public domain of  information  that muddy the waters even further on a story that already seems to resemble a season of ‘True Detective’ more than it does reality.

On 5th January, the publication ’60 minutes’ released an investigative report into the Epstein death, which revealed some new perspectives. This included the testimony of Michael Baden, the tenured chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, who is considered one of the most advanced experts in his profession. Upon reviewing Epstein’s body, and after identifying three specific fractures in his neck, Baden claimed in all of his time “going to over a thousand jail hangings and suicides in New York City state prisons over the past 40-50 years, no one has had these three fractures,”. He went on to make several more assertions about irregularities that he spotted, such as noting that Epstein had access to methods of suicide, such as an electrical cord and a ballpoint pen, multiple days before his death. As well as this, Baden claims that the marks on Epstein’s neck resemble that of strangulation via wire or cord, and suggested that the noose found on Epstein would not have fit properly. These are certainly some explosive  observations, and it is important to consider that Baden is currently being hired as an investigator by Epstein’s brother, and has previously had clashes with many in his field over his opinions. His claims were also rejected by the prison medical unit, who reiterated their assessment of suicide, but there seems to be nothing that explicitly disproves any of Dr Baden’s points, and his 45 year career as one of the most respected  forensic pathologists in the world certainly gives his word some serious weight in questioning the reality of the suicide.

This, however, is just the beginning of the mishaps that occurred both during and after Epstein’s apparent suicide. In fact, there seems to be irregularities occurring at every step, before and after the death. Firstly, Epstein was housed away from the ‘general population’ of the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), in Manhattan. This prison had housed the likes of John Gotti and El Chapo, and had not had a suicide in over 14 years. His cell mate was an ex-police officer, named Nick Tartaglione, who is accused of killing four people. On the 23rd July 2019, Epstein was found “on the floor of his cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck”, which he claimed was after an attack from his cellmate, which Tartaglione denied. The prison, assuming it was an attempt on his own life, moved Epstein to a psych unit and placed him on suicide watch. It was at this point where he is believed to have written a note, complaining about the food and the ‘bugs’. The tone of the note seems almost comedic, which may call into question his apparent ‘suicidal’ mindset at the time, although this piece of evidence is most probably too small to make such an inference . After one week, “at the direction of the MCC’s psychological staff” Epstein was taken off  suicide watch and “required to have an assigned cellmate.” This, as former Federal Police Warden Cameron Lindsay put it ‘was a monumental failure on all levels.’ Once being reassigned, Epstein was not given a cellmate, despite being required to have one. This was the night before his death. His lawyers claimed that he was ‘upbeat and looking forward to an appeal hearing on his bail.’. He was taken to his cell by guards Michael Thomas and Tova Noel at 19:49. They were tasked with checking in on him every 30 minutes, but instead did not check for 8 hours. CCTV footage shows that they appeared to be asleep during some of this period. According to Lindsay “That’s a huge, huge deal. This is one of the most basic operational aspects of managing a jail or prison.” Both guards are now facing charges of falsifying records claiming that they had regularly checked on Epstein, and are due in court in April 2020.

Despite the rumours that began to emerge once this information was revealed, the prison were quick to deny all assumptions, claiming that the attempt made sense. “He was found hanging in his cell. He had tried to commit suicide before that.  He was a very wealthy man who was looking at a lifetime in prison.  You know, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”, said Bruce Barket, a lawyer hired by the prison. However, there is no evidence that Epstein’s first attempted suicide ever happened at all. This is because, as court documents show, MCC had “inadvertently preserved video from the wrong tier … and as a result, video from outside the defendant’s cell on July 22-23, 2019 no longer exists,”. Essentially, they claimed they had deleted the footage because it was filming an entirely different floor than the one Epstein was housed on. This, mixed with the accusations made by Epstein that he was in fact attacked by his cellmate, certainly raises questions. A final piece of puzzling evidence, is the guards decision to move Epstein’s body immediately after his death, despite it being explicitly against the protocol of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which mandates that all prison suicides must be given the “same level of protection as any crime scene in which a death has occurred.” This is in order to preserve crucial evidence. However, like all the other details surrounding Epstein’s death, it seems to have been mysteriously overlooked. As the presenter of the 60 minutes investigation, Sharyn Alfonsi, neatly summarised, “So, Epstein’s taken off suicide watch, the day before he kills himself in a prison that has not had a suicide in 14 years, his roommate is removed from the cell. The cameras on his tier are not working. The guards fell asleep. It seems almost impossible to think all of those things could happen in that way,”

It would seem as though the true story of Jeffrey Epstein may never be revealed. This means no justice for the hundreds of victims, nor for his potential co-conspirators. Perhaps he did commit suicide. Perhaps he was murdered. Perhaps the answer lies with the mysterious Ghislaine Maxwell, who has not been seen his Epstein’s death over six months ago. Whatever the answer may be, it would seem that there is a warning in here somewhere. That is, that those who seek to cross Presidents and Princes, oft wind up dead.

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