Convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s death by apparent suicide early Saturday morning while in federal custody has made the future of already complex legal proceedings even murkier.
The Southern District of New York charged Epstein with sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors in an indictment in July that accused him of sexually assaulting dozens of underage girls between at least the years of 2002 and 2005 in his Palm Beach, Florida, and Manhattan residences.
The US Attorney’s Office released a statement on Saturday saying that investigation, with emphasis on the charge of conspiracy, will continue. Epstein’s victims have been and continue to be urged to contact the FBI, which along with the SDNY and Office of the Inspector General is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s suicide.
In examining what lies ahead for the prosecution, Epstein’s accusers, and the rampant conspiracy theories surrounding wealthy financier’s death, two former federal prosecutors shared their insight with Business Insider. Both cast doubt on the conspiracies, and suggested that his victims may sue his estate for damages.
“I think it’s far-fetched for somebody to say ‘I’m gonna kill off Epstein because I’m not charged yet, but maybe I will be,'” Laurie Levenson, who is now a professor of law at Loyola Law School, told Business Insider.
Levenson said the federal prosecutors pursuing Epstein’s case will potentially seek charges against co-conspirators. Given the public pressure for someone to be held responsible for the charges against Epstein, she thinks “now is the time to worry” for those who were involved with Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking operation.
“Frankly, I think if they had a strong case against other people, we might have already seen it,” Levenson said. “Maybe what the hope is, now that Epstein’s not around, the people will say ‘Someone has to be held responsible,’ and more people will come forward. So that’s a possibility. But right now it’s pretty theoretical.”
David Weinstein, an attorney who for 11 years served as an Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where Epstein was initially charged, told Business Insider that the non-prosecution agreement Epstein signed in 2008 may hamper the SDNY’s investigation into possible co-conspirators going forward, if they pursue the conspiracy charge against Epstein.
“There’s a particular specific paragraph that uses the words ‘the United States’ and then talks about named co-conspirators and then unnamed,” Weinstein said, referring to the controversial plea deal that led to its co-signer, former Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who was then US Attorney in Miami, to step down after the deal came under scrutiny.
“So there may be some leverage there that the unnamed co-conspirators can use to argue that the United States had given them immunity,” he said. “But it’ll be a little difficult because they’ll have to interpret the words on the page.”
Epstein’s victims will be able to identify co-conspirators going forward, Weinstein said, but depending on where the sexual assaults took place, some evidence may not be able to be included. Epstein owned at least one private jet and had global connections, and took some of his accusers on trips worldwide, where they allege they were also abused.
“It’ll also be interesting to see what they seized, both from his apartment in New York, off of his person when they arrested him at the airport, any bank accounts that they’ve subpoenaed, any logs that they’ve either subpoenaed or been provided from his planes, and whether or not that adds to the corroboration for any live witnesses they have,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein also suggested that, as reports emerge that Epstein was no longer on suicide watch at the time of his death, an examination by medical professionals must have occurred that determined suicide watch unnecessary.
“There have even been incidences where prisoners who were on suicide watch were still able to take their own lives,” Weinstein said. “There are 10 to 15 minute increments where there’s not somebody who’s specifically watching them, and that despite trying to keep everything away from them in their cells, they still find a way to take their own lives. I wouldn’t say it’s common but I don’t think that this is uncommon, it’s just rather infrequent.”
Both former federal prosecutors noted that conspiracists will continue to deny facts, even as new information is presented to them, but said that if ineptitude on the part of the detention facility is to blame, there should be consequences for those who did not do their jobs.
“You’ve got power and politics and sex and open questions, and conspiracy theorists are going to run with this no matter what, but it’s important for all of us who are not looking for conspiracies to understand what happened,” Levenson said. “I think it could put the credibility of the criminal justice system on the line, and that’s so important.”
On the civil side of the investigation, lawyers representing Epstein’s accusers have called for the administrators of Epstein’s estate to freeze and hold his assets, so that victims can receive compensation.
“It may result in more people wanting to come forward,” Levenson said. “Or it just may be that they realize that there’s an estate they can sue, and who knows what that estate will be? I don’t know whether they’ll fight all these claims, get the money on all these claims, that’s a big question mark to come.”
Since Epstein is dead, both Weinstein and Levenson said the current indictment against him will be dismissed, and Weinstein predicted the federal prosecution will meet with US District Judge Richard Berman within the next week to file a motion to dismiss it. The timeline for what could potentially include new criminal charges for co-conspirators, civil lawsuits, and investigations into Epstein’s suicide is unclear.
Levenson suggested that it will take several months just to sort out potential additional accusers, evidence, and information. She said concrete legal action probably won’t emerge for up to a year.
“The interesting thing is how patient the public can be,” Levenson said. “I don’t know that they’ll have all the answers overnight. There are a lot of people to talk to, a lot of things to find out, and in some ways it would be bad for them to rush out a conclusion and then have that picked apart as well. There’s going to be a lot of pressure to investigate this very quickly, but the most important thing is that they be right.”