The rise and fall of Jeffrey Epstein: A timeline of the financier's troubles

Epstein died by suicide Saturday, three law enforcement officials told ABC News.

ByABC News Investigative Unit
August 10, 2019, 9:36 AM

When Jeffrey Epstein was born in January 1953 to working class parents living in a rented, second-floor apartment on Maple Avenue on New York City's Coney Island, no one could have predicted the extraordinary heights of wealth and success to which he would climb as a Wall Street money manager.

By his early 40s, he was living in one of the largest private residences in all of Manhattan, a seven-story, 21-000 square-foot Upper East Side stone mansion with heated sidewalks that stretched across E. 71st Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues.

Epstein owned two private islands in the Virgin Islands, a 100,000-acre ranch in New Mexico and a multi-million dollar home in Palm Beach, according to asset records submitted by his defense attorneys at a recent bail hearing.

U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a news conference, in N.Y., July 8, 2019.
Richard Drew/AP

Nor could anyone have predicted the depths to which he would plunge from that privileged perch.

The #MeToo movement has unearthed numerous, shocking allegations about the abuse of women by powerful men, but no case to date has surfaced such a damning set of allegations as those now leveled against the enigmatic Wall Street financier: that he "sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations," using cash payments to recruit a "vast network of underage victims," some of whom were as young as 14 years old.

Epstein died early Saturday by suicide, three law enforcement officials told ABC News. He was transported to New York Downtown Hospital at 6:39 a.m. after apparently hanging himself, the sources said.

He had been behind bars, denied bail by a judge who decided he was too great a flight risk to release from custody.

Among property authorities seized from a surprise raid of Epstein's Upper East Side mansion over the Fourth of July holiday weekend were nude pictures of purportedly underage girls and an expired Austrian passport with Epstein's photo but another man's name.

His attorneys have argued in court that -- given Epstein's wealth, prominence and his Jewish faith -- he could have become the target of a kidnapping or hijacking attempt while traveling the globe, in which case he could produce the phony passport to deceive his would-be captors about his true heritage and identity.

Prosecutors saw the document in a different light -- as a means to escape justice, should it ever come calling. The safe where the expired passport was found also included cash and diamonds.

We get to look him in the face today and see him in handcuffs. We get to see him in jail. Finally, that day has come.

Epstein's legal troubles began with a phone call to the Palm Beach Police Department in March 2005. The stepmother of a 14-year-old high school girl called police to say that Epstein had sexually assaulted the teen, after the mother of one of the girl’s friends called her to say she had overheard her daughter discussing “how [the teen] had met with [an older] man and had sex with him and was paid for it," according to a police report.

Within three years, Epstein would be facing a 53-page federal indictment on sex crimes charges that had been drafted by FBI investigators and could have sent him to prison for life.

Epstein served just 13 months of an 18-month sentence in county jail after reaching a much-criticized plea deal, known as a "non-prosecution agreement" (NPA) with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, then led by Alexander Acosta, who recently resigned as President Donald Trump’s labor secretary.

The deal, which is currently under review by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, not only allowed Epstein to plead guilty to two state counts and avoid federal charges for an allegedly broad pattern of similar conduct, but also provided him and any alleged co-conspirators with immunity from further federal prosecution in the Southern District of Florida.

Jeffrey Epstein's private island, dubbed "Little St. James," is located off the coast of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
ABC News

Epstein – with the help of a battery of powerful lawyers and a team of investigators who reportedly probed the personal lives and the families of case prosecutors and Palm Beach police investigators – managed to cut a deal that allowed him to put an end to an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who participated in Epstein's alleged crimes.

Once he began serving his sentence, Epstein was allowed by Palm Beach authorities to leave the county jail facility on work release for 12 hours a day, six days a week.

The deal was cut in secret, and Epstein’s alleged victims told ABC News that they were kept in the dark about details of the plea agreement while it was being negotiated in apparent violation of the of the Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA) of 2004, which guarantees crime victims the right to be informed about developments in their cases.

On the day the deal was signed, an attorney for Epstein sent an email to the federal prosecutor handling the case which read, “Please do whatever you can to keep this from becoming public,” according to an email exchange attached to a 2016 court filing.

A month later, another letter arrived at the office of the U.S. Attorney for southern Florida, according to correspondence between Epstein defense attorney and prosecutors, which was unsealed by a federal judge following a legal battle by Epstein's attorneys to keep those exchanges under seal.

“Neither federal agents nor anyone from your Office should contact the [alleged victims] to inform them of the resolution of the case,” wrote Epstein defense attorney Jay Lefkowitz in a letter to then-U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta a month after the deal was signed. “Not only would that violate the confidentiality of the agreement, but Mr. Epstein also will have no control over what is communicated to the identified individuals at this most critical stage. We believe it is essential that we participate in crafting mutually acceptable communication to the [alleged victims].”

Throughout the negotiations -- and for nearly a year after the agreement was signed -- the victims were kept in the dark, their attorneys said, strung along as government lawyers promised victims they were still investigating even long after they had cut the deal with Epstein.

In February of this year, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra ruled in favor of several Epstein accusers, finding that the federal government failed to confer with the victims in advance of the deal, violating the CVRA. Marra is now considering the possible remedies for the violation, which could potentially include tearing up the non-prosecutions agreement.

The mugshot of Jeffrey Epstein from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement where he is registered as a sex offender.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the latest charges and his defense attorneys have argued in court that the new indictment is tantamount to “double jeopardy.” The legal defense prevents an accused person of being tried on the same (or similar) charges twice, based on the same fact, following a valid acquittal or conviction.

"It is our belief that this is basically a re-do," Epstein defense attorney Reid Weingarten told the judge at a bail hearing earlier this month. "This is basically the feds today, not happy with what happened in the decision that led to the NPA, redoing the same conduct that was investigated 10 years ago and calling it, instead of prostitution, calling it sex trafficking. We think that is the heart of everything, and that will be the centerpiece of our defense."

Here’s a timeline of how Epstein’s latest legal troubles began:

July 3, 2019: A United States appellate court orders the release of previously sealed court documents filed in a defamation suit related to Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking ring. These new documents stem from a 2015 lawsuit filed by an alleged victim of Epstein, Virginia Giuffre, against Epstein’s former girlfriend and alleged recruiter, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. The lawsuit, which was settled in 2017 on the eve of trial, accused Maxwell of making defamatory statements about Giuffre. In the original complaint, Giuffre accused Epstein of sexually abusing her from 1999 to 2002, with Maxwell’s “assistance and participation,” at numerous locations including Epstein’s mansions in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida.

Maxwell has repeatedly denied Giuffre’s allegations, both publicly and in court filings, as “entirely false” and “entirely untrue.” Epstein settled privately with Giuffre in 2009 over a separate lawsuit in which she alleged she was sexually abused by Epstein and his “adult male peers, including royalty, politicians, academicians, businessmen, and/or other professional and personal acquaintances,” according to her civil complaint.

Demonstrators hold signs protesting Jeffrey Epstein, as he awaits arraignment in New York, July 8, 2019.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

In a phone interview with ABC News, Giuffre’s attorney, David Boies, said that the documents ordered unsealed would highlight the “scope and scale of the Epstein sex trafficking enterprise” and that this now “puts pressure on prosecutors not to turn a blind eye."

Attorneys for Maxwell are presently seeking a re-hearing of the appellate court's orders to unseal nearly 2,000 pages of documents from the original case.

July 7, 2019: Epstein is arrested in an undercover operation and taken into custody upon his return from France to New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport.

This is basically the feds today, not happy with what happened in the decision that led to the (non-prosecution agreement), redoing the same conduct that was investigated 10 years ago and calling it, instead of prostitution, calling it sex trafficking. We think that is the heart of everything, and that will be the centerpiece of our defense.

July 8, 2019: In a stunning indictment, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York allege that from about 2002 to 2005, Epstein, now 66, "sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations," using cash payments to recruit a "vast network of underage victims," some of whom were as young as 14-years-old.

July 9, 2019: In exclusive interviews with ABC News, Epstein accusers Courtney Wild and Michelle Licata recount their experiences after witnessing Epstein’s criminal arraignment in federal court in downtown Manhattan. Both women – who met for the first time in court that day and each say they were sexually-abused as teenagers by the financier -- told ABC News that their pain is still fresh, their memories still vivid, even after all those years.

But "we get to look him in the face today and see him in handcuffs," Wild said. "We get to see him in jail. Finally, that day has come. So it was just nice to be able to share it with somebody, you know, look at you [Licata] and say 'OK, today's our day.'"

Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 8, 2004.
Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE

July 9, 2019: Amid growing calls from top Democrats for U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to resign over his role as U.S. Attorney for southern Florida in the controversial Epstein plea deal, President Donald Trump offers a partial defense of his then-secretary of labor, saying he feels "very badly" for him and that he's been an "excellent" member of his Cabinet.

July 10, 2019: Acosta defends his decision to negotiate a plea deal with Epstein in the 2008 case in Florida that allowed him to serve a lesser sentence on state charges of prostitution. The deal, now under review by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, also gave Epstein and any alleged co-conspirators immunity from further federal prosecution in the Southern District of Florida. In a 2011 letter, Acosta defended the deal and accused Epstein’s defense lawyers of a “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

July 12, 2019: An ABC News review of campaign finance records finds that Epstein donated to several Democrats throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. One of the biggest beneficiaries of Epstein's contributions was then-Senate hopeful Hillary Clinton, who received $20,000 from him in 1999 through her joint fundraising committee with the Democratic Party, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Bill Clinton's presidential campaign also received $1,000 from Epstein in 1992. The Clintons, along with Trump, were among Epstein's vast network of high-profile rich and famous people who helped the former Wall Street insider turned private wealth manager rise to prominence in the early 2000s.

There were photos of topless women everywhere. On his desk, in his office, in his bedroom.

July 12, 2019: Prosecutors, arguing against bail for Epstein, claim he tried to buy off potential witnesses and charge that he had demonstrated a "willingness to use intimidation and aggressive tactics in connection with a criminal investigation." The memo alleges that late last year Epstein wired $100,000 from a trust account to a person who had been named in the 2008 case as a possible co-conspirator of Epstein's and then three days later wired $250,000 to another suspected co-conspirator.

Ghislaine Maxwell attends an event on Oct. 18, 2016, in New York City.
Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

July 15, 2019: In an extraordinary detention hearing, Epstein comes face-to-face with two of his accusers. Annie Farmer says that she was 16 when Epstein had her sent to New Mexico where he was “inappropriate” with her. Courtney Wild tells the judge that she was 14 when Epstein sexually abused her in Palm Beach, Florida. Both women spoke in support of keeping Epstein locked up without bail. Epstein appears to watch them address the judge but his face shows no emotion.

July 17, 2019: An attorney for several of Epstein’s accusers claims the financier had “improper sexual contact” with young women while out on work release during his jail sentence. "Most of the time was spent in an office, a private office that was adjacent to his lawyer's office all day every day," Brad Edwards, who represents Epstein Wild and several other alleged victims, contends at the press conference. "And what you're going to learn is he was not sitting there conducting some scientific research for the betterment of the community, but he was having office visitors, some who were flown to him from New York and continuing to engage in similar conduct, literally while he was in 'jail.'" Federal prosecutors have yet to comment on the allegations leveled by Edwards.

July 18, 2019: A federal judge denies bail for Epstein. Judge Richard Berman made the decision over the objections of defense attorneys who had argued that the wealthy financier was a “disciplined” defendant willing to pay a bond of $100 million or more. Federal prosecutors objected, saying the court “cannot rely on the self-discipline of a man with an appetite for children.”

A courtroom sketch depicts billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein in federal court in Manhattan on July 8, 2019.
Christine Cornell

July 18, 2019: A former IT contractor for Jeffrey Epstein who said that he ended their business relationship over personal concerns about gaggles of apparently unsupervised young women on the embattled financier's private island told ABC News in an exclusive interview that his reluctance to continue working there was underscored by what he said was an extensive collection of photos of topless women displayed throughout the island's compounds.

“There were photos of topless women everywhere," said contractor Steve Scully, who said he worked for Epstein for six years beginning in 1999. "On his desk, in his office, in his bedroom,” Scully, a 69-year-old father of three girls, said of the private island dubbed "Little St. James."

July 19, 2019: Palm Beach County launches an internal investigation into its sheriff's deputies monitoring of Epstein, following allegations he had "improper sexual conduct" while on work release from jail.

July 25, 2019: Epstein is placed on suicide watch after being found unresponsive and with injuries to his neck at a federal lockup in New York City, a law enforcement official briefed on the incident tells ABC News.

July 26, 2019: A federal judge grants a motion from prosecutors' overseeing the New York case against Epstein to place a protective order on highly-sensitive investigative material they are set to turn over to the financier's defense attorneys. Prosecutors sought the order because, they said in court filings, they intends to produce documents and materials that could...”affect the privacy and confidentiality of individuals...[and that] would impede, if prematurely disclosed, the Government's ongoing investigation of uncharged individuals.”

Aug. 8, 2019: A former assistant U.S. Attorney in Florida who served more than a decade ago as the lead prosecutor during in an expansive federal investigation of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein's alleged sex crimes against children, is confident that an ongoing internal investigation will reveal her efforts to prosecute Epstein "to the fullest extent of the law and to accord his victims their rights under the law,” her attorney told ABC News on Thursday.

Former assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafaña, who plans to leave her position with the Department of Justice after 18 years for a supervisory post in another government agency, is eager for the public to review the internal investigation’s findings, her attorney, Jonathan Biran of the Tennessee-based law firm Baker Donelson told ABC News in a statement on Thursday.

“We hope and expect that the Department will publicly release its report concerning the Epstein investigation,” Biran said in a statement. “Ms. Villafaña looks forward to the day when the public will fully understand her role and that of her superiors in the Epstein investigation.”

Villafaña's superior during the Epstein investigation was Alexander Acosta, who recently resigned as President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary after facing questions about his role in the much-criticized plea deal. Earlier this year, a federal judge in Florida ruled that Acosta's office had violated the rights of Epstein's alleged victims for failing to confer with them in advance of the signing of the non-prosecution agreement with Epstein.

ABC News' James Hill, Aaron Katersky, Kaitlyn Folmer, Chris Francescani, Tom Llamas, Matthew Mosk, Josh Margolin, Pete Madden, Jordan Phelps, Allison Pecorin, Soo Rin Kim, Bill Hutchinson and Marc Nathanson contributed to this report.