ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- At the center of Jeffrey Epstein's secluded New Mexico ranch sits a sprawling residence the financier built decades ago — complete with plans for a 4,000-square-foot (372-square-meter) courtyard, a living room roughly the size of the average American home and a nearby private airplane runway.
Known as the Zorro Ranch, the high-desert property is now tied to an investigation that the state attorney general's office says it has opened into Epstein with plans to forward findings to federal authorities in New York.
Epstein, who pleaded not guilty this week to federal sex trafficking charges in New York, has not faced criminal charges in New Mexico. But the scandal surrounding him has still sent a jolt through the rural southwestern state as it comes under scrutiny for laws that allowed him to avoid registering as a sex offender following a guilty plea a decade ago in Florida.
"New Mexico continues to lag behind the rest of the country in strengthening outdated and weak laws that fail to protect our children from abuse," New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. "This is a huge black eye for our state."
In addition to confirming his office had interviewed possible victims of Epstein who visited his ranch south of Santa Fe, Balderas' spokesman also said Friday that the attorney general would renew his push for legislation requiring anyone with a sex trafficking conviction to register as a sex offender in New Mexico.
In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution under an agreement that required him to spend 13 months in jail and register as a sex offender. The agreement has been widely criticized for secretly ending a federal sex abuse investigation involving at least 40 teenage girls at the time that could have landed him behind bars for life.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he's stepping down amid the tumult over his handling of the 2008 deal with Epstein. Acosta was the U.S. attorney in Miami when he oversaw the non-prosecution agreement.
The indictment filed in New York this week accuses Epstein of paying girls hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and then molesting them at his homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York from 2002 through 2005. The charges carry the potential for up to 45 years in prison.
In New Mexico, the attorney general said he has been in touch with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York. Balderas' office has not said, however, how many accusers his office has interviewed and he has not elaborated on what they say took place at the ranch.
In a 2015 court filing in Florida, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Epstein said she had been abused at several locations, including the New Mexico property.
Records show Epstein purchased the ranch, valued by county officials at over $12 million, from the family of former Gov. Bruce King, who died 10 years ago. A 1995 Santa Fe New Mexican story about his plans to build a mansion on the property said the home would be 26,700 square feet (2,480 square meters) with a 2,100-square-foot (195-square-meter) living room.
Aerial images of the property show an airplane hangar and landing strip. Closer to the east edge of the property, several structures that appear to serve as small homes and stables stand in public view.
The King family still owns land surrounding much of Epstein's ranch near the town of Stanley, a rural outpost on the plains that stretch east of the Sandia Mountains.
Gary King, the son of the former governor, was the state attorney general from 2007 to 2015, and was among a handful of candidates in the state who returned Epstein campaign donations.
King had received $15,000 from Epstein in 2006 during his first-bid for attorney general, and then received $35,000 from firms linked to Epstein in 2014.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson donated $50,000 in 2006 gubernatorial campaign contributions from Epstein to charity.
In neighboring Arizona, Epstein donated $50,000 to the University of Arizona in 2017, the Arizona Republic newspaper reported Saturday.
Epstein gave the money to the university through his foundation Gratitude America Ltd., the Republic and the Daily Beast website reported. The money was designated for a 2017 Science of Consciousness conference, the Daily Beast reported.
The university didn't know of Epstein's involvement in the foundation, Pam Scott, the university's associate vice president of external communications, told the Republic. The university does not plan to return the donation, Scott said.