NEW YORK – Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire financier, philanthropist and registered sex offender who eluded lengthy prison time in the past, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of sex-trafficking girls as young as 14.
A federal indictment unsealed Monday charged that Epstein "sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes" in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, along with other locations. Epstein also paid some of his victims to recruit more underage victims, according to the indictment.
The charges – one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex-trafficking conspiracy –stem from accusations dating to 2002-2005. Epstein entered his plea in federal court in Manhattan, where he appeared Monday afternoon in a blue jail uniform.
"This conduct, as alleged, went on for years," Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference. "The alleged behavior shocks the conscience."
Berman said convictions could result in up to 45 years in jail. His office asked judge Henry Pitman to keep Epstein in custody until trial. Epstein will have to remain in jail at least until a bail hearing scheduled for next Monday.
“When you have two planes and spend much of the year abroad we think that is a significant risk” of flight to avoid prosecution, Berman said.
Court documents also raised the government's concern, based on what it called previous experience with Epstein, that if allowed to remain free on bail he "could attempt to pressure and intimidate witnesses and potential witnesses in this case, including victims and their families, and otherwise attempt to obstruct justice.''
Prosecutors also say Epstein has shown no remorse for his crimes.
Epstein, 66, rose to prominence almost two decades ago and at various times could list Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey and Great Britain's Prince Andrew among friends and associates. He was arrested Saturday and jailed after his private jet arrived from France.