(Adds details from hearing)
By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK, July 15 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge said he will probably decide on Thursday whether Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier charged with sex trafficking underage girls, should remain in jail while awaiting trial or be allowed to live under house arrest at his Manhattan mansion.
At a hearing on Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan said he will probably announce his decision on July 18 at 9;30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT), saying he needs more time to absorb materials that have been submitted.
He noted that several people who said they are among Epstein's victims and opposed bail were in attendance, and that they may speak at the hearing.
Epstein, 66, was arrested on July 6 after flying into New Jersey's Teterboro Airport by private plane from Paris.
He has pleaded not guilty and is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail in lower Manhattan that has been criticized by inmates and lawyers for harsh conditions.
Epstein, who was once known for socializing with politicians and royalty, is accused of arranging for girls under the age of 18 to perform nude "massages" and other sex acts, and of paying some girls to recruit others, from at least 2002 to 2005.
Prosecutors said a search of Epstein's home uncovered nude images of underage girls, and they accused him of paying two potential witnesses against him last year in an apparent effort to influence them.
He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
Seeking their client's release from pre-trial detention, Epstein's lawyers have said he is willing to pay for armed guards to monitor him round-the-clock at his Upper East Side home, which has been valued at $77 million.
In a court filing last week, the lawyers said Epstein has had a "spotless 14-year record of walking the straight and narrow" since he pleaded guilty to similar offenses in Florida, and had shown "perfect compliance with onerous sex offender registration requirements."
Federal prosecutors have argued that Epstein must remain in jail to prevent him from fleeing the country, citing his wealth and connections overseas, as well as the allegations he made large payments to potential witnesses.
In 2016, Berman rejected a bail proposal from Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab that would have let him remain in a leased apartment under the watch of privately funded guards, saying wealthy defendants should not be allowed to "buy their way out of prison by constructing their own private jail."
Other New York federal judges, however, have agreed to such arrangements, including for Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff.
When Epstein was charged in Florida, he reached a deal to avoid federal prosecution by pleading guilty to a state prostitution charge and registering as a sex offender.
He served 13 months in a county jail, but was allowed to leave during the day to go to his office.
That 2007 agreement has drawn heavy criticism. A federal judge ruled in February that it violated a federal law on crime victims' rights, but Florida prosecutors have argued it should nonetheless remain in place.
Alex Acosta, who oversaw the deal as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, went on to be appointed Secretary of Labor by President Donald Trump.
Acosta resigned from that position on Friday, saying he did not want to be a distraction for the White House. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)
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