U.S. prosecutors call Epstein a flight risk as his lawyers seek bail on sex charges

by Reuters
Monday, 15 July 2019 15:59 GMT

(Adds arguments by Epstein's lawyers)

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK, July 15 (Reuters) - A U.S. prosecutor on Monday said Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier charged with sex trafficking underage girls, posed an "extraordinary risk of flight" and danger to the community and must remain in jail until his trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller made that assessment at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan, where U.S. District Judge Richard Berman is considering whether Epstein should remain in jail or be allowed to live under house arrest at his mansion on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Berman said he would probably announce his bail decision on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT), saying he needed more time to absorb the case and listen to people who say they are among Epstein's victims and oppose bail.

Lawyers for Epstein said their client, who wore dark blue jail scrubs in court, has had an unblemished record since he pleaded guilty more than a decade ago to a state prostitution charge in Florida.

Critics have called that deal, which let Epstein avoid federal prosecution, too lenient.

"Once he knew he was under investigation, he wasn't a predator who couldn't control his conduct," Epstein's lawyer Martin Weinberg said. "He disciplined himself."

Epstein, 66, is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail that has been criticized by inmates and lawyers for harsh conditions.

He pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges on July 8, two days after his arrest at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, where he had flown back on his private plane from Paris. Epstein aces up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Once known for socializing with politicians and royalty, Epstein 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 have said Epstein must remain in jail to prevent him from fleeing the country, citing his wealth and connections overseas, as well as allegations he paid two potential witnesses last year in an apparent effort to influence them.

Rossmiller told Berman that a search of Epstein's home uncovered nude images of underage girls, including at least one who claimed to be among the financier's victims.

The prosecutor also said one item seized was a passport that appeared to have been issued by a foreign country in the 1980s that containing Epstein's photo, but someone else's name.

Epstein's lawyers have countered that their client is willing to pay for armed guards to monitor him at all times at his Manhattan home, which has been valued at $77 million, and should be granted bail so he can help prepare his defense.

"You don't punish first and have a trial second," Weinberg said. He later said Epstein "fully intends to appear" in court.

In 2016, Berman rejected a bail proposal from Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to let him live in an apartment under the watch of privately funded guards.

Berman said 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.

Under the Florida agreement, Epstein served 13 months in a county jail, but was allowed to go to his office during the day. He was also required to register as a sex offender.

A federal judge ruled in February that the agreement violated a federal law on crime victims' rights.

Alex Acosta, who as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida oversaw Epstein's earlier deal, resigned on Friday as U.S. President Donald Trump's Secretary of Labor, 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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