Written by Amy Julia Harris, Frances Robles, Mike Baker and William K. Rashbaum
Haley Robson was a 16-year-old South Florida high school student when an acquaintance from school approached her at a local pool with an intriguing offer: Did she want to make extra money giving massages to a billionaire in Palm Beach?
She agreed. When Jeffrey Epstein tried to grope her while she was giving him a massage in nothing but a thong, she brushed his hand away, Robson said in a 2009 deposition for a civil case. But she continued to visit Epstein’s mansion dozens more times, in a lucrative new role: a recruiter of other teenage girls from her school.
“I didn’t have to convince them,” she said in the deposition. “I proposed to them. They took it.”
After Epstein’s suicide in a Manhattan jail cell in early August, federal authorities have refocused their investigation on the more than half-dozen employees, girlfriends and associates who prosecutors say he relied on to feed his insatiable appetite for girls, according to two people with knowledge of the inquiry. Robson, now 33, is among them.
A review by The New York Times of lawsuits, unsealed court records and depositions, along with new interviews, offers disturbing allegations about how this small cadre of women helped Epstein.
The urgency of the investigation into Epstein’s associates was underscored Tuesday when about two dozen women offered searing accounts of how he had sexually abused them before a packed courtroom in Manhattan. Several of the women implored federal prosecutors to continue investigating the women in Epstein’s inner circle.
“Jeffrey is no longer here, and the women that helped him are,” said Teresa Helm, who said she was recruited into Epstein’s world 17 years ago.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, whose office brought the charges against Epstein, said after his suicide that the investigation into the sex-trafficking conspiracy was not finished.
One of the women under scrutiny, Epstein’s onetime girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, has been accused in several well-publicized lawsuits of overseeing efforts to procure girls and young women for him, a charge she has firmly denied.
But Epstein is also accused in civil suits of relying on an organized network of underlings: those who trained girls how to sexually pleasure him; office assistants who booked cars and travel; and recruiters who ensured he always had a fresh supply of teenage girls at the ready.
None of Epstein’s associates have been charged. But federal authorities are eyeing possible charges, the two people with knowledge of the investigation said.
Four women were named as possible “co-conspirators” and were granted immunity from prosecution in a widely criticized plea bargain Epstein struck with federal prosecutors in Florida more than a decade ago. The four — Sarah Kellen, Lesley Groff, Adriana Ross and Nadia Marcinkova — could still be subject to criminal charges in New York.
Three women have alleged in lawsuits that Epstein’s sex-trafficking ring operated as a hierarchy, with the financier and Maxwell at the top. “She orchestrated the whole thing for Jeffrey,” Sarah Ransome, who sued Maxwell and other associates in 2017, said in an interview.
Maxwell, the daughter of British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, was Epstein’s longtime companion. “They were like partners in business,” Janusz Banasiak, Epstein’s house manager, said in a deposition. Epstein’s butler, Alfredo Rodriguez, described Maxwell in a deposition as “the boss.”
Neither Maxwell nor her lawyers responded to requests for interviews for this article.
Epstein’s accusers contend in court papers that Maxwell managed the network of recruiters and helped devise the playbook for how to lure young women into Epstein’s web. Recruiters were allegedly told to target young, financially desperate women, and to promise them help furthering their education and careers, these civil complaints said.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre said in a deposition that she was 16 when she met Maxwell. She said she remembered Maxwell’s sales pitch: If she gave a wealthy man a massage, a whole world of opportunity would open to her.
“If the guy likes you, then, you know, it will work out for you,” Giuffre, in a deposition, recalled Maxwell telling her. “You’ll make good money.”
Just below Maxwell in the chain of command was Sarah Kellen, who has been accused in multiple lawsuits of scheduling girls to have sex with Epstein in his Palm Beach mansion.
She was called the “lieutenant” in one lawsuit. David Rodgers, Epstein’s pilot, said in a deposition that Kellen was “like an assistant to Ghislaine.”
Kellen kept the names and numbers of all the girls who gave Epstein erotic massages, according to Palm Beach police reports and Robson’s deposition, and would call them whenever Epstein was in town.
“She saw herself as the boss,” said Spencer T. Kuvin, a West Palm Beach lawyer who represented several accusers in lawsuits. “Sarah was really running that organization, bringing girls and getting them in and out of the Palm Beach home.”
Kellen did not respond to requests for an interview. Her lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.
Lesley Groff, Epstein’s executive assistant for almost 20 years, was one of the possible co-conspirators named in the 2008 plea deal.
She said in a 2005 interview with The Times that she answered Epstein’s telephone and managed his schedule. But Ransome said in her lawsuit that Groff, now 53, also arranged travel and lodging for the adolescent girls and young women who provided Epstein with erotic massages.
Groff’s lawyer, Michael Bachner, said his client worked as part of a professional staff. “At no time during Lesley’s employment with Epstein did she ever engage in any misconduct and never knowingly made travel arrangements for anyone under 18,” Bachner said.
Another of Epstein’s assistants, Adriana Ross, was also named as a potential co-conspirator in the 2008 plea deal. When Palm Beach police were investigating Epstein around 2005, Ross removed three computers from the Florida mansion, Banasiak, the house manager, said in a deposition.
Ross did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.
‘The more you do, the more you make’
Nadia Marcinkova, a former model and pilot, had come under police scrutiny in Palm Beach in 2005.
A 16-year-old told detectives she was giving Epstein a massage when Epstein told her she could make an extra $200 if she performed oral sex on Marcinkova, and the girl reluctantly agreed, Palm Beach police reports said. That encounter was the first of many sexual trysts the teenager told police she was coerced into having with both Marcinkova and Epstein.
Police records also show that investigators had indications that Marcinkova might have been underage herself when she became involved with Epstein. Marcinkova declined to answer questions about Epstein’s alleged abuse of girls when she was deposed in a lawsuit, invoking the Fifth Amendment.
Reached by The Times, Marcinkova’s lawyers, Erica T. Dubno and Aaron Mysliwiec, said “like other victims, Nadia Marcinko is and has been severely traumatized” and “needs time to process and make sense of what she has been through before she is able to speak out.”
Prosecutors may face thorny legal issues in deciding whether to charge some of Epstein’s associates, like Robson and Marcinkova, who may have initially been victims themselves.
Determining criminal liability is always a complex decision if a person has been exploited for sex, then used as a pawn to recruit others, said Lauren Hersh, a former sex-trafficking prosecutor. “But for their own exploitation, they wouldn’t do that,” she said. “It becomes really, really tricky.”
Robson was not among the four women given immunity in the Florida plea agreement. But her role in Epstein’s operation was significant enough that Palm Beach police had planned to charge her more than a decade ago, according to an affidavit by the lead detective.
She was also sued twice, and she described her role in Epstein’s operation in a deposition.
When Epstein would fly into Florida, Robson said she would get a call from Kellen. The two of them would hammer out logistics. “I would have a girl that would be available for those dates and times,” Robson said in a 2009 deposition.
The girls knew what they were getting into, Robson said. The rules were unspoken, but understood. “The more you do, the more you make,” Robson said in the deposition.
Reached by The Times, Robson said, “I have nothing to say.”