For years, locals whispered about all the very young women Jeffrey Epstein lured to his Caribbean lair, a private isle that came to be known as Pedophile Island. Some even wondered: did authorities know?
“It was common knowledge,” said Kristi Query, owner of Virgin Islands Yacht Charters in Compass Point Marina on St. Thomas, the gateway of the U.S. Virgin Islands. “The perception was the people in the government were just turning a blind eye.”
On Wednesday, five months after Epstein hanged himself in his Manhattan jail cell, the government of USVI filed suit, laying out a new array of accusations against him, companies he controlled and unnamed associates. They allegedly operated a “trafficking pyramid scheme” involving underage girls for almost two decades, up until his indictment on federal charges in Manhattan last year.
Some of the girls appeared as young as 11, the civil lawsuit says.
Epstein used a web of shell companies to conceal his activities on Little St. James, which he purchased in 1998, and to later acquire a second island — Great St. James — to ensure his crimes were concealed to potential onlookers, the suit alleges. Other entities held the aircraft, helicopters, cars and boats used to transport his victims who were allegedly raped and often held captive.
The USVI government is seeking the forfeiture under criminal enterprise laws of assets in the islands that it estimates at around $578 million. Epstein’s two islands are valued at $86 million and the estate also includes properties in New York, Palm Beach and Paris.
“Today the Virgin Islands is standing up on its own for justice,” said Denise George, USVI’s attorney general, at a press conference. She authorized the investigation after receiving questions from local and national press about Epstein’s activities.
What the lawsuit calls the Epstein Enterprise subjected the U.S. territory “to public portrayals as a hiding place for human trafficking and sex crimes,” the complaint says. “The U.S. Virgin Islands has been injured.”
According to the suit, Epstein and his cohorts kept a computerized list of girls who were either in the USVI or close enough to be transported there and then shuttled from St. Thomas. The trafficking occurred between 2001 and 2019, it says, citing flight logs and airport personnel.
A lawyer for Epstein’s estate, which has been seeking to set up a compensation fund to resolve his accusers’ claims, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The extent of the abuse that took place on Epstein’s private islands has been the source of much conjecture since Epstein’s arrest in July on charges that he sexually abused and exploited dozens of girls.
The suit says that in the alleged scheme, Epstein associates would target underage girls on the pretext of providing massages before they were then pressured to engage in sexual acts and those victims were then forced to recruit others.
Epstein’s resources enabled him to skirt scrutiny, according to the suit: “Monitoring a sex offender with his own private islands and the resources to fly victims in and out on private planes and helicopters presented unique challenges.”
That included refusing to let investigators step foot on Little St. James when they came to check up on the sex offender. Instead he met them at his St. Thomas office. To preserve that privacy and seclusion, Epstein went so far as to spend more than $20 million on Great St. James, the nearest island to Little St. James, in a bid “to ensure the island didn’t become a base from which others could view their activities or visitors.”
The complaint details a 15-year-old girl who attempted to escape by swimming from Little St. James; Epstein and others organized a search party that found her and confiscated her passport.
Evidence cited in the complaint allege that the crimes occurred before and after Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 and served time in a Palm Beach jail on charges of procuring a minor for prostitution.
The filing is frank about the difficulty of unpicking the web of assets through which Epstein conducted his activities.
“Epstein maintained a deliberately complex web of Virgin Islands corporations, limited liability companies, foundations, and other entities, not all of which are yet known to the government of the Virgin Islands,” the lawsuit says.