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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 23, 2024
HomeCommentaryOpen Forum: Virgin Islanders Should Support Efforts to Hold Big Bank Accountable

Open Forum: Virgin Islanders Should Support Efforts to Hold Big Bank Accountable

Jeffrey Epstein's primary residence, his private estate on Little St. James in the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Shutterstock photo)
Jeffrey Epstein’s former private island estate on Little St. James in the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Shutterstock photo)

The current V.I. government should be complimented on pursuing litigation against the Epstein Estate and JPMorgan Chase Bank. Sunlight is truly the best disinfectant. If USVI government officials understand what is done at night — will one day come to light — all citizens of the Virgin Islands are better off from this deterrence. While emails to V.I. government officials — particularly Jeffrey Epstein’s emails commenting on sex-crime registration legislation — are shameful, Epstein’s influence in the USVI was just part of his larger global influence.

Epstein’s Powerful Connections 

Epstein’s friends and connections were vast: Past and future U.S. presidents (Bill Clinton and Donald Trump), foreign royalty (Prince Andrew of Great Britain), prime ministers (Israel’s former PM Ehud Barak), billionaires (Bill Gates, Les Wexner), Hollywood stars (Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein), deans and chancellors of Ivy League institutions (Harvard and MIT), sheiks, sultans, governors, senators and politicians’ wives, all the way down to local sheriffs and police chiefs.  

Let’s look at just two powerful friends. Dozens of plane flight records show that Clinton and Trump (before he was president) were regular guests on Epstein’s private jet. In 2002, Trump called Epstein a “terrific guy … who likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” Trump was a guest at Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion, though Trump denied seeing high-school girls there. There’s a number of photos of Trump and Epstein together (and photos of Trump and Epstein’s right-hand “madam” Ghislaine Maxwell). That same year, in 2002, Clinton traveled with Epstein around Africa. Clinton told the press, “Jeffrey is both a highly successful financier and committed philanthropist […] I especially appreciated his insights and generosity during the recent trip to Africa to work on democratization, empowering the poor[.]” In 2010, Maxwell was a guest at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding — and this was after Epstein’s sex crime conviction in 2008.     

Flying Under the Radar  

Jeffrey Epstein, in his final mugshot taken in July 2019. (Justice Department photo)
Jeffrey Epstein, in his final mugshot taken in July 2019. (Justice Department photo)

The vast majority of Epstein’s abuses occurred in Florida, New York, New Mexico, France and other locales like London and Ecuador, where he was able to be supplied with teenage models by Jean-Luc Brunel. As discussed by our prior V.I. Attorney General, there were no criminal complaints made by victims or victims’ families against Epstein while he was in the USVI. This is consistent with Epstein’s sick sexual preference. Epstein’s house staff testified that Epstein only recruited young white girls. Perhaps if Epstein didn’t have this racial preference, a local criminal complaint would have been filed with the V.I. Attorney General’s Office. Or a private civil lawyer in the Virgin Islands would finally have a local victim to sue Epstein over (like the dozens of victims that sued in Florida and New York). Or perhaps, a Virgin Islands father, uncle or brother would have taken the law into his own hands. In his book “Relentless Pursuit” attorney Brad Edwards (who sued Epstein in many civil victim lawsuits) met with a former Epstein bodyguard who said that Epstein specifically advised his bodyguards to watch out for angry fathers.  

Now, this article is about JPMorgan, Epstein’s bank, but a quick overview must be given on Epstein’s Florida criminal prosecution in 2006. Epstein hired what is now the largest and most profitable mega-law firm in the world, Kirkland & Ellis*, with over 3,000 lawyers.  Epstein’s massive legal team included powerhouse Kenneth Starr, the former prosecutor of Clinton’s affair with a White House intern; famed Harvard legal professor and constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz, and top litigator Jay Lefkowitz, who is still a senior partner at K&E. Not only did Epstein bring on a Dream Team of lawyers, he also hired top-caliber lawyers for his house staff, butlers, chauffeurs, chefs, maids, gardeners, assistants, friends, colleagues and even the girls he abused (preventing other attorneys and law enforcement from contacting the girls without Epstein’s attorneys present). 

Hiring one of the world’s largest law firms, Kirkland & Ellis, also served another purpose for Epstein: connections. The top prosecutor against Epstein in the Florida sex case was U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta. Acosta was a former lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis. Through the Kirkland & Ellis law firm connection, Acosta felt comfortable having secret settlement discussions with the Kirkland & Ellis lawyer Dream Team. As U.S. Attorney, Acosta approved a secret sweetheart federal (and local Florida) non-prosecution agreement with Epstein in 2008 — while also hiding the plea agreement from the more than 30 young female victims identified. (Acosta later was appointed as head of the U.S. Department of Labor under President Trump.)

Epstein used his connections and his army of the most expensive, talented and connected lawyers in history to finagle a plea that amazingly made him look like the victim of accidentally getting a massage unknowingly by a minor that turned sexual. Amazingly, at end of the criminal case, Starr wrote that Epstein “was a man whom I have come to deeply admire.” Florida and the U.S. government let Epstein off with a “slap on the wrist.” But most harmful was the hiding of the true gravity of the crimes, abusing more than 30 identified minors with a potential for over 100 other unidentified victims. No one but the FBI, the Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Florida Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and Epstein and Epstein’s co-conspirators knew the true scope of harm done. 

In sum, the state of Florida, with 20 million people, and the United States government, with 300 million people, could not effectively prosecute Epstein. His influence was too large. Later, during Epstein’s civil lawsuits, he was caught clearly lying in his deposition.  The private civil lawyers tried to hand off the perjury case to Palm Beach County prosecutors, and the Florida prosecutors declined.  

Mr. Worldwide  

Epstein’s influence infiltrated the mega-cities of Miami/Palm Beach, Manhattan/New York City and Paris, schmoozing and influencing higher power structures than the tiny USVI, all while eluding prosecution in Florida and New York — where the majority of his sexual abuse occurred. Epstein’s Florida residential phone/contact list listed more than 100 teenage girls’ phone numbers under the section for “Massages,” with contacts in Florida, New York, New Mexico and even Paris. But no massage girls for the USVI.  

I believe it is somewhat unfair to blame the USVI for not “catching” Epstein earlier when the U.S. government (the FBI) only re-opened its investigation of Epstein in 2018.  And this was only after Florida private civil lawyers had been chasing Epstein with victim lawsuits in the state court for more than 10 years. Epstein was so confident fighting the Florida civil lawyers that in 2019, he told them that his friend, President Trump, would never permit U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to file a new criminal case against him.  

These private civil lawyers were out-gunned and out-manned like little chihuahua dogs chasing and barking down the street after Epstein while he was protected by dozens of pedigree German-trained Rottweilers and Dobermans. (This is not to belittle these private civil lawyers, who did a heroic job. The team included the famed litigator David Boies, former federal judge Paul Cassell, Sigrid McCawley, Stan Pottinger, and the authors of Relentless Pursuit: My Fight for the Victims of Jeffery Epstein, attorneys Brad Edwards and Brittany Henderson — which I highly recommend reading. Edwards’ pursuit of justice against Epstein was nothing short of heroic.)  

Brad Edwards, attorney representing victims of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell speaks to the press outside federal court in Manhattan on June 28, 2022. (Shutterstock photo)
Brad Edwards, the attorney representing victims of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, speaks to the press outside the federal court in Manhattan on June 28, 2022. (Shutterstock photo)

JPMorgan

Epstein was Mr. World-Wide. He had multimillion-dollar houses in New York ($50M), Florida ($25M), New Mexico ($20M), and Paris, France ($10M). The majority of Epstein’s sex trafficking was in Florida and New York — where his team recruited girls that he sexually trained with massages in his Florida mansion and his New York penthouse, before traveling abroad with his favorite and “most loyal” girls. I say this to show that the Virgin Islands was only one point of contact in what was a much larger spiderweb. Now, coming full circle, what institution operated at the worldwide level of Epstein? His bank. Flagging his banking accounts would have brought Epstein’s nearly worldwide sex trafficking ring to a crashing halt, with no money to service his airplanes and helicopters.  

Jeffrey Epstein was accused of sex trafficking of minors at his mansion at 9 East 71st St. in Manhattan. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Jeffrey Epstein was accused of sex trafficking of minors at his mansion at 9 East 71st St. in Manhattan. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

JPMorgan has a $400 billion market cap with over $2 trillion under management.  JPMorgan is truly worldwide in every state and nearly every country in the world. Epstein’s top banker was then JPMorgan chief executive Jes Staley. Epstein sent pictures of young girls to Staley and then Staley used pet-Disney names to refer to which girls he would like to try next. Epstein and Staley talked about their “profound friendship” and that they were “family.” After Epstein’s 2008 conviction, he secretly violated a Florida no-travel order to travel to New York to visit with Staley, his JPMorgan banker. Staley later wrote back to Epstein, “I realize the danger in sending this e-mail. But it was great to be able, today, to give you, in New York City, a long heartfelt, hug. To my friend, thanks.” Staley later wrote that Epstein was “one of our [his and his wife’s] deepest friends and most honest of people.” However, top lawyer for JPMorgan, General Counsel Stephen Cutler, said in an email that Epstein “is not an honorable person in any way … he should not be a client.” Yet, Epstein stayed a client.

James "Jes" Staley, pictured in 2016. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)
James “Jes” Staley, pictured in 2016. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Staley and Cutler were not low-level employees of JPMorgan. One was a chief executive and the other was the company’s top lawyer. Staley’s net work is north of $120 million. Staley was also accused of participating in Epstein’s sexual assaults by one or more of Epstein’s victims. In court, I call this the smoking gun. This is also exactly the reason that JPMorgan cross-sued Staley, saying that it was all Staley’s fault for not reporting the sex trafficking, despite the fact the Staley was a chief executive. And why, when facing an upcoming trial, JPMorgan agreed to pay $290 million to Epstein’s young girl victims.  

Conclusion

New York, Florida, New Mexico and France have taken little action to dig into the sex trafficking of Epstein. Epstein died and escaped criminal prosecution. Civil actions are all that are left to create deterrence. I applaud the bravey of former Attorney General Denise George. (She also won praise and awards from the National Sexual Violence Response Center). I would also applaud Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. for having nothing to hide, and permitting this litigation to dig into the true highest levels of power — the international banking and finance system.  

Attorney General Denise George. (2019 Government House photo)

After Epstein’s death, when his probate was offered in the USVI, the USVI had an opportunity to try to help Epstein’s victims and the USVI taxpayers. George was brave enough to do something. The Attorney General’s team secured over $121 million for the victims and another $100 million for USVI taxpayers — the largest USVI civil settlement in history. Further, the former Attorney General, in joining the JPMorgan lawsuit, helped contribute pressure for the $290 million settlement for the victims. No other state, or even the federal government, has lent its help in civil litigation for the victims. (However, New York did secure a $150 million settlement from Deutsche Bank for its lax dealing with Jeffery Epstein, yet I hear little criticism of the State of New York in bringing that civil action.)  

Now, Epstein’s influence with Virgin Islands’ political officials and power brokers looks bad.  Yet these same political and charitable donations happened in the states. For example, just one of Epstein’s donations was more than $9 million to the venerable and respected Harvard University. Epstein build a façade of charitable philanthropy dating back to his touring Africa with the Clinton Foundation. 

JPMorgan has helped people of the Virgin Islands by revealing emails and communication showing a certain coziness with Epstein. This “sunlight” benefits us as Virgin Islanders. I don’t mind criticism of the Virgin Islands government. Constructive criticism is good; and we want our public officials to live up to a high ethical and moral standard. Still, JPMorgan has not been able to show actual knowledge of Epstein’s trafficking in the Virgin Islands and then agreed complicity by Virgin Islanders. Yet, JPMorgan’s chief executive Staley’s emails to his “profound friend” Epstein show knowledge of — and complicity in — the sex trafficking. Further, victims have accused Staley of participating in the abuse. JPMorgan evaluated this evidence and risk of trial with the victims and found the jury-risk to be worth a $290 million settlement.  

Campaign contribution emails and charity donation emails are embarrassing. But emails regarding young girls to an executive of a $450 billion international bank — and the response in sum being “great job, I cannot wait to try this girl” — is the smoking gun of knowing facilitation. I’d try that case for the Virgin Islands. So I end with attorney Michael Joseph’s prior conclusion that “No Big Bank would knowingly facilitate a registered pedophile’s child trafficking.” I couldn’t help but re-phrase this quote into: No Tobacco Company would knowingly facilitate addicting people. No Asbestos Company would knowingly conceal the dangers of asbestos. No Oil Company would knowingly facilitate climate change. Yet, all these companies lied to put profits over people.  

— Russell Pate is an attorney on St. Croix. 

*Kirkland & Ellis is also the law firm for Hess Corporation and HOVIC, fighting against nearly 1,000 former Virgin Islanders who worked at the Hess Refinery — and their spouses — who were exposed to asbestos in Hess and now suffering lung scarring, breathing difficulties, lung cancer, colon cancer or mesothelioma.   

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