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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 16, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsLawsuit Accuses V.I. Government of Abetting Epstein's Sex-Trafficking Scheme

Lawsuit Accuses V.I. Government of Abetting Epstein’s Sex-Trafficking Scheme

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

A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Manhattan federal court by victims of Jeffrey Epstein accuses the V.I. government of a sprawling conspiracy to aid in the late disgraced financier’s sex-trafficking scheme in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

The 37-page complaint by Jane Does 1-5 alleges that from 2001 through 2019, the territory’s highest-ranking officials actively facilitated Epstein’s crimes and misconduct by providing him a haven to create, operate, maintain, and expand his sex-trafficking ring.

“The venture had everything a sex-trafficking organization needed — funding, infrastructure, a place to operate said organization openly and without fear of interference or oversight, and complicit laws, employees, and government,” the suit alleges. “It was by many accounts the most powerful and wealthiest sex-trafficking venture ever created.”

The suit names the V.I. Government, former First Lady Cecile de Jongh, her husband, former Gov. John de Jongh, former Gov. Kenneth Mapp, former Sen. Celestino White, former Attorney General Vincent Frazer, V.I. Port Authority Director Carlton Dowe in his role as a then-senator, Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, and John Does 1-100.

The complaint alleges the USVI negligently and/or intentionally provided special treatment to Epstein and his sex-trafficking venture through the territory’s laws, employees, staff, airports, ports, and government staff and officials, thereby ensuring its continued operation. “Without the USVI government, inclusive of Defendants, Epstein’s sex trafficking scheme could not have existed and flourished, undisturbed in the USVI,” it says.

The women are seeking “punitive and exemplary damages and treble damages in an amount to be determined at trial,” according to the suit, and are represented by New York personal injury lawyers Jordan K. Merson and Jordan Rutsky of Merson Law and Annette G. Hasapidis, who according to her website is a civil appellate attorney and strategic trial consultant.

Epstein, 66, was found dead by apparent suicide in August 2019 in a New York City jail cell where he was being held on federal sex-trafficking charges. Those charges stemmed from investigations into his controversial 2008 non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in Florida, under which he pled guilty to state charges of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution, despite evidence that dozens more girls were involved. He served 13 months in a work-release program that allowed him to spend most of his days at his Palm Beach office, made payments to victims, and became a registered sex offender.

His primary residence was Little St. James, his private island estate off St. Thomas, where it is alleged that for years he trafficked in girls and young women and ran a complex web of shell companies registered in the USVI that enabled his crimes.

The Jane Doe complaint draws heavily on information gleaned from depositions of territory officials in the V.I. government’s own lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase for its alleged violations of the TVPA as Epstein’s banker, which was settled in September for $75 million.  However, there are also some new allegations, including that in 2003 or 2004, Epstein raped Jane Doe 4 at his office in Red Hook on St. Thomas in a “brutal assault” that lasted 10 minutes and occurred within earshot of Cecile de Jongh, who had a desk in an adjoining room.

The former first lady was the office manager of Epstein’s Southern Trust company that received some $300 million in tax benefits through the territory’s Economic Development Commission, including while her husband was governor from 2007 to 2015, and was at the center of the V.I. government’s lawsuit against Epstein’s estate after his death. That suit was settled last December for $105 million.

While de Jongh said in her deposition in the JPMorgan lawsuit in May that she had no direct knowledge of Epstein’s scheme, Jane Doe 4 alleges that when she emerged from Epstein’s office after the rape, de Jongh looked “straight into her eyes from her desk and did nothing at that time or at any time afterwards. Given her proximity, it would have been impossible for her to have not heard the sexual assault and yet she did nothing with that information at that time.”

Such brazen assaults were possible because the V.I. government was influenced by, and dependent upon, Epstein’s financial largesse, and as a result gave him carte blanche to operate how he wanted in the territory despite being a registered sex offender, the suit alleges.

“To support and expand his sex trafficking empire, Epstein gave payments, advice, and other benefits to the highest USVI government officials,” according to the complaint. For example, as was also detailed in the JPMorgan suit, Epstein:

– loaned John de Jongh $215,000 to help him settle a criminal case in which the former governor was accused of using public money to improve his private home;
– paid a “USVI customs agent and/or border control worker under the guise of playing Caribbean drums for him on his island”;
– was told by Cecile de Jongh to put White on a monthly retainer “to obtain government loyalty and access”;
– aided Mapp in drafting Economic Development Commission legislation;
– worked with both a sitting and former V.I. governor on a plan to secure money for the cash-strapped territory by extending it a $50 million loan “collateralized by USVI’s islands”;
– and, contributed $30,000 to Plaskett’s political campaign, the delegate having previously served as an attorney for the EDC when Epstein was approved for benefits, while also having worked briefly for his USVI attorney, Erika Kellerhals.

In exchange for his payoffs, Epstein received influence over the very laws that were supposed to constrain him, including waivers of sex offender monitoring requirements, the suit alleges. It notes that in 2011, as was revealed in the JPMorgan depositions, Cecile de Jongh “solicited Epstein’s input on USVI’s pending sex offender monitoring legislation and shared draft language from the DOJ with Epstein, writing: ‘This is the suggested language; will it work for you?’ Epstein responded with directions on how to loosen the restrictions,” particularly concerning required travel notifications.

Frazer was attorney general at the time, and “Epstein and his lawyers continued to stay in touch with USVI Justice Department Attorneys and various senators in order to influence the text of the sex offender monitoring bill,” the suit alleges.

When Epstein’s preferred language was omitted from the final bill, de Jongh assured him that they would work with Frazer to gain leniency, which they did, eventually obtaining a waiver of the 21-day notice requirement for travel outside the territory, which was reduced to 24 hours, the suit states.

The complaint alleges that everyone from V.I. Police Department officers, customs officials and air traffic controllers, to airport baggage check agents and “USVI coast guard agents” failed to follow standard procedures or enforce the territory’s laws when it came to Epstein, “in accordance with government orders.”

According to the suit, that included allowing Epstein to always land his private plane “in isolated areas” and to disembark without any government oversight or inquiry; letting two of his victims enter the territory on expired visas; not checking the passports or IDs of the young women he was traveling with; not inspecting his plane upon arrival or departure; not questioning the women as to their welfare or whether they were in the USVI legally and of their own accord, and “providing Epstein with protection when traveling around the USVI.”

The suit alleges that “USVI officials directed law enforcement officers, airport personnel, customs officials, and any other government employees to extend any courtesy or assistance to Epstein, and his affluent customers and guests as part of their official duties,” and “directed law enforcement officers, airport personnel, customs officials, and any other government employees to disregard or refuse any requests for assistance by any of Epstein’s female victims, such as securing a return of the passports from Epstein, and to report any pleas for help directly to Epstein.”

Other government staff and officials, including the John Doe Defendants, followed the orders of these officials and, in turn, maintained their government employment, the suit alleges.

The Jane Does 1-5 have filed the suit on behalf of themselves and as a class action for “all women who were sexually trafficked to and through the United States Virgin Islands by Jeffrey Epstein between the years 2001 through 2019.”

They also have filed a motion for leave to proceed anonymously “to protect their identities because of the sensitive and highly personal nature of this matter, which involves sexual assault.”

The plaintiffs’ safety, right to privacy, and security outweigh the public interest in their identification, the motion states.

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