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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Cecile de Jongh Files Motion to Dismiss N.Y. Suit Alleging Collusion with Epstein

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Former First Lady Cecile de Jongh has filed a motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought by six victims of Jeffrey Epstein in Manhattan federal court, calling their claims that she and other V.I. officials aided his sex-trafficking scheme “a 225-paragraph mess of vague and scattershot allegations.”

Not only does the New York court lack jurisdiction over crimes alleged to have occurred in the U.S. Virgin Islands, de Jongh was never properly served (the summons was delivered to a doorman at her brother-in-law’s New York apartment) and regardless, she is immune from prosecution as the former first lady and also because the plaintiffs executed broad releases in their settlements with Epstein’s estate, which included his employees and anyone who had otherwise worked for him, according to the 20-page memorandum accompanying the motion to dismiss.

De Jongh, who managed Epstein’s St. Thomas office from 2000 to 2019, also wants the court to strike as “false, immaterial, and highly prejudicial” two paragraphs in the complaint that allege she was aware of two violent rapes by him at the office between 2002 and 2004 but did nothing to stop them. The plaintiffs claim she was at a desk outside the door and must have heard the assaults.

“These allegations are untrue. Ms. de Jongh did work in that office during that timeframe and is familiar with the described desk outside Mr. Epstein’s office. But she never sat there, and she never witnessed or heard Mr. Epstein sexually assault anyone,” the memorandum states.

“I had a private office of my own. It shared a wall with Mr. Epstein’s office, but that wall was very insulated with thick wall paneling; it was virtually impossible for me to hear anything that happened in his office from my own,” de Jongh states in a declaration filed as an exhibit with the memorandum.

Additionally, the plaintiffs have alleged the suit’s relevant timeline is when de Jongh was first lady from 2007 to 2015 and the purported rapes fall outside of that period, the memorandum states, and in any case, bystanders cannot be held liable under tort law in New York, it adds.

Her New York attorney, Amelia J. Schmidt of Kaiser PLLC, also filed notice that de Jongh wishes to join a motion to dismiss the case that was filed March 8 by the V.I. Justice Department on behalf of fellow defendants former Gov. Kenneth Mapp and former V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer.

Her husband, former Gov. John de Jongh Jr., represented by Daniel Louis Cevallos of Cevallos and Wong LLP in New York and David J. Cattie of the Cattie Law Firm on St. Thomas, filed his own motion to dismiss in January and also seeks to join the government’s motion, saying it raises substantially the same issues but is more fully briefed because the court allowed Mapp and Frazer to file a 40-page memorandum in support of their motion, while the other defendants are limited to 20 pages.

Allegations of a Sprawling Conspiracy

The class-action suit, filed in late November in Manhattan federal court by Jane Does 1-5 and amended in December to add an additional plaintiff, accuses the V.I. government of a sprawling conspiracy to aid Epstein’s sex-trafficking scheme.

The wealthy financier, 66, who became a registered sex offender after pleading guilty to procuring a minor for prostitution in Florida in 2008 in a controversial plea deal, died by apparent suicide in August 2019 while detained in New York on federal human trafficking charges. His primary residence was Little St. James, his private island off St. Thomas where for years he ran a complex web of shell companies registered in the USVI that enabled his crimes.

Along with the de Jonghs, Mapp and Frazer, the suit names Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, former Sen. Celestino White, V.I. Port Authority Director Carlton Dowe in his role as a then-senator, and John Does 1-100, who are variously described as “USVI air traffic controllers,” “USVI airport baggage check agents,” USVI police officers, and “USVI coast guard agents.”

Plaskett, who is represented by Eric R. Breslin, has until March 28 to respond to the suit, while White and Dowe last month both requested more time to answer the complaint until they secure New York attorneys. The plaintiffs then have until April 11 to file an omnibus opposition to all outstanding motions, Judge Arun Subramanian ruled on March 4.

The V.I. Justice Department has said in its filings that it does not consider first ladies to be government employees — a decision that Cecile de Jongh’s attorney disputes — and it is unclear why it is representing only Mapp and Frazer and not John de Jongh Jr., White or Dowe, though it makes passing reference to the fact that they were government officials “only for part of the alleged time period.”

The JPMorgan Chase Connection

The Jane Does’ complaint leans heavily on information uncovered through discovery by both sides in the V.I. government’s lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase — Epstein’s banker from about 1999 until 2013 — that was settled in September for $75 million.

In fact, the complaint states that it was not until the V.I. government sued the bank and territory officials were deposed as part of that case that “the Plaintiffs and public learned of the many acts committed by Defendants which contributed to and caused Plaintiffs’ injuries.”

It levels many of the same accusations that attorneys for JPMorgan did to highlight the V.I. government’s cozy ties with Epstein:

– that the de Jonghs borrowed $215,000 from Epstein so John de Jongh could resolve a criminal case against him over the use of public money for improvements to his private home;
– that Plaskett visited his Manhattan home to seek political contributions and he gave money to her reelection campaign and to the local Democratic Party;
– that he gave to local charities favored by the governor;
– that government officials facilitated visas and licenses for his victims;
– that he attempted to influence the territory’s sex offender legislation in his favor, eventually receiving a waiver of the 21-day notice of travel down to 24 hours when Frazer was attorney general;
– and received lucrative tax breaks for his businesses worth $300 million from the Economic Development Commission, including when Plaskett was an attorney there.

“To the extent Plaintiffs complain about these Territorial decisions, they must bring their cases in the Virgin Islands. Contacts with New York are insufficient to warrant jurisdiction in this case,” the Justice Department argues, but also says that transferring the matter to the territory would be improper because case law asserts that courts should not waste judicial assets on cases that are clearly doomed, and because it would reward plaintiffs for their lack of diligence in choosing a proper forum.

Indeed, central to the motions to dismiss is whether the District Court for the Southern District of New York even has jurisdiction to hear the case or is the proper venue, given that the alleged crimes occurred in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While Epstein owned a mansion and other properties in New York, and the plaintiffs all live there, the defendants are all residents of the USVI and had little to no interaction with him in that state, let alone business dealings, according to court filings.

“To the extent Plaintiffs rely on the Government’s prior suit against JPMorgan in this district, that filing does not authorize exercise of personal jurisdiction here,” the government’s motion to dismiss states, citing case law that “a party’s appearance as petitioner in one proceeding does not necessarily subject it to personal jurisdiction in another matter, even in the same court.”

The plaintiffs “only allege injuries occurring in the Virgin Islands as the result of Epstein’s horrific acts committed in the Virgin Islands. There are no allegations of abuse occurring in New York that were caused by the actions of the Government of the Virgin Islands,” the motion states.

Moreover, the Justice Department argues, the suit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs were required by law to deliver copies of the summons to the governor but did not; they are requesting that a federal court in New York hold a non-New York sovereign government responsible for human trafficking of its residents in the U.S. Virgin Islands; the complaint fails to state a claim for relief; and sovereign immunity bars Trafficking Victims Protection Act and negligence claims against government defendants.

The complaint also erroneously names the John Does as “employees of the USVI,” it says.

“All the John Doe defendants except the police officers are federal, not Territorial, employees. Cecile de Jongh and Stacey Plaskett were not government officials. The remaining individual defendants were government officials only for part of the alleged time period. Thus, the Complaint fails to state a claim because most of the allegations are not attributable to the Government,” the Justice Department argues.

A Stay In New York for Surgery

De Jongh states in her declaration that she stayed at a New York City apartment Epstein reserved for friends and guests when she had knee replacement surgeries in June and September 2017 because the procedure was not available at the time in the USVI. She was on medical leave and the only work she performed was to file some urgent insurance paperwork in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria that September, according to her memorandum and declaration.

Allegations in the plaintiffs’ amended complaint that de Jongh stayed at the apartment “to advise and assist [Epstein] in securing the USVI’s cooperation as a safe harbor for his sex-trafficking ring” are demonstrably untrue, it states.

Even construing the complaint to allege that venue is proper because de Jongh traveled to New York in 2017, that happened two years after the alleged relevant timeframe and does not come close to meeting legal requirements that the venue must be where a “substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred,” it states.

It is unclear whether de Jongh is being sued in her official capacity as first lady, or her individual capacity — the memorandum argues that she should be considered a government official for her public-facing duties as her husband’s assistant when he was governor from 2007 to 2015 — but that ultimately does not matter, it asserts, because the plaintiffs released any claims they may have had against her in either capacity when they settled with Epstein’s estate.

“The Release — which clearly covers claims against her in her individual capacity — is so broad that it should be read to include official-capacity lawsuits, too. But even if the Court disagrees that the Release bars official-capacity claims, as a government official, Ms. de Jongh is immune from the claims in the Complaint,” the memorandum states.

Jane Does Granted Anonymity 

All discovery in the case has been stayed pending an initial pre-trial conference currently set for May 3. The Jane Does have been allowed to proceed anonymously, given the sensitive nature of sexual assault cases, and on Wednesday the judge denied without prejudice the government’s request that their identities be revealed to the defendants “to enable a full defense.”

“Plaintiffs represented to the Court in their motion to proceed anonymously that ‘Plaintiffs’ counsel will confidentially disclose Plaintiffs’ names to counsel for the Defendants,’” Subramanian wrote in his order. “Plaintiffs have not indicated that they are back-tracking from that representation, and the Court will hold them to it. Plaintiffs’ main grievance is not that the names should not be disclosed, but that there is no basis for disclosure now before discovery and while motions to dismiss are being filed,” he said.

“For their part, Defendants don’t explain why immediate disclosure is warranted. But Defendants fully acknowledge the sensitive and serious issues raised by disclosure of the identities of sex-trafficking victims. If Defendants can articulate a justification for immediate disclosure prior to discovery, then the Court will consider it,” the judge said.

The plaintiffs are represented by Jennifer Chloris Plotkin, Jordan K. Merson and Kimberly A. Kramer of Merson Law, PLLC.

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