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    Epstein was jailed for child sex crime in 2008. Why wasn’t he exiled?


    The embarrassing ‘Epstein list’ is like ‘a hand reaching from the grave’ for many of the rich and famous, one analyst said.

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    To many, it was the epitome of a sweetheart deal.

    Jeffrey Epstein had reportedly been accused of sexually abusing dozens of minor girls at his Palm Beach mansion. He was staring down the barrel of a possible federal indictment that could have sent him to prison for life.

    Instead, the wealthy financier pleaded guilty in Florida state court in 2008 to one count each of soliciting minors for prostitution and soliciting a prostitute. He served a 13-month stint in county jail and was regularly allowed to leave as part of a generous work release program.

    Once he was free, a gilded Rolodex of the world’s wealthy and powerful continued to mingle with the convicted sex offender.

    As a wave of new documents from a civil lawsuit brought by an Epstein accuser reignites conversations about the illustrious figures the financier rubbed shoulders with, it raises the question: How did he have such staying power before his 2019 arrest on federal sex trafficking charges?

    Money talks

    “Power and sex, that’s the answer,” said Michael Gross, author of “The Flight of the WASP: The Rise, Fall, and Future of America’s Original Ruling Class” and a longtime chronicler of money and power in the U.S.

    Lots of people wanted things from Epstein.

    He “associated with prominent and wealthy individuals from business, political, academic, and social circles, and engaged in substantial philanthropy,” a 2020 Justice Department report on the Florida plea deal said. Epstein also employed “numerous female personal assistants, several of whom traveled with him,” the report noted.

    More: What’s true and false about Jeffrey Epstein and the individuals on his list

    The controversial plea deal forced Epstein to register as a sex offender, which for most people would spell social death. Not him.

    “Before 2017, sure, there’s people who said, ‘Epstein did this and gee, I don’t want anything more to do with him,'” said David Ring, a Los Angeles-based trial lawyer who represents sexual abuse victims.

    “But there’s plenty of other people who kind of shrugged and said: ‘That guy’s a powerful guy with a lot of money and a lot of connections. I’m OK hanging out with him,'” Ring said.

    Meetings with Bill Gates and with models

    Epstein had several scheduled meetings with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who was photographed with several models introduced by Epstein, The Wall Street Journal reported. A Gates spokesperson told the newspaper Epstein would spontaneously bring people in for photos with Gates, who met with Epstein for only philanthropic reasons and now regrets it.

    Epstein planned at least three dozen meetings with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak between 2013 and 2017, The Journal reported. Barak said he discussed politics with interesting people at Epstein’s townhouse and often came with his wife.

    Related: Epstein list brings a frenzy of Clinton and Trump conspiracies

    The #MeToo movement, which reached national prominence in 2017, shifted the perceived risks of associating with men with criminal convictions or reputations for impropriety, Ring told USA TODAY.

    From “2017 on, I think people realized if someone has been − if there’s credible evidence or they’ve been convicted of that type of conduct − they’re persona non grata,” he said. “It’s the death knell to your career to then continue to be associated with that person.”

    The age factor versus #MeToo

    The tolerance (or celebration) of powerful men with checkered reputations is in part generational, observers noted.

    Former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump were friendly with Epstein before his Florida guilty plea. Trump even noted to a magazine in 2002 that Epstein “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

    “They are all baby boomers, or close to it,” Gross said of the boldface names tarnished by their ties to Epstein. “They all grew up in a different time with a different set of entitlements. It was a pre-#MeToo mindset.

    “They come from a time when, if you’re rich and powerful enough, you can do what you want without consequences.”

    More: Jeffrey Epstein document release highlights his sprawling connections across states

    Of those who reportedly associated with Epstein after his 2008 guilty plea, many told The Journal they had come to him for financial services or business advice, or to try to raise money for elite universities and nonprofits.

    Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, told The New York Times he didn’t regret receiving $150,000, which he donated to the college, from one of Epstein’s charitable foundations.

    “People don’t understand what this job is,” Botstein told The Times, referring to his fundraising duties. “You cannot pick and choose, because among the very rich is a higher percentage of unpleasant and not very attractive people. Capitalism is a rough system.”

    Dinner with Woody Allen

    Epstein died in jail, in what was later ruled a suicide, before he could be tried on sex trafficking charges targeting the years 2002 to 2005. His former girlfriend, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, was convicted of sex trafficking in 2021 and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

    No one else has been charged in connection with Epstein’s crimes.

    But in the years before his 2019 arrest, before the #MeToo movement, and before a 2018 Miami Herald expose of the leniency he’d received a decade earlier, Epstein was far from a social pariah.

    Money attracts, and it might encourage some to avert their eyes.“Epstein charmed a lot of respectable people into mingling with him because of his celebrity status and money and the little island” he owned in the Caribbean, said George Arzt, a veteran Democratic political consultant. “All it brought was trouble, and a lot of it.”

    Woody Allen and his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, had dozens of dinners at Epstein’s mansion, according to a Wall Street Journal article that drew largely from Epstein’s 2013-2017 emails and schedules. The famed − notorious in some circles − film director told The Journal that he and his wife lived in the same neighborhood as Epstein and that Allen never spent time with Epstein without his wife there.

    ‘Like a hand from the grave’

    Some of the biggest names who have come up in “Epstein list” documents didn’t have any known relationship with him after his 2008 Florida conviction. Clinton and Trump aren’t known to have had contact with him in the subsequent years, and Prince Andrew is known to have had only one such visit in 2010, which he told the BBC was so he cut off their friendship in person.

    The Epstein papers released so far don’t include any allegations of criminal wrongdoing by either of the former presidents. Andrew paid a financial settlement to one accuser who said she was trafficked to him at 17 years old; he has denied her allegations.

    More: Obama, Oprah, Kimmel among names on fabricated Epstein island visitor list | Fact check

    Anyone who was associated with Epstein has ended up tainted by the relationship, Arzt said.

    The latest troves of Epstein-related documents fueled a frenzy of conspiracy theories lacking in proof of criminal wrongdoing, particularly among opponents of Clinton and Trump. Many in the public remain curious about potential unknowns concerning Epstein’s circles.

    “Everyone is going to run, but you can’t because you’re on a list. He’s like a hand reaching from the grave,” Arzt said.

    ‘Morality is for the little people’

    Increased consequences, including potential criminal ones, for those who purchase sex may have added to the perceived risks of associating with someone like Epstein, said Lauren Hersh, a former sex trafficking prosecutor and national director of World Without Exploitation, an organization that combats sex trafficking.

    “Soliciting a minor was probably a little bit more egregious a decade ago, but still, I think what you found a decade ago was that those who purchased really were operating without any consequence and without any stigma,” Hersh said.

    Hersh, whose organization supports decriminalizing sex workers while also targeting pimps, brothel owners and buyers, noted a law created by Maine in June that reflects that model. She added that the famous names emerging as the public tries to understand both Epstein’s social world and the potential spread of his criminal circle reflect a far more widespread reality.

    “It’s just really important to recognize that although the names that are coming out are men with prestige and power, that this sort of scenario is playing out in every city, in every community, where mostly men are out there and purchasing vulnerable people,” she said. “And at the heart of this is gender inequality, income inequality and racial inequality.”

    “The elites think that morality is for the little people,” Gross said. “The next elite will likely be more careful.”

    More: Aaron Rodgers attacking Jimmy Kimmel in ‘Epstein list’ feud is page out of the MAGA playbook

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