BY JULIE K. BROWN AND DAVID SMILEY
NEW YORK — For the first time, women who say they were molested by Jeffrey Epstein when they were teenagers faced the wealthy sex offender inside a courtroom Monday, telling a New York federal judge that other girls will be in danger if Epstein is allowed to await a sex trafficking trial in the comfort of his Manhattan mansion.
“He is a scary person,” Courtney Wild, who says she met Epstein in Palm Beach back when she was 14, told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman. “He should not be walking the streets.”
Annie Farmer, another Epstein accuser, choked back tears as she recalled in court how she was flown to Epstein’s New Mexico residence as a teenager.
The unexpected and emotional testimony of the two accusers came as federal prosecutors explained during a highly anticipated bond hearing that their case against the infamous financier is growing stronger by the day.
Epstein has pleaded not guilty to charges of sex-trafficking of minors and conspiracy.
FACES 45 YEARS
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller said Monday that prosecutors are working to confirm the accounts of numerous witnesses who have come forward with information about Epstein since his July 6 arrest at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
Rossmiller said the Southern District of New York has “dramatically expanded the case” against Epstein since he was charged with luring dozens of teenage girls to his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach in the mid-2000s and paying them in for nude massages and sex acts.
Epstein, 66, faces up to 45 years in prison. His arrest followed the Miami Herald’s publication of a series, Perversion of Justice, that detailed a lenient plea agreement granted in 2008 by federal and state prosecutors in Florida and for the first time revealed first-person accounts from Epstein’s accusers.
The New York charges ignited a media firestorm, and led to the resignation Friday of U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney in South Florida when Epstein’s plea deal was negotiated.
BAIL RULING DELAYED
On Monday, Epstein offered to post the entirety of his estimated $500 million estate in order to be freed on bail from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan while awaiting trial.
But Berman announced early on in the dramatic hearing that he would need until 9 a.m. Thursday to issue a ruling on bail, leaving prosecutors and Epstein’s attorneys to play out the remainder of the hearing knowing that the results would remain uncertain for days.
The testimony from Epstein’s accusers came as a surprise to the room, when Berman asked if any of Epstein’s alleged victims were in attendance. Wild and Farmer announced themselves, and Berman said he would allow them to speak, should they wish-granting Epstein’s accusers their first chance to face him in court.
As Wild spoke, the courtroom sat in stunned silence. Epstein, who sat emotionless in his blue jumpsuit through most the hearing, shook his head.
Farmer said she met Epstein in New York when she was 16, and that he flew her to New Mexico. She declined to speak in detail about her interactions with Epstein, except to say that he was “inappropriate.”
Neither got a chance to confront Epstein a dozen years ago, when he was last facing charges related to his sexual misbehavior with teen girls.
Local and federal investigators in South Florida looked into allegations from dozens of girls in the mid-2000s, but let Epstein sign a non-prosecution agreement that set aside a federal indictment, allowing him to plead guilty to lesser state charges involving solicitation of a minor. Prosecutors agreed to sign the agreement without telling Epstein’s victims.
Epstein ultimately served 13 months of an 18-month sentence, during which he was allowed to leave his Palm Beach County jail six days a week for 12 hours a day to travel to his West Palm Beach office.
Now facing charges in New York, Epstein wanted Berman to release him Monday to live in isolation and under electronic monitoring inside the Manhattan mansion where he’s accused of abusing dozens of girls.
Prosecutors, though, said Epstein remains an extreme flight risk. Rossmiller said that a raid of the Manhattan residence this month turned up piles of cash, diamonds and an expired Saudi Arabia passport with Epstein’s image and an alias inside a locked safe.
They also said Epstein’s detailing of his finances was highly suspect.
“How much money does he have? Where is it? Is it overseas? Is it in diamonds or art?” asked Miller.