Belfast journalist and broadcaster Martin Dillon recalls his effort to probe into the life of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who apparently committed suicide in a New York jail at the weekend as he awaited trial on new charges of sexually abusing minors:
In the wake of the sudden death in custody of the billionaire pedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, whose passing has ominous echoes of the assassination of Robert Maxwell, I reminded myself of my links to both men. I co-authored a book about Maxwell – The Assassination of Robert Maxwell, Israel’s Superspy, but one on Epstein, well that got away.
Back in 2010, I became interested in Jeffrey Epstein, the notorious New York billionaire and pedophile who was also known as a philanthropist and Wall Street wizard. As a reputed Hedge Fund manager, he won the favors and friendships of rich and powerful people across the globe, including Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, Ehud Barak, and the Saudi leader, Mohammed Bin Salman. Epstein’s name was familiar to me since it had often appeared in New York’s gossip and high society press columns. Columnists tended to focus on his immense wealth, supposedly accumulated on Wall Street, though without any documentation to prove that was indeed the case. He possessed a small fleet of jets, the biggest Manhattan’s townhouse in the Upper Eastside, an estate in Palm Beach, Florida, a home in Paris, a massive ranch in New Mexico with its own runway for passenger jets, and a private island in the Caribbean.
I first heard his name in 2002 after my book, “The Assassination of Robert Maxwell – Israel’s Superspy,” which I co-authored with late Gordon Thomas, hit shelves in Europe and the United States. Maxwell was a larger than life press mogul and Mossad spy who stole and spent the pension funds of his workers in Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper. He was also an international fraudster with secret accounts in Lichtenstein, in Bulgaria, and in off-shore havens such as Cyprus. And to top that he as one of Israel’s most important spies who helped steal America’s nuclear secrets. Under the pretense of opening the Eastern block to democracy, he was embraced by Kremlin leaders and by Bulgaria’s Communist dictator, Todor Zhivkov. FBI files from the 1950s note Maxwell’s suspicious travels through the Communist bloc and the unfettered access he had to its leaders.
When my book was published, it received a savage review in the Washington Post by the celebrity lawyer, Alan Dershowitz. That did not come as a shock, but I found it interesting that Dershowitz’s personal client and buddy was Jeffrey Epstein whose claimed lover was the New York socialite, Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late Robert Maxwell. I knew that Ghislaine and her sister, Isabel, who was based in San Francisco, were enterprising and highly committed to defending their father’s sullied reputation. Prior to my book being published, Isabel had somehow acquired a copy of the manuscript, which had been kept under wraps in New York and London publishers’ offices, and ran with it to Israel to present it to her father’s friend, Shimon Perez, the former Israeli president, as well as to David Kimche, a former head of Mossad. My co-author, Gordon Thomas, received a call from one of his Mossad sources who had been visited by Isabel Maxwell who demanded that he publicly denounce the book. No one she approached took the bait. Nevertheless the pressure on my New York publisher must have been considerable because the book was given almost no publicity when it reached the American market.
I had some uneasy experiences writing the Maxwell book, especially making contact with some unsavory people linked to his unknown activities in Eastern Europe. So, when I began looking closely at Epstein’s life, I had a feeling that I might be wading again in dangerous waters. In 2010, as I debated with myself whether I should write a book about Epstein, I knew that two years earlier he had walked out of court with a sweetheart deal even though he pleaded guilty on prostitution charges in Florida court and had to register as sex- offender. Back in New York as a level 3 sex offender he was required by law to show up to court mandated check-ins, but he didn’t do so for 8 years.
In 2011, the Manhattan district attorney’s office tried to help Epstein by reducing his sex-offender status to the lowest possible classification, which would have restricted his personal information to the public and would have kept him from being listed on the registry of sex offenders for life. This after he had been proven to be a notorious sexual predator who preyed on underage girls, sexually abusing them in his Florida and New York mansions, on his jets and in homes abroad, including his private island.. He also trafficked girls in and out of the continental USA.
As I looked at his history, I became aware that while he was facing the Florida prosecution, he was surrounded by a powerful team of lawyers, including his friend, Alan Dershowitz. He rented offices opposite the detention c enter where he was being held and spent 15 hours a day in them, supposedly consulting with his lawyers. He would leave his c ell in the morning and return cell at night. He even paid Palm Beach Florida police officers to be his minders and gofers when he was in his offices. That absurd arrangement ran for eighteen months. He hired a team of private detectives who harassed his victims and their families, and finally all he received from the US legal system was a slap on the wrist. He served only 13 months of an 18 months sentence.
His victims were never told about the deal his lawyers struck with the US Federal Prosecutor in charge, Alex Acosta who until recently was Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary, with responsibility for combatting human trafficking. Acosta’s role in Epstein case has been described by a judge as a breach of law. There is little doubt in my mind that Acosta came under considerable pressure from Epstein’s legal team and his powerful friends to deliver a shameful legal outcome.
The scandal that should have arisen in 2008 following this legal travesty, and the fact that victims were kept in the dark, did not happen. The story did not appear to merit widespread coverage because most of the facts were hidden as part of the plea deal signed between Epstein and the Federal Government. No media outlet was anxious to expose how this pedophile who had abused a large number of girls had actually beaten the rap and received a slap on the wrist. No one, with a few exceptions, seemed eager to delve deeper into the evidence and give a voice to the victims, just as no one wanted to examine the origins of his wealth. How did a man who left no trace of his activities on Wall Street become, by his own admission, a billionaire? Who sold him the largest mansion in Manhattan because there was no documentation to show how much he paid for it, or the identity of the seller.
In 2002, The Vanity Fair investigative journalist Vicky Ward still stands out as the one person willing to take on Epstein before anyone did. She wrote a profile of him, delving into his questionable financial operations, and the lavish parties he threw in his Manhattan and Palm Beach residences, where celebrities from the worlds of politics, art, science and business were present. His parties were full of young girls, who were flown sometimes from other cities, or countries, on his private jets. When she subsequently tried to expose his weird sexual appetites and abuse of girls, she said that Graydon Carter, her Vanity Fair boss, killed her story after he met Epstein in one of his homes. The only other publications which it is fair to say kept a close eye on Epstein over the years were Britain’s Daily Mail and the New York Post. The Mail in particular published some shocking material about him, but generally the media on both sides of the Atlantic were content to ignore the story. As for Congress, it was silent.
Epstein was not shy about boasting of his conquests. He once claimed that a world renowned politician sent him at gift from Paris of twin girls to celebrate his birthday. They were flown back to Paris the following day. Those who know the identity of this politician have been wary of naming him. President Trump was a personal friend of Epstein and when asked in an interview what his opinion of him was, he didn’t spare praise, calling him a terrific guy who is a lot of fun to be with. Trump added: It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” Video has emerged of Trump joking with Epstein about females dancing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home and golf club. Epstein operated mainly from his estate in Palm Beach, assisted by Ghislaine Maxwell, who recruited some of the girls, herself. He had special massage tables installed in all his properties and on his private jet. He preferred schoolgirls to “massage” him in the presence of one of his lady recruiters who usually gave instructions to the girls, supervising the action, and sometimes participating. Massages were precursors to other sexual activities.
The girls, often vulnerable and from poor backgrounds were paid hundreds of dollars in cash and promised other favors like college tuition .They were given extra money if they brought their school friends to him. No one can state exactly how many girls he may have sexually abused over years in and outside the United States. He preferred girls as young as 14, and between 2001 through 2005 he created his own sex ring, a network of girls always at his disposal whenever he was in his Palm Beach and Manhattan residences My Epstein odyssey began in early 2010 when I received a call from a Palm Beach socialite who contacted me on advice of her friend. I was, she said, the ideal person to write a book on Epstein’s scandalous past. Her friend had read my book on Robert Maxwell and that spurred her to recommend me. I shall refer to this socialite as Mrs. A, as I do not have permission to reveal her identity. She matter-of-factly told me that she had amassed a lot of materials she could make available to me. She had also had access to a lawyer who represented some of Epstein victims, and to an important law enforcement figure in Palm Beach. She was somewhat vague about her obsession with the Epstein case, but she seemed pretty determined to expose his crimes to the American public. She knew that the real story remained untold.
By this time, the mainstream treated it like it was toxic. Mrs. A had approached a local writer, but soon after the project became known among certain circles in Palm Beach it fell through. She suspected the writer was bought off. She arranged to meet me in a luxe apartment that she kept in Manhattan. She was a good looking woman in her early fifties, and at first glance she didn’t differ much from the cliché of a socialite. She even had tiny dogs which socialites treasure as much as their designer bags and jewelry. She was knowledgeable about Epstein, his personality, his legal case, his bizarre sexual behaviors, as well as the complex but unexplained legal aspects connected to his case. She spoke with genuine concern for the girls he had trafficked and the complete lack of compassion and humanity with which the legal system had been treated them.
As we talked, it struck me that she might have been hurt emotionally by him. Had she been romantically connected to him in the past? Had he jilted her? She appeared to admit that she had been linked to him romantically in the past, but she did not feel it had any relevance to the matter in hand, namely me writing a book about him. I chose to leave the matter there. She subsequently refused to discuss the matter in later meetings with me. During our first meeting, she provided me with a box of documents, some of which were merely newspaper clippings and of limited value to a writer. Still there were other papers that grabbed my attention, especially victims.’ statements, phone logs from Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse and flight logs. After months of poring into documents, trying to connect the dots, making phone calls to lawyers and victims, and linking up with potential sources, I was still not convinced writing a book on Epstein was a good idea. Not that I didn’t like the project, but its realization seemed slim.
Many of the people I spoke about it advised me against going deep into Epstein’s affairs. A colleague whom I trusted said that my chances of publishing such a book were nil. Epstein had powerful and influential friends and best litigation lawyers able to thwart anyone writing negatively about him. I was even told a bizarre story about a well-known magazine editor who found an animal head nailed to the door of his upstate cottage after he launched an investigation into the life of the financier Epstein. I treated this episode as a rumor but I was also concerned that leading media outlets generally ignored Epstein’s pedophile past.
It would be disingenuous of me to say that I was not apprehensive about investigating Epstein. My wife was not keen on me getting into the weeds once again after the serious security issues I had over the years while reporting and writing on the Troubles in Ireland. I was also concerned about the scope of the project, the potential cost of the research, and the real possibility of not finding a publisher. Legal readings alone of such a book I knew would be very costly.
Nevertheless, I decided to do what I do best and continued to pry into Epstein’s past. The victims.’ statements were traumatic and harrowing. They convinced me that anyone other than Epstein would have been sitting in jail for decades. He had proved the maxim that if you are white and extremely wealthy in America the Law cannot touch you. In this case Justice had turned a blind eye to the vulnerable and powerless. Epstein‘s flight logs intrigued me most. It was like working on a complex puzzle, trying to match the first names of girls on the flights to ones listed in the Palm Beach case files. Actually the logs contained little information about the girls, especially on international flights. Making me wonder if a lax immigration system was in place, or Epstein had paid officials to look the other way.
In early 2011, I received a phone call from a very distressed Mrs. A. She was in her Manhattan apartment alone with her dogs when someone using a powerful laser had projected the image of a penis onto her bedroom ceiling. She claimed it was Epstein’s. His victims had described it as a weird, one comparing it to an egg. I had seen a photo of it that had been presented during the Florida trial and it was indeed most grotesque in shape. Mrs. .A said she was too embarrassed to call the FBI. Perhaps she had a nightmare, I suggested. Absolutely not, she insisted. I believed her because it was just too outrageous a story for her to concoct. I had, however, to convince myself that it was technically feasible for someone to do this. I contacted a military source who confirmed that such a laser only existed within the military – industrial complex. It would have meant someone scoping out her building like a sniper to choose the right point from which to deliver the image. It was technically complex but feasible
“This friend of yours must have some powerful enemies,” my source remarked. By this time, I was made aware that Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell knew that I was on their heels. Mrs. A admitted that a friend of hers had revealed to Epstein her link to me. The same friend told Mrs. A that Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell were nervous about my interest in them. I decided that it was time to discuss the practicalities of writing the book with Mrs. A. I met her at a home that she and her husband were renting for the summer in the Hamptons. We talked about the complexity of the project and how it might take more than a year to complete the investigative side of it. It would entail a lot of travel to the places Epstein operated. There would also be legal costs. It was likely no publisher would be eager to finance it, judging from the fact that there was not a single book on Epstein published. I would have to personally finance it.
As she wanted to be part of the project, she needed to talk to her husband and, as a consequence, another meeting took place with him present. He was a very wealthy man. He smoked a Cuban cigar during lunch .Some nervousness was evident in the way his month twitched when he spoke. Like the smart businessman I presumed him to be, he wanted to know the practical hurdles of writing the book, including the eventual blowback that might come from Epstein, or from his powerful team of lawyers and associates. He dwelt on these issues a lot, and it struck me he was not so much worried about my safety as he was about the impact of the book on his social and financial affairs. I told him that it was a book I would not have chosen to write without a publishing contract, but I had amassed enough material to proceed with it. Whether or not he knew, his wife had made clear to me in previous conversations that she wanted the book written on a commission bases. They would finance it and the final product would be theirs. Alternatively, they could act like a publisher and fund the research and writing.
As I was leaving, Mrs. A promised to get back to me within a week with their decision about how they would like to proceed. I had a nagging feeling that her husband was scared of the project and that money would not be a critical element in any decision he might reach. A week passed, and then several, without a call from her. I eventually phoned her, and as I had anticipated, they did not wish to be financially involved in the project, but she hoped that I would write the book with her help. It was clear she was committed to the project, but she was not in charge of the purse strings. I believe that her husband was wary of being linked to an expose of Epstein. I gave up the project and returned Mrs. A her box of papers.
The whole experience took up more than a year of my time. By late summer of 2010, I had come to the realization that writing a book on Epstein was a task with too many obstacles. Would I have persisted without being funded properly, I doubt it as I was convinced that I would not have found a willing publisher. Back then, Epstein was Mister Untouchable. It has taken almost nine years and the tenacity of the journalists at the Miami Herald, especially the excellent reporting of Julie Brown, to tear the cobwebs off the Epstein scandal. The Me Too movement, and the fact that there are more female members of Congress interested in trafficking and sexual abuse of girls and young women, has also helped those investigating Epstein. The public now knows what happened in Palm Beach, Florida and Congress won’t let it be repeated. The fence around J. Epstein is about to come down and some of his associates will seek deals with prosecutors. I am thrilled that the journalists at the Miami Herald proved how important investigative print journalism can be. Such enthusiasm and determination was lacking when I was working alone to expose Epstein’s hideous crimes. His enablers and the powerful friends who knew what he was up didn’t care.
Writers are often asked if they regret not writing a particular book, and whether I should have written the one on Epstein at the time will always trouble me.
There will now be plenty of publishers clamoring for books on Epstein, but I fear he may have taken many of his secrets to the grave. Investigators will be wondering where he hid his personal files, and perhaps videos. If he worked for more than one intelligence agency as some of my sources privately speculate, he will have left little evidence behind of the compromising materials he assembled on some of the world’s most powerful figures. The parallels between his life and Robert Maxwell’s should not be overlooked. There will be many questions asked about his untimely passing and rightly so, just as similar questions were a asked when Maxwell when he vanished off his yacht at night in the middle of the ocean. I suspect that there will be a few scapegoats, too. Ghislaine Maxwell and some of the other insiders in the Epstein fold may well face the rigors of the law as more details emerge of his sexploits across the globe. The big enablers may have the money and the influence to skate freely from the net that will surely close on the weaker fish.