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"MYSTERIOUS BILLIONAIRE WITH AN ILLICIT SECRET?"

Jeffrey Epstein, above, is one of the most mysterious of the country's mega-rich. He was known as much for his secrecy as for his love of fine things: magnificent homes, private jets, beautiful women, friendships with the world's elite. But at Palm Beach police headquarters, he was becoming known for something else: the regular arrival of teenage girls he hired to give him massages and, police say, perform sexual favors. Epstein was different from most sexual abuse suspects; he was far more powerful. He counted among his friends former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, along with some of the most prominent legal, scientific and business minds in the country.

Epstein, now 53, was a quintessential man of mystery. He amassed his fortune and friends quietly, always in the background as he navigated New York high society. Epstein is said to run $15 billion for wealthy clients but his client list is a closely guarded secret. He is said to handle accounts only of $1 billion or greater for the filthy rich. What is known, despite his power and wealth, Epstein never obtained a college degree yet he can converse on a wide range of subjects with world renowned scientists and Nobel Prize winners. Epstein is also a former math teacher and concert pianist. It’s been noted that he keeps a “salon of brilliant scientists on call for brainstorm discussions at all hours of the night.”

When he first attracted notice in the early 1990's, it was on account of the woman he was dating: Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late and very secretive British media tycoon, Robert Maxwell. In a lengthy article, headlined "The Mystery of Ghislaine Maxwell's Secret Love," the British Mail on Sunday tabloid laid out speculative stories suggesting that Epstein was an secret intelligence agent.

The media frenzy did not begin in full until a decade later. In September 2002, Epstein was flung into the limelight when he flew Bill Clinton and actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker to Africa on his private jet.

Not long ago, Epstein purchased one of his most lavish residences: a massive townhouse that dominates a block on Manhattan's Upper East Side. It is reported to have, among its finer features, closed-circuit television and a heated sidewalk to melt away fallen snow. That townhouse, thought to be the largest private residence in Manhattan, is only a piece of the extravagant world Epstein built over time. In New Mexico, he constructed a 27,000-square-foot hilltop mansion on a 10,000-acre ranch outside Santa Fe. Many believed it to be the largest home in the state. In Palm Beach, he bought a waterfront home on El Brillo Way. And he runs his business from a 100-acre private island in St. Thomas.

Perhaps as remarkable as his lavish homes is his extensive network of friends and associates at the highest echelons of power. This includes not only socialites but also business tycoons, media moguls, politicians, royalty and Nobel Prize-winning scientists whose research he often funds.

In Palm Beach, he lived in luxury. Three black Mercedes sat in his garage, alongside a green Harley-Davidson. His jet waited at a hangar at Palm Beach International Airport. At home, a private chef and a small staff stood at the ready. From a window in his mansion, he could look out on the Intracoastal Waterway and the West Palm Beach skyline. He seemed to be a man who had everything.

In March 2005, a worried mother contacted Palm Beach police. She said another parent had overheard a conversation between their children. Now the mother was afraid her 14-year-old daughter had been molested by a man on the island. The phone call triggered an extensive investigation, one that would lead detectives to Epstein but leave them frustrated.

Palm Beach police and the state attorney's office have declined to discuss the case. But a Palm Beach police report detailing the criminal probe offers a window into what detectives faced as they sought to close in on Epstein. Detectives interviewed the girl, who told them a friend had invited her to a rich man's house to perform a massage. She said the friend told her to say she was 18 if asked. At the house, she said she was paid $300 after stripping to her panties and massaging the man while he masturbated.

The investigation began in full after the girl identified Epstein in a photo as the man who had paid her. Police arranged for garbage trucks to set aside Epstein's trash so police could sift through it. They set up a video camera to record the comings and goings at his home. They monitored an airport hangar for signs of his private jet's arrivals and departures.

They quickly learned that the woman who took the 14-year-old girl to Epstein's house was Haley Robson, a Palm Beach Community College student from Loxahatchee. In a sworn statement at police headquarters, Robson, then 18, admitted she had taken at least six girls to visit Epstein, all between the ages of 14 and 16. Epstein paid her for each visit, she said.

During the drive back to her house, Robson told detectives, "I'm like a Heidi Fleiss." Police interviewed five alleged victims and 17 witnesses. Their report shows some of the girls said they had been instructed to have sex with another woman in front of Epstein, and one said she had direct intercourse with him.

In October, police searched the Palm Beach mansion. They discovered photos of naked, young-looking females, just as several of the girls had described in interviews. Hidden cameras were found in the garage area and inside a clock on Epstein's desk, alongside a girl's high school transcript. Two of Epstein's former employees told investigators that young-looking girls showed up to perform massages two or three times a day when Epstein was in town.

They said the girls were permitted many indulgences. A chef cooked for them. Workers gave them rides and handed out hundreds of dollars at a time. One employee told detectives he was told to send a dozen roses to one teenage girl after a high school drama performance. Others were given rental cars. One, according to police, received a $200 Christmas bonus.

The cops moved to cement their case. But as they tried to tighten the noose, they encountered other forces at work. In Orlando they interviewed a possible victim who told them nothing inappropriate had happened between her and Epstein. They asked her whether she had spoken to anyone else. She said yes, a private investigator had asked her the same questions.

When they subpoenaed one of Epstein's former employees, he told them the same thing. He and a private eye had met at a restaurant days earlier to go over what the man would tell investigators. Detectives received complaints that private eyes were posing as police officers. When they told Epstein's local attorney, Guy Fronstin, he said the investigators worked for Roy Black, the high-powered Miami lawyer who has defended the likes of Rush Limbaugh and William Kennedy Smith.

Prosecutors decided to take the case to the grand jury. It is not known how many of the girls testified before the grand jury. But Epstein's defense team said one girl who was subpoenaed — the one who said she had sexual intercourse with Epstein — never showed up.

The grand jury's indictment was handed down in July. It was not the one the police department had wanted. Instead of being slapped with a charge of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, Epstein was charged with one count of felony solicitation of prostitution, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail early July 23 and released hours later.

Meanwhile, Epstein's powerful friends continue to remain silent regarding this case.

Source: Andrew Marra @ The Palm Beach Post

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