How Jeffrey Epstein’s Death May Affect Lingering Lawsuits and Investigations

New York financier and convicted sex offender died Saturday of an apparent suicide

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman announces sex trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announcing charges against Jeffrey Epstein on July 8. (Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)

Jeffrey Epstein left behind many unanswered questions following his death on Saturday from an apparent suicide. Among them: How precisely did he die and why was it allowed to happen? What options remain for his accusers seeking justice through the courts? And how does his death affect the federal investigation into charges of child sex trafficking brought against him in July? Though Epstein will no longer stand trial, his case is far from over. Here’s everything we know about what happens next.

Epstein’s Criminal Charges and Pending Lawsuits

While Epstein’s accusers will not be able to face him in court, the federal criminal investigation into the charges of child sex trafficking against Epstein will continue. “To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement, “let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing.”

That specific mention of a “conspiracy count” could have big implications. Daniel C. Richman, a former Manhattan prosecutor and criminal law professor at Columbia, told the New York Times that Berman’s statement suggests the government has identified potential co-conspirators. Prosecutors may also zero in on Epstein’s finances and charge potential conspirators with aiding and abetting or money laundering, according to the Times, and any assets that the government seizes from Epstein’s estate could also be used toward financial compensation for his accusers.

No one else has been charged, but, on Friday, a federal appeals court unsealed documents from a 2015 defamation case filed against Epstein’s ex-girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who accused Maxwell of recruiting her as a minor to have sex with Epstein. The case was originally settled for an undisclosed amount, which the Miami Herald reported to be “millions.” Several of Epstein’s other accusers have also named Maxwell as Epstein’s accomplice, but Maxwell has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
In the unsealed documents, Giuffre also named several prominent men she says Epstein or Maxwell ordered her to have sex with. The list includes Prince Andrew and the lawyer Alan Dershowitz — both of whom Giuffre has named before — as well as former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; former Maine Sen. George Mitchell; MC2 modeling agency owner Jean-Luc Brunel; financier Glenn Dubin; and MIT scientist Marvin Minsky, who died in 2016.

Richardson, Mitchell, and Dubin have since all strongly denied any wrongdoing. Buckingham Palace has also repeatedly denied wrongdoing by Prince Andrew. Brunel has not responded to repeated requests for comment from multiple outlets regarding the unsealed documents, but he has in the past denied committing “any illicit act or any wrongdoing” as a scouter or model agencies manager, and he participated “neither directly nor indirectly, in the actions Mr. Jeffrey Epstein is being accused of,” according to a 2015 Guardian story.

Dershowitz has also consistently denied any wrongdoing; Giuffre filed a defamation lawsuit against him in June after he referred to her as a “serial liar,” “prostitute,” and “bad mother” during several television appearances.

In the same unsealed court documents, Giuffre also said that she met Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore at Epstein’s Virgin Islands home, but did not accuse them of wrongdoing. “We know both Trump and Clinton were associated with Epstein at various times in various ways, but in terms of what we have, there’s no indication that any three of them did anything improper,” Giuffre’s lawyer David Boies told the Miami Herald last Friday.

And while Epstein’s death means he will never appear in court, some of his accusers’ lawyers told the New York Times that they may pursue civil lawsuits or claims against Epstein’s estate, which is estimated to be worth $500 million.

“We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed, the pain and trauma he caused so many people,” Jennifer Araoz, a woman who accused Epstein of raping her when she was 15, said in a statement. “Epstein is gone, but justice must still be served.”

The Investigation Into Epstein’s Death

In late July, Epstein was placed on suicide watch at the Metropolitan Correctional Center after he was found injured in his cell. The incident still has not been fully explained; anonymous sources at the time gave conflicting accounts to media outlets: one suggested that the incident was faked, one suggested Epstein actually attempted suicide, and another speculated he was attacked by another inmate.

For reasons that are not yet known, Epstein was taken off suicide watch after just a few days, though even after that a guard was supposed to check on Epstein’s cell every 30 minutes, and he was required to have a cellmate. According to the Washington Post, shortly before his death the procedure was not followed. His cellmate was transferred on Friday, a new cellmate was not assigned, and Epstein was not checked on for several hours before he was found dead. And according to the Associated Press, Epstein’s guards were also “working extreme overtime shifts to make up for staffing shortages.”

Meanwhile, an autopsy conducted over the weekend is still “pending further information,” New York’s chief medical examiner Barbara Sampson announced on Sunday. Pathologist and Fox News contributor Michael Biden, who had testified at the murder trials for O. J. Simpson and Phil Spector, was brought in to observe the autopsy.

The Department of Justice’s inspector general and the F.B.I. have opened investigations into the circumstances of Epstein’s death, Attorney General William Barr announced on Saturday. He later added on Monday, “We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation. … We will get to the bottom of what happened.”

Conspiracy Theories Flourish

In the absence of any concrete explanation for what happened, deep skepticism about the circumstances of Epstein’s death — and more than a few conspiracy theories — has flourished.

Celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis, George Takei, Ellen Barkin, Jeffrey Wright, Patricia Arquette and Rosie O’Donnell all expressed varying degrees of mistrust about the situation. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough suggested on Twitter that the Russians were somehow involved. And former senator Claire McCaskill tweeted that “something stinks to high heaven” about Epstein’s death.

But the most prominent person to dabble in Epstein conspiracy theories turned out to be Donald Trump, who called attention on Twitter to completely unfounded claims that Bill and Hillary Clinton had Epstein murdered. The claim is connected to the “Clinton Body Count,”  a widely debunked conspiracy theory dating back to the 1990s that claims the Clintons have masterminded the assassination of dozens of their political enemies.

Asked on Monday about why Trump promoted the conspiracy theory, a Trump 2020 campaign aide told Fox News, “I think the president was basically asking some of the questions that we saw millions of Americans probably asking themselves, whether it be on social media or just even in their own private conversations, about the very strange circumstances around this person’s death.”

“Every grotesque beat of Epstein’s story — including, now, his untimely death — illustrates how America’s culture of elite impunity, failure, and corruption has allowed conspiracy theorists to thrive,” The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins wrote. “No matter what facts emerge in the coming weeks or months, some observers will forever remain unconvinced.”