The mysterious life and death of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein

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Jeffrey Epstein’s sex scandal and suicide has prompted huge conversation about the mysterious life of the New York financier.

The billionaire money manager and convicted sex offender hanged himself in his cell earlier this month while awaiting trial for charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy.

But despite being ruled a suicide by New York’s medical examiner, the financier’s death has sparked widespread conspiracy theories relating to his celebrity social circle, and to whether justice in his case would be reached.

Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry
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Jeffrey Epstein faced a lengthy prison sentence if convicted of sex trafficking charges

Here, Sky News looks at what we know about Epstein’s life and death and why his case is clouded in so many questions.

:: Who is Jeffrey Epstein?

Born into a working class family in Brooklyn, New York, the university dropout started his career as a maths and physics teacher at Dalton School, where he taught the son of Alan Greenberg, the chairman of investment bank Bear Stearns.

He left teaching after just two years – reportedly after being scouted by Mr Greenberg – and later founded his own company J Epstein and Co in 1982.

Described by New York Magazine in 2002 as a “moneyman of mystery”, Epstein catapulted himself to the height of the global elite by looking after billions of dollars of assets from a mostly-secret client base.

More from Jeffrey Epstein

Little St. James Island, one of the properties of financier Jeffrey Epstein, is seen in an aerial view near Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands July 21, 2019
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Epstein owned Little St James, a private Caribbean island

He later founded the Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation, based in the US Virgin Islands, to “support cutting edge science and science education around the world”, and donated $6.5m (£5.3m) to Harvard University for a mathematical biology and evolutionary dynamics programme.

But aside from this, the 66-year-old’s life was one full of question marks from his secretive work, his notoriously high-profile friends and his evasion of serious punishment for dozens of alleged sex crimes.

:: Sex trafficking and the ‘Lolita Express’

US Attorney Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein in July
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Sex trafficking charges against Epstein were announced in July

At the time of his death, Epstein was being held in custody on charges related to running a sex-trafficking scheme that involved dozens of underage girls.

He had pleaded not guilty and faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Epstein was specifically accused of using his private jet, nicknamed the “Lolita Express”, to shuttle girls as young as 14 between his lavish residences in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005.

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It was alleged the girls were recruited under the guise of being paid to massage the money manager – but would be molested instead.

According to FBI records, Epstein had relied on an entire staff of recruiters and employees who had allegedly lined up such victims for him.

His former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of the late press baron Robert Maxwell, is among those accused of recruiting some of the girls.

Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell pose together at the Mar-a-Lago club, Palm Beach, Florida, February 12, 2000
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Donald and Melania Trump with Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at the Mar-a-Lago club in 2000

The charges came after Epstein had notoriously evaded potential life behind bars for a similar sex crime case around a decade earlier.

It was a case that received enormous publicity, even more so due to his plea deal – described in a Miami Herald investigation as “the ultimate break”.

Dozens of women had accused the financier of sexual assault – some of whom have since spoken about their experiences publicly – and it looked likely that the 53-page federal indictment built against him would see him answer to a lengthy prison sentence.

But a plea deal struck by then US Attorney Alexander Acosta, who went on to become labour secretary under US President Donald Trump, led to Epstein avoiding federal charges.

In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges on two counts of soliciting prostitution from a minor, which ultimately led to a lesser punishment.

As a result, he was registered as a sex offender and was handed an 18-month sentence, of which he served 13 months.

Of those months, he was also allowed to spend 12 hours a day, six days a week, at his private office.

US President Donald Trump (L) listens to US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta as he speaks to the media early July 12, 2019 at the White House in Washington, DC. - Acosta announced his resignation over the Jeffrey Epstein affair. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Alexander Acosta (right) resigned from the Trump administration in July

The deal also meant the extent of any further crimes and victims were concealed, and the names of his co-conspirators were buried.

Following criticism of his handling of the case, Mr Acosta announced his resignation as labour secretary several days after Epstein was arrested on fresh charges earlier this year.

:: Celebrity connections

Epstein’s celebrity circle of connections famously included the likes of Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen and Prince Andrew.

His longtime friendship with the Duke of York came after they were introduced to each other in the 1990s, and they were known to holiday together and spend time at each other’s residences.

Their friendship appeared to also survive Epstein’s guilty plea to child prostitution charges in 2008, after pair were photographed together following the financier’s release from prison.

But the relationship came under pressure in 2015 when Andrew was dragged into the widely-discussed scandal after one of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Roberts, said she had been forced to have sex with the prince on several occasions when she was 17 years old.

Buckingham Palace has repeatedly denied the claims, deeming them “false and without any foundation”.

 Prince Andrew, Duke of York
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Prince Andrew maintained a long friendship with Epstein

On Monday, Andrew said in a statement that he was “appalled by recent reports of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged crimes” and “deplores any exploitation of any human being”.

He added that “the suggestion he would condone, participate or encourage any such behaviour is abhorrent”.

The statement was released after the Mail on Sunday surfaced video showing the duke inside Epstein’s residence in New York in 2010, waving goodbye to a woman, two years after Epstein’s 2008 conviction.

US President Bill Clinton
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Bill Clinton is said to have flown on Epstein’s private jet 26 times

Among Epstein’s other high-profile connections is Bill Clinton, who is said to have flown on the “Lolita Express” 26 times, while Mr Trump has previously joked about his Epstein’s appetite for younger women.

In a 2002 interview with New York magazine, Mr Trump quipped: “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy.

“He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

:: Where do the conspiracy theories stem from?

The rumour mill was fast pushed into motion after Epstein’s suicide at the New York Metropolitan correctional centre earlier this month.

The 66-year-old had recently returned from suicide watch and was to be checked every 30 minutes after an incident in which he was found on the floor of his cell with bruises on the neck.

This prompted questions after his death whether prison officers had simply dropped the ball with their inmate, or if someone in Epstein’s high-profile social circle had wanted him silenced.

US media reported that two staff members falsified the prison log to cover the fact they had fallen asleep and failed to check on Epstein when due to do so.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 10: The Metropolitan Correctional Facility, where Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell, is seen on August 10, 2019 in New York City. The financier, who faced sex trafficking charges, reportedly committed suicide overnight by hanging. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)
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Epstein hanged himself at the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in New York

They have since been suspended, and the FBI and justice department are continuing investigations.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who insisted in a media interview that he was “not a conspiracy theorist by nature”, said that “something is way too convenient” about the case.

He added: “It means that sometimes you see a series of events that you cannot give a normal explanation for, and there needs to be a full investigation.”

Mr Trump also joined the conspiracy conversation.

The US president retweeted a right-wing comedian’s unsubstantiated claim surrounding the incident, which suggested Bill Clinton was involved.

A spokesman for Mr Clinton said previously that the former president “knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York”.