AP NEW YORK, By David B Carusou — Social media has been rife in recent weeks with posts speculating that a judge is about to release a list of clients or co-conspirators of Jeffrey Epstein, the jet-setting financier who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
There is no such list and the truth is less scandalous.
Previously sealed court documents related to Epstein will be released starting Wednesday, but the great majority of those whose names appear in the documents aren’t accused of wrongdoing or have been mentioned previously in legal proceedings or news accounts.
Still, the document release has fueled misinformation. Social media users baselessly claimed that late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s name might appear in the documents, spurred by a crack New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers made Tuesday on ESPN’s “The Pat McAfee Show.”
Here’s what we know about the documents:
WHO IS JEFFREY EPSTEIN?
A millionaire known for associating with celebrities, politicians, billionaires and academic stars, Epstein was initially arrested in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2005 after he was accused of paying a 14-year-old girl for sex.
Dozens of other underage girls described similar sexual abuse, but prosecutors ultimately allowed the financier to plead guilty in 2008 to a charge involving a single victim. He served 13 months in a jail work-release program.
Some famous acquaintances abandoned Epstein after his conviction, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, but many did not. Epstein continued to mingle with the rich and famous for another decade, often through philanthropic work.
Reporting by the Miami Herald renewed interest in the scandal, and federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein in 2019 with sex trafficking. He killed himself in jail while awaiting trial.
The U.S. attorney in Manhattan then prosecuted Epstein’s former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, for helping recruit his underage victims. She was convicted in 2021 and is serving a 20-year prison term.
WHAT ARE THESE RECORDS ABOUT?
The documents being unsealed are part of a lawsuit filed against Maxwell in 2015 by one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre. She is one of the dozens of women who sued Epstein saying he had abused them at his homes in Florida, New York, the U.S. Virgin Islands and New Mexico.
Giuffre said the summer she turned 17, she was lured away from a job as a spa attendant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club to become a “masseuse” for Epstein — a job that involved performing sexual acts.
Giuffre also claimed she was pressured into having sex with men in Epstein’s social orbit, most famously with Britain’s Prince Andrew. All of those men said her accounts were fabricated. She settled a lawsuit against Prince Andrew in 2022. That same year, Giuffre withdrew an accusation she had made against Epstein’s former attorney, the law professor Alan Dershowitz, saying she “ may have made a mistake ” in identifying him as an abuser.
Giuffre’s lawsuit against Maxwell was settled in 2017, but the Miami Herald went to court to access court papers initially filed under seal, including transcripts of interviews the lawyers did with potential witnesses.
About 2,000 pages were unsealed by a court in 2019. Additional documents were released in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
This next batch of around 250 records had sections that were blacked out or were sealed entirely because of concerns about the privacy rights of Epstein’s victims and other people whose names had come up during the legal battle but weren’t complicit in his crimes.
Audrey Strauss, acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, points to a photo of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell during a news conference, July 2, 2020, in New York. Social media is abuzz with news that a judge is about to release a list of “clients,” or “associates” or maybe “co-conspirators,” of Jeffrey Epstein, the jet-setting financier who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. While some previously sealed court records are indeed being made public, the great majority of the people whose names appear in those documents are not accused of any wrongdoing AP Photo/John Minchillo
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE?
U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska, who evaluated the documents to decide what should be unsealed, said in her December order that she was releasing the records because much of the information within them is already public.
Some records have been released, either in part or in full, in other court cases. Much of the rest involve topics and people who have been exhaustively covered in nearly two decades’ worth of newspaper stories, TV documentaries, interviews, books and testimony at Maxwell’s criminal trial.
The people named in the records include many of Epstein’s accusers, members of his staff who told their stories to tabloid newspapers, people who served as witnesses at Maxwell’s trial, people who were mentioned in passing during depositions but aren’t accused of anything salacious, and people who investigated Epstein, including prosecutors, a journalist and a detective.
There are also boldface names of public figures known to have associated with Epstein over the years, but whose relationships with him have already been well-documented elsewhere, the judge said.
One of them is Jean-Luc Brunel, a French modeling agent close to Epstein who was awaiting trial on charges that he raped underage girls when he killed himself in a Paris jail in 2022. Giuffre was among the women who had accused Brunel of sexual abuse.
Clinton and Trump both factor in the court file, partly because Giuffre was questioned by Maxwell’s lawyers about inaccuracies in newspaper stories about her time with Epstein. One story quoted her as saying she had ridden in a helicopter with Clinton and flirted with Trump. Giuffre said neither of those things actually happened. She hasn’t accused either former president of wrongdoing.
The judge said a handful of names should remain blacked out in the documents because they would identify people who were sexually abused. The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they decide to tell their stories publicly, as Giuffre has done.
WHEN WILL THE DOCUMENTS BE MADE PUBLIC?
On December 18, the judge gave the people whose names appear in the records 14 days to appeal, then directed the lawyers to confer, prepare the documents for unsealing and post them on the docket.
Two people whose name appears in the records have been given additional time to make arguments to the court as to why their names should stay redacted.
The judge said parties in the case would begin posting some of the sealed documents publicly Wednesday.
Feature Photo – Jeffrey Epstein appears in court, July 30, 2008, in West Palm Beach, Fla On Monday, Dec 18, 2023, a federal judge ordered the public disclosure of the identities of more than 150 people mentioned in a mountain of court documents related to the late-financier, saying that most of the names were already public and that many had not objected to the release Uma Sanghvi/The Palm Beach Post via AP