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Opinion: The Warning Signs Around Jeffrey Epstein

There is probably a lot of sordidness to uncover in the story of Jeffrey Epstein, in custody this weekend after being charged with sex trafficking. He already served 13 months, a decade ago, on a "work release" where he could go to his office in Palm Beach for twelve hours a day.

It is sickening to recount the new charges: Epstein luring underage girls — children — into his various mansions, and forcing them into sex acts.

Courtney Wild, now an adult, told Julie K. Brown, the intrepid Miami Herald reporter who pursued the story, that she was 14 and wore braces when she was brought to Epstein's home.

"Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way," she said. "He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to, and he was right."

How could someone so prominent commit crimes on a staggering scale, evade prosecution and still host parties to which celebrities would flock like hungry birds?

This week, I read the 2002 New York magazine profile of Epstein in which Donald Trump, who now says they had a falling out, declares, "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."

The profile begins, "He comes with cash to burn, a fleet of airplanes, and a keen eye for the ladies — to say nothing of a relentless brain." It goes on to say, "As some collect butterflies, he collects beautiful minds."

You notice a theme. "Epstein is frequently seen around town with a bevy of comely young women," the article notes, again and again, as if describing pieces of furniture, and "his bevy of assistants — many of them conspicuously attractive young women."

He also paid to surround himself with famous friends. "Epstein brings a trophy-hunter's zeal to his collection of scientists and politicians," says the article, which includes plaudits from scientists whose work he helped fund, George Mitchell, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, and of course Bill Clinton, whom he hosted on one of his planes for a trip to Africa to explore economic development.

By the way: Kevin Spacey also joined them on that trip. He's now facing charges of sexual assault for groping a young man in a bar.

Jeffrey Epstein may have believed, as many celebrities seem to, that the radiance of fame can conceal almost anything.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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