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Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein Arrested For Alleged Sex Trafficking

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein has been taken into federal custody related to sex trafficking. According to The Daily Beast, who first reported this story, Epstein was arrested yesterday and will appear in court tomorrow to be charged in connection with sex trafficking minors. This comes more than a decade after accusations first surfaced that Epstein had paid dozens of young girls for sex. But he avoided federal criminal charges and significant prison time in a plea deal that continues to draw criticism for its lenient terms. For more on this, we called Pervaiz Shallwani, one of the Daily Beast reporters who broke this story. And he's with us now.

Thank you so much for being with us.

PERVAIZ SHALLWANI: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And I'm just going to start by saying that the details may be disturbing to some listeners because this does involve accusations about the treatment of young girls. So, having said that, Pervaiz, as briefly as you can, what are the allegations that first surfaced against Epstein in 2007 and 2008?

SHALLWANI: He was accused of, you know, essentially a revolving door of underage minors that were being brought to his to his residence in Palm Beach.

MARTIN: And what happened? What then? We do know - so he was prosecuted, so what happened?

SHALLWANI: Yeah. He was charged federally. But in the end - and, you know, he has a very good at the time, high-powered law team, you know, including Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, who were essentially able to get the federal prosecutors to sign a nonprosecution agreement in which he pleaded guilty to two prostitution-related counts at the state level and was sentenced to 13 months in prison, of which he spent a portion of that doing a work release out of prison.

MARTIN: So no federal prosecution at the time, pleaded guilty to lesser state charges, served some months in a county lockup and was actually able to go to work during that time...

SHALLWANI: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...To (unintelligible).

SHALLWANI: Correct.

MARTIN: So what has changed since then? What has happened now? What's causing these federal charges to be brought now?

SHALLWANI: I think, you know, a big part of this is, one, the #MeToo movement, but two, a bigger part of this is the Miami Herald's three-part series late last year that sort of got everybody interested in this, including the Daily Beast - and we've been working on this now for a year - that highlighted, one, the non-prosecution agreement, why these girls weren't given their day in court - essentially made the U.S. Justice Department look bad.

MARTIN: Well, the alleged child trafficking, the events that led to the prosecution, took place between 2002 and 2005 to my knowledge. So to your knowledge, have there been incidents subsequent to those that caused this to go forward? Is there a subsequent investigation about subsequent conduct? Or, I mean, what do we know about these charges, which, as I understand it, are still under seal, if I have that right?

SHALLWANI: Correct. And the indictment will not be unsealed until Monday. But he was arrested on the unsealed indictment on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and will - and there are just two charges, and they're dated to 2002 to 2005, so it's unclear if - you know, if they have anything on him from 2005. As part of the announcement that's supposed to come on Monday, federal prosecutors and the FBI are expected to ask people that they've set up a hotline for victims and witnesses to call. So I think they're hoping that more can come out in the coming weeks and months.

MARTIN: Have you heard from Epstein's legal team?

SHALLWANI: We reached out to Epstein's legal team, and they essentially gave us no comment at this point.

MARTIN: And what can we expect to happen tomorrow?

SHALLWANI: I think what's going to happen tomorrow is going to be a crazy show. He's already in a Manhattan prison - a prison where actually he's - that also houses Paul Manafort and El Chapo - and he'll appear before a judge. And I'm assuming his team will ask for bail, and the prosecutors will ask that he not be given bail. And, you know, hopefully, some of the underlying investigation that led to the charges will show up in an indictment that will be unsealed tomorrow.

MARTIN: That was Pervaiz Shallwani of the Daily Beast talking about new federal charges against billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein. The Daily Beast broke the story of his arrest yesterday.

Pervaiz, thanks so much for talking to us.

SHALLWANI: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.