Jeffrey Epstein is shown in this undated Florida Department of Law Enforcement photo..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Accused sex offender and US billionaire Jeffrey Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of sex trafficking as prosecutors accused him of luring dozens of girls as young as 14 to his luxury homes in New York and Florida and paying them for sex acts.
Epstein will remain in jail until his bail hearing scheduled for July 11.
An indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan said Epstein, 66, "intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18, including because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age."
Epstein, a former hedge fund manager, was accused of arranging for girls to perform nude "massages" and other sex acts, and paying some girls to recruit others.
The indictment charged Epstein with one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy for alleged misconduct from at least 2002 to 2005. The maximum possible sentence for conviction on those charges is 45 years.
Prosecutors will ask a judge that Epstein be detained pending trial, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a press conference.
"The alleged behavior shocks the conscience," Berman said.
He said that despite the large amount of time that has passed, "it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims, now young women. They deserve their day in court."
Epstein has said in earlier court filings that his encounters with alleged victims were consensual and that he believed they were 18 when they occurred.
Epstein was arrested on Saturday night at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he had returned on his private plane from France, and appeared in federal court on Monday.
Known for socializing with politicians and royalty, Epstein once had friends including US President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton, and according to court papers Britain's Prince Andrew.
None of those people were mentioned in the indictment. The case is being handled by the public corruption unit of Berman's office. Berman said he would not comment on Epstein's associates and added "not to read into that one way or another."
Epstein first came under investigation in 2005 after police in Palm Beach, Florida, received reports he had sexually abused underage girls in his mansion there.
By 2007, Epstein was facing a potential federal indictment for sexually abusing dozens of girls between 1999 and 2007, directing others to abuse them, and paying employees to bring victims to him, according to court filings.
However, Epstein struck a deal to plead guilty to a lesser Florida state felony prostitution charge. He served 13 months in a county jail, but was allowed to leave during the day to go to his office, and agreed to register as a sex offender.
Prosecutors involved in that agreement included Alex Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and now Trump's Secretary of Labor.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Labor on Sunday declined to comment on Epstein's arrest.
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