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Who Was the Real Jeffrey Epstein?

In his new book, attorney Bradley J. Edwards details the decade he spent on the case against billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein

A view of the stone mansion owned by Jeffrey Epstein on Little St. James Island.

Gabriel Lopez Albarran/AP/Shutterstock

Billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein knew a lot of powerful men’s secrets, from princes to captains of industry and global political leaders. But he protected his own behind teams of powerful lawyers who battled up until his death last summer to keep the black box of his sordid world sealed shut. He and his lawyers presumed they could mute powerless underage female sex-abuse victims, and they succeeded until Florida attorney Bradley J. Edwards got involved in their case in 2008. Edwards eventually represented 20 of the women in a lawsuit against the government for its 2007 sweetheart deal with Epstein, a deal obtained in spite of overwhelming evidence that Epstein was engaged in systematic sex abuse and human trafficking.

Palm Beach, Florida, police had evidence from dozens of teenage girls that Epstein preyed upon young, poor women, grooming them to participate in sex acts with him and other men. But Epstein’s fleet of pricy lawyers, including Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and former Bill Clinton special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, wheedled a negotiated plea out of the justice system, in which Epstein got less than a year of local jail time, and was allowed to work from his Palm Bach mansion during the day. Edwards’ lawsuit and other pressure on the Department of Justice, including a scathing exposé in the Miami Herald, ultimately led to a new investigation and Epstein’s arrest as he stepped off his private jet on a New Jersey airport tarmac last year.

In his new book about the saga, Relentless Pursuit: My Fight for the Victims of Jeffrey Epstein, Edwards, co-written with trial lawyer Brittany Henderson, shares insights into Epstein’s psychology, strategies, and vast network of enablers, from lawyers like Dershowitz to his alleged procurer, Ghislaine Maxwell. (Maxwell has denied any wrongdoing.)

Edwards talked to Rolling Stone from his office in Palm Beach about why he believes Epstein killed himself in jail, where Ghislaine Maxwell is, whether the investigation continues and will reveal any more famous men’s names, and rumors that Epstein and Maxwell worked for U.S. or Israeli intelligence.

Over the decade of depositions and discussions, you got to know Epstein as well as anyone. Can you describe his personality in a couple of sentences?
He was always trying to take advantage of everyone, and willing to engage in whatever tactic could advantage him to manipulate everyone around him in order to maintain power.

Does that make him kind of a sociopath, is there like a pathology there? 
Well, I’m not a psychologist, but this one, I think is the easiest sociopath to identify. There is nobody who knew him, who believes he operated with a conscience at all. He clearly only cared about himself. And he was constantly trying to make everyone believe he cared only about everyone else. He is the definition of a sociopath.

He dies in jail, and it’s ruled a suicide. A lot of people think that he didn’t kill himself. Why do you believe that he did?
Yeah, no doubt in my mind. His entire being was predicated on being the king and being in power and having control over everyone and everything at all times. Here is a guy who was a sex addict and of a particular type. He only engaged in sex acts with vulnerable people that he could control. The control and power was much more important to him than the sex. And whether the vulnerabilities that he was preying on was the young age of the victim, or the financial situation, or even the dancers and models of New York City who had a dream, and he could give them promises and then puppeteer the situation and manipulate them —  it was being able to control all of these people and using sex to demean them, degrade them, humiliate them, and further control them.

In addition, he had all of these employees that he controlled with his money, and he basically roped them into this cult of recruiting other vulnerable people for him to manipulate through sex.

Lastly, he doesn’t care about any of these people, but he has these powerful people that are either well-known scientists, other world leaders, businessmen, people that are respected in society, the world’s most-respected people. And through his money and his other connections, he’s able to control those people too.

When he gets arrested, his entire life is taken from him. He’s no longer sitting on a jet, living the life of a billionaire that is engaging in these sex acts, three or four times a day. In fact, he goes from that overindulgence of sex to no sex. Once his bond is denied, his employees no longer fear him. He can’t control them anymore. All of his powerful associates and associations begin turning on him. Whether it’s Les Wexner or President Trump or Bill Clinton, everybody starts distancing themselves and saying how terrible a guy he was. That part of his world caved in too.

He went from somebody who had absolute control over literally everybody and everything at all times to having no control whatsoever — and that was not a life that he was ever going to live. The only thing that he had left to control was himself. He was not going to be the one on the other end of being controlled and powerless. So he took his own life. Jeffrey Epstein Book

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You said once bond was denied, employees no longer feared him. Did you know him to be violent? Or what was the fear factor?
Jeffrey Epstein would weave into all of his conversations with me an element of fear. He would tell me, “You know, Brad, you should stop prosecuting me or else somebody is going to get hurt.” He would do it in a way that wasn’t overtly intimidating, but there were only two people in the room. He was saying I was going to get hurt.

Through talking with many of my clients, many of them, he would make clear how powerful he was, that he had friends in high places, and would often weave in how some of his powerful friends had done bad things to people — how he could make people lose their jobs, lose their careers, and cause anyone who crossed him to suffer consequences. That was part of his natural way of dealing with everyone. There wasn’t a single person that was ever around him, that I have ever encountered, who didn’t leave that interaction in extraordinary fear, thinking, “This is the last person on the universe that I want to cross.”

And would that include the very powerful people? Didn’t he collect videotape of powerful men in flagrante delicto?
Well, I think that that’s always the suspicion, right? I don’t know that there’s ever been any confirmation that he’s kept any video of any other powerful people doing any improper thing in his home. I never came across any videotapes, for instance, of that happening. I think that he would allude to it sometimes, too. But whether that was true or whether he was creating that illusion to kind of bolster his prominence, I really don’t know. I think that it’s very fair to say all of the powerful people knew that he was well-connected and was not beneath using whatever information he had to embarrass others or compromise them or put them into a compromised situation.

Where is Ghislaine Maxwell, to the best of your knowledge, and what is she up to?
I don’t know where Ghislaine is, but I know that she recently filed that lawsuit against the estate of Jeffrey Epstein in the Virgin Islands, asking for the estate to pay her attorney fees, in part so that she could remain in hiding. I think by her own admission, she’s hiding. Where she’s hiding? I don’t know.

Do you believe there is an active FBI investigation into Maxwell?
I believe that it’s still an active ongoing investigation. The prosecutors in New York have done an exemplary job, but are really hamstrung by the way that the government treated Jeffrey Epstein the first time.

What do you make of the rumors that Maxwell and Epstein worked for some intelligence agency?
I did encounter at least one witness that gave me very believable, credible information that was startling, that gave me the clear impression that Jeffrey Epstein at least had direct contacts through intelligence agencies and that struck me as true. I didn’t think that the witness had any motivation to make that up. And I’ve had conversations with Epstein about the fact that at some point in time he was working with the government, with the U.S. government, to recover money that the government had been defrauded and that he was like a financial bounty hunter. That’s something that he told me personally.

When you look at the allegations that [Ghislaine’s father] Robert Maxwell was associated with intelligence agencies, and it’s right after his death that Ghislaine meets Jeffrey Epstein, it would seem irresponsible to ignore all of those signs that seem to point to one or both of them having contacts with intelligence agencies, whether they’re associated or not.

Which country’s intelligence agencies?
It only looks to me like the United States and Israel.

Do you think Maxwell and Epstein were running some kind of blackmail factory?
Jeffrey Epstein had to be in absolute control of everything, so he had to know what everybody around him is doing at all times. So did he surveil all of the main females in his life? Absolutely. Did he have their passwords to get into their emails? I would have no doubt whatsoever. Did he have surveillance cameras set up at every aspect of his property that he also monitored when he needed to? Absolutely. Everything he could do so that he could know what all of the people around him were doing at all times, he did that. He really did micromanage this big chessboard of people, and it was only so that he could use anything that he could learn against them to further cause them to feel indebted to him and manipulate them for his own selfish purpose. Everything that he did revolved around control.

The FBI seized a lot of evidence from Epstein’s safe in Manhattan, including fake passports and diamonds. What other materials were taken from his properties, and will we ever see it?
In 2008, Jeffrey Epstein was first caught, and I think that he destroyed a lot of the tapes and other evidence. Then from 2010 through the time he was arrested in 2019, he started accumulating other naked photographs of females that he had taken either by himself or by Ghislaine. And he kept those as trophies. I think similarly there are surveillance videos that were also kept as trophies, and that a lot of that, if not all of it, was confiscated in the raid of his New York mansion. I think that the FBI has all of his trophies of young females that he accumulated after the 2009, 2010 period.

In a defamation case filed by one of the victims, Virginia Giuffre, against Ghislaine Maxwell for calling her a liar, the court publicly released hundreds of pages of documents the day before Epstein died, with new allegations involving Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and Sen. George Mitchell, for example. Many other famous men are believed to be battling in court right now to keep the rest of those documents redacted or sealed. How many more big names are in the Epstein case and still held confidentially?
I do think that there is a need for everyone to be careful with this, because just because somebody’s name is mentioned doesn’t mean that they did anything wrong. But because of the public belief in terms of who Jeffrey Epstein is, there is this natural inclination to assume somebody is guilty just by mere association. Having been the lawyer in the case, I understand both sides. I think that it would be best if everything was released and people could see it for what it was. I really don’t know how many other names or how many other documents are going to come out. But I think that the balancing test is tough.

Do you think the victims got justice?
The day that he was arrested was a day after a decade-long, constant, grueling battle, and they felt some sense of justice at that time. There was some closure. Jeffrey Epstein’s last robbery of his victims was to take his own life, so that all that they had achieved by finally getting him in custody was once again stolen from them.

Having watched this whole thing play out, how can the public be sure prosecutors don’t do these sweetheart deals for rich predators in future?
Through our case, we shed light on the illegal deal that was created for Jeffrey Epstein, which will make it nearly impossible for them to replicate. And we’ve increased the rights of victims under the Crime Victims Rights Act through that case, which will make it much more difficult for this to be replicated. So if we’ve accomplished anything, it is shedding light on this unbelievable injustice that happened so that it is not replicated again.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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