The Epstein Story Is Not About Celebrities and Shiny Objects

Virginia Roberts, Jeffrey Epstein
On March 22, 2018, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Virginia Roberts holds a photo of herself at age 16, when she says Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein began abusing her sexually. Photo credit: © Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS via ZUMA Wire
Reading Time: 15 minutes

On the surface, the Jeffrey Epstein story reads like a Hollywood screenplay. All the elements are there: big-name celebrities from around the world, straying and corrupt politicians, a fantasy Caribbean island, a western ranch, a posh Manhattan townhouse, and a private jet called the “Lolita Express.” All glitz and glamor… except that it’s not!

At its heart, this is a story of sex trafficking in underage girls, child abuse, and young victims whose lives will be forever haunted by Epstein and his pals.

Our guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, investigative journalist Nick Bryant, has been on this story since 2012 — in part, because he covered and wrote a book about a similar saga years ago that also involved powerful pedophiles, blackmail, corrupt grand juries, law enforcement looking the other way, and the suicide of one of the perpetrators.

With that other story as background, Bryant, who was the first to publish Epstein’s “little black book,” looks at this sordid story in the context of the human damage done by Epstein and his fellow perpetrators. Based on his many years following the trail, Bryant talks about what he thinks really happened in that jail cell, and what needs to happen now.

He calls out the disgrace that should befall those who try to cover it up, and wonders why the public is not more outraged. Bryant makes a passionate case that, even with Epstein dead, all of the perpetrators, famous and not, need to be held accountable and brought to justice.


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Full Text Transcript:

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Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m your host, Jeff Schechtman.

We are always caught up chasing the shiny object. The Jeffrey Epstein story is no exception. The strange and mysterious and still unknown circumstances of his suicide, the celebrity names that swirled around him, Manhattan and Palm Beach real estate, secluded islands and western ranches. It’s a story any screenwriter would love, but at core, we mustn’t forget that this is a story of child abuse, of a sexual predator taking advantage of children, of a pedophile who had a nose for finding other pedophiles, who had children recruiting other children, and arguably whose ability to blackmail those that were compromised kept him going for a long time.

Jeff Schechtman: My guest, investigative journalist Nick Bryant, has been on the Epstein story since 2012, and from the beginning saw this story for what it was. What’s more, he investigated and wrote about a similar case that was kind of a template for the sordid world of Epstein. This is not really a story of celebrity, but a story that goes to the basest form of human behavior. Joining me to talk about it today, I’m joined by investigative journalist, Nick Bryant. Nick, thanks so much for joining us on the WhoWhatWhy podcast.
Nick Bryant: Thanks so much for the interview.
Jeff Schechtman: Nick, how did you originally come to this story back in 2012?
Nick Bryant: Well, I’d written a book called The Franklin Scandal and that was published towards the end of 2009 and I really learned a lot about child trafficking writing that book. It was about the interstate trafficking network that was covered up by state and federal agencies, and it did include blackmail and hidden cameras. As soon as I saw what was going on with Epstein, I realized that it was like another Franklin scandal. It had all the hallmarks of a Franklin scandal, so that’s when I started to dig into it.
Jeff Schechtman: One of the things that gets forgotten in this story is exactly what you investigated in the previous book, that it is about child trafficking, that it is about child abuse and we tend to get caught up in the celebrity aspect of it and lose that important.
Nick Bryant: Yeah, I’ve been disappointed with the media, the way that it … I mean on the one hand, the media has focused so much attention on Jeffrey Epstein, but it’s truly unfortunate that the plight of the victims has been lost. What’s really troubling to me is Maxwell, Epstein’s partner in crime, has not been indicted, those other procurers have not been indicted. If our society does not indict those people … because they were as guilty as Epstein. We cannot allow our society to not indict those people because we know that Epstein and his cronies, his powerful cronies abused a lot of children. And we need to know who those powerful cronies are and they have to receive justice too. I’m sure that Maxwell and those procurers would roll over on those power brokers in a heartbeat to get an easier sentence. What I’m seeing now is a little disappointing. I mean, Maxwell hasn’t been indicted, Sarah Kellen hasn’t been indicted, these other women that procured children for Epstein haven’t been indicted. As I said before, as a society we cannot allow that.
Jeff Schechtman: Why do you think they haven’t been indicted? What do you think that it is in the investigation or in the coverup of the investigation that has really held them back from indicting these other people?
Nick Bryant: The men involved are so powerful that I’m sure that there have been back deals that had been struck. I mean there was obviously a back deal that was struck in Florida. The federal investigation in Florida identified like 36 victims of Epstein, underage victims, and yet he spent 13 months in the county pokey, even though the federal investigation was aware of at least 36 victims. It was that kind of power that was deployed to get Epstein that sweetheart deal in 2008, and now we’re seeing a continuation of that coverup because the Department of Justice isn’t indicting those procurers.
Jeff Schechtman: What about the Southern District of New York that went as far as indicting Epstein in this case before the suicide, but when he was picked up on July 6th, if they went that far, why didn’t they go further with the rest of the individuals involved?
Nick Bryant: I don’t know. The Southern District has a reputation for being autonomous, as being a cowboy, and I think, I can’t prove this, but I think that the Southern District might have acted autonomously. Epstein was surprised when he was arrested at Teterboro airport. When the Palm Beach police department raided his mansion in Palm Beach, he was not surprised. He had sanitized his place, so I don’t think Epstein had been given a heads up on this arrest. That’s my working theory, anyway.
Jeff Schechtman: Why did they wait so long? You talk about sanitizing. Why did they wait so long after his arrest, and in this case, after the suicide, before they went to the island and to his ranch in New Mexico?
Nick Bryant: Because this has been a coverup from the very beginning. This has been a coverup from 2006. I think that our federal law enforcement is perpetuating that coverup, and until we see the procurers indicted, until we see the power brokers that molested these girls get indicted, then it’s going to be a coverup and we can’t allow that. I mean these people have to be accountable for their crimes against children, and I really hope as a society we make our government make those people accountable, if the people’s will can do that at this point.
Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about what it would take to make those indictments stick. What evidence is there out there at this point that hasn’t been sanitized?
Nick Bryant: I think it would be relatively easy. You get Ghislaine Maxwell and Sarah Kellen and those other procurers, you give them a deal, we won’t put you in prison for 30 years or 20 years for aiding and abetting child trafficking, and they’ll roll over on those power brokers in a heartbeat, but until those women get indicted, it’s a continuing coverup.
Jeff Schechtman: Is it your sense that they will be indicted?
Nick Bryant: I read this article in Politico, which Politico is, I mean it is what it is, but they were talking to a former federal prosecutor and the former federal prosecutor was saying that there might not be enough evidence on Maxwell. I mean that is completely idiotic. Maxwell is on the passenger manifests that I have. I was the guy that put Epstein’s black book on the internet, I was the guy that put Epstein’s passenger manifests on the internet, and she’s all over this. I mean, and the kids, the victims who have come forward said that Maxwell participated in their molestations too. There’s no way that she is innocent, and there’s probably scores of victims who could attest to her guilt, so for her to be innocent or the federal government to say that we didn’t have enough evidence, I mean that’s complete absurdity.
Jeff Schechtman: Tell us a little bit more about your previous work, The Franklin Scandal, and some of the remarkable similarities between that story and this story, including the suicide of the primary perpetrator.
Nick Bryant: Yes. The Franklin Scandal is about an interstate pedophile network that flew kids from coast to coast and carried them to the rich and powerful. In Washington DC, where one of the pedophilic pimps lived, Craig Spence, a lot of the parties would go down there, although Lawrence King, who was also one of the principals in this pedophile network, he was flying kids all over. I’ve got like 200 flight receipts of Lawrence King’s, but a lot of the destinations were Washington DC, and there was a house that was wired for audio visual blackmail. That’s where a lot of the parties would go down and that’s where a lot of the people would be blackmailed.
Nick Bryant: Now this is kind of interesting. In the Franklin scandal, both state and federal law enforcement completely ignored the allegations. I mean completely ignored them. Social services were going to both state and federal law enforcement and they were simply ignored. Then ultimately these same social workers started to contact Nebraska state senators and the Nebraska State Senate ultimately formed a subcommittee to look at not only King’s financial malfeasance, but also the child abuse, and that Senate subcommittee refused to back down.
Nick Bryant: Now in the case of Epstein, the Palm Beach police department refused to back down. Michael Reiter was the chief and he went through heavy harassment, heavy harassment, but he refused to back down. There was a really bogus state grand jury initially for Epstein, and he wasn’t even indicted on any counts of molestation. He was indicted on one count of adult pandering, so that was cooked. There were two grand juries, and the Franklin network was much bigger than Epstein’s network, and so ultimately when these senators achieved a critical mass of evidence that showed that Lawrence King was in fact a pedophilic pimp and he was flying kids from coast to coast, there were two very corrupt grand juries that were formed.
Nick Bryant: I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with grand juries. A grand jury sounds like the gods of jurisprudence have delivered a decree, but basically a grand jury is just regular citizens that have been called to jury duty that have been called to a grand jury. A grand jury’s adversarial, a special prosecutor is chosen, and he picks the evidence that is shown to the grand jurors. If he wants the grand jurors to indict, he’ll always show them evidence that will indict. If he wants the grand jurors to find not indict, he will show them evidence that won’t indict.
Nick Bryant: Ultimately, and I did get the sealed transcripts of one of those grand juries in the Franklin scandal that show what a fiasco it was. Both with Epstein and with Franklin, you’ve got people in with law enforcement and with the Franklin scandal, you’ve got legislators refusing to back down. Then you also have unbelievably corrupt grand juries. Now, the grand juries in this case didn’t indict any of the perpetrators. They indicted kids that refused to recant their accounts of abuse.
Nick Bryant: One of the girls was indicted on eight counts of perjury by the state grand jury and eight counts of perjury by the federal grand jury. She was looking at like 300 years in prison, and she refused to recant her accounts of abuse. Ultimately what happened with her is she was sentenced to 9 and 15 years. I remember talking to a kid who was indicted when she was 21 years old, and to be especially punitive, they put her in solitary for two years. I mean we’re talking a kid that’s 21 years old. At least with the Epstein case, the victims haven’t been convicted of perjury or indicted for perjury. That’s another similarity, is we see this corrupting influence on both federal and state law enforcement like we saw in Epstein.
Nick Bryant: Then of course the flying children interstate to be used for immoral purposes. I mean both Epstein and the Franklin scandal have that element. What we found out with Epstein, and what we’re finding out is blackmail is starting to play a bigger role in what the media reported. The New York Times, New York Magazine and also Vanity Fair have also reported that Epstein was engaged in blackmail, The New York Times through some documentation and New York Magazine and Vanity Fair through people who were quote, unquote, in the know. Epstein was, and I thoroughly believe this, Epstein was a blackmailer. Even though Epstein’s home was sanitized when those search warrants were executed against his home, the police still found hidden cameras. There were jacks for other hidden cameras, but he didn’t get rid of all the hidden cameras. According to someone in the know who Vanity Fair interviewed, Epstein’s pedophile island was wired for video surveillance.
Nick Bryant: In both cases we have blackmail, and I thoroughly believe that Epstein was engaged in blackmail. The thing about it is if you’re blackmailing very powerful people, which in the Franklin scandal, Lawrence King and Craig Spence were, and Epstein, you need a very powerful organization behind you to make sure that you’re going to live another day, and also to know that if the blackmailer is hurt or injured, there’ll be retribution. That’s what people are losing in this. That’s what the media is completely whipping on, is that there were very powerful people behind Epstein that ensured that he kept breathing after he blackmailed powerful people.
Nick Bryant: I’ve done some research and some of the powerful people that he has blackmailed have connections to organized crime, or who I believe he has blackmailed, have connections to organized crime. This network that was behind Epstein or this organization that was behind Epstein wants to frighten the people that had connections to organized crime. That is another part of this, is like Craig Spence, he was the guy in Washington DC that had the house wired for all your visual blackmail. He was protected by secret service agents, whereas Epstein didn’t have that type of protection. He obviously had some very powerful people behind him. Another facet of this is Craig Spence committed suicide, and on the internet it speculates that he was suicided, and I don’t believe that. I think that Craig Spence committed suicide and Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide.
Nick Bryant: Now what’s interesting about these three individuals, Lawrence King, Craig Spence and also Jeffrey Epstein, is they came from working class backgrounds, humble origins, and they all of a sudden were catapulted into a much higher socioeconomic strata very quickly, very quickly. I think that because of their lower socioeconomics, they were from the lower socioeconomic strata, they were expendable. When it came time to make them expendable, they were quite expendable.
Jeff Schechtman: What do you know with respect to what’s been reported and what we’ve seen uncovered regarding the suicide itself?
Nick Bryant: Well, with the suicide there’s a lot of anomalies. One of the anomalies is his cellmate was taken out of the cell. Another anomaly was one of the guards wasn’t even a guard. Another anomaly was that they didn’t have, the Bureau of Prisons didn’t have any cameras on him. You have anomalies like that, and it also came out that Epstein, even though he’d been taken off suicide watch, he hadn’t seen a guard for a couple of hours. I mean how can you not, I mean, all those variables at play, it’s like a harmonic convergence so the guy could kill himself. I think Epstein was going to spend the rest of his life in prison, and I think that he was used to a very cushy life doing whatever he wanted, molesting whoever he wanted. I think that that organization behind Epstein that enabled this ultimately told him that, you know, he had to kill himself.
Nick Bryant: Like with the Franklin scandal, Spence I believe was told that he had to kill himself because he killed himself in a very dramatic way, just as Epstein killed himself in a very dramatic way. I would suspect that Jeffrey Epstein probably killed himself. I would also suspect that there were so many variables that were conducive to him doing that. If there were like one or two of those, you could write it off and say, well, you know, it was a couple of coincidences, but there’s like four or five of them that we know about, so I believe that Epstein was given an opportunity to kill himself. You know, it’s entirely possible that someone could have killed him, but Epstein was looking, as I said, at life in prison, he was used to a cush life, and then actually pedophiles aren’t treated so well in prison. I think that there was no upside at that point for Jeffrey Epstein. None. There was no way he was going to get out of it, so the variables were created to make it conducive to killing himself. That’s what I believe.
Jeff Schechtman: One of the things that brought you into this early, and you mentioned it before, is the famous little black book, which you’re the one that published. Talk a little bit about that.
Nick Bryant: I came across the black book seven or eight years ago, and it was given to me by a source and when I started looking at it, I was pretty stunned. Now, it’s kind of interesting how that black book wended into my possession. What happened was Epstein’s house manager, Alfredo Rodriguez, had stolen Epstein’s little black book and he was trying to sell it to one of the attorneys that were representing some of Epstein’s victims. One of the attorneys went to the FBI and told them what was happening, so ultimately the FBI did a sting and ultimately got the black book. Now what’s really interesting is Rodriguez said that he circled various people in the black book that he knew were involved with Epstein’s illicit activities, whether they were partaking of the girls or whether they were partaking of logistics, like the plane pilot. I think that that black book tells a lot.
Nick Bryant: Now, the people that Rodriguez had circled have definitely been named, a number of them have been named. Alan Dershowitz has been named, Bill Richardson has been named. George Mitchell wasn’t circled in the black book, but I have been told that George Mitchell was one of the perpetrators. Actually Donald Trump’s name is circled in that black book. When I wrote the article for [blockers? 22:20] on the black book, Donald Trump said through a spokesman that he’d never been to Epstein’s home. Now we know absolutely that he had been to Epstein’s home, so Trump, through his spokesman, was lying about that. There’s other people that are circled too, but then there’s other people that aren’t circled because Rodriguez didn’t personally witness them, but there were some other leaders of other countries, one in South America and one in Europe, that was most likely a perpetrator too.
Jeff Schechtman: Do you think that the global implications of this, things like Prince Andrew and a lot of other international leaders that may or may not have been part of this, will in some way impact the way this story continues to unfold from here on?
Nick Bryant: Well, what we need here is, what we really need is we need the Department of Justice to do its job. That’s what we need. We need the Department of Justice to go after these perpetrators. They have a tremendous amount … I mean, as I said earlier, you get Maxwell and Kellen and these other procurers, you throw them in jail, and they will talk and they will tell you who. Then the victims, they will tell you the victims, they will tell you the perpetrators. Then at that point you can start arresting people. You could start arresting people in the United States and other countries who felt that these people should be arrested in their country because of their laws, they could be arrested. Ultimately what we could have, if the Justice Department isn’t corrupted, is, you know, some very powerful people getting indicted. We cannot let Jeffrey Epstein’s death deter us from getting these perpetrators. Jeffrey Epstein was only the beginning of this. If the Department of Justice isn’t corrupt, he is only the beginning. The end is arresting these perpetrators.
Jeff Schechtman: Can you see that ever happening?
Nick Bryant: Well, as I said, if the Department of Justice really wanted to carry out its mission and go after child molesters, then it would happen. I mean, we’re talking child molestation. I mean child molestation destroys people. I mean I’ve talked to scores of survivors of child abuse and most of them are just utterly decimated by it. What we need to do is … and like with the Franklin scandal, those perps got away because the Department of Justice and state law enforcement covered it up, and then the newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post and other newspapers went along with the government’s cover story. Now we’ve got something completely different. We know that Jeffrey Epstein was pandering these underage girls to various power brokers. We know that. The Department of Justice has to act upon that. As Americans, we have to hold the Department of Justice accountable to go after these perpetrators.
Jeff Schechtman: Do you have much faith in Bill Barr to do that?
Nick Bryant: William Barr is very corrupt, but that’s why Americans have to, we have to organize. If our Justice Department shows signs of corruption, Americans have to take to the street. We have to have a day of outrage and really make our voices one. The same thing happened in Belgium where a pedophile network was covered up and tens of thousands of Belgians took to the streets in protest of the coverup that went on. That’s what we have to do in the United States. We have to congeal various diverse groups and get them … we all have to be on the same page and we all have to take it to the streets and make our voice heard. If they’re going to cover this up, they’re going to have to cover it up with complete and utter disregard for the American people. We have to show that to them, we have to show that to the Feds, the Department of Justice, that if they cover this up, there will be tremendous outrage and people taking to the streets. I mean, that’s what we need to do, like what happened in Belgium. That’s what we need to do.
Jeff Schechtman: Nick Bryant, I thank you so much for spending time with us today.
Nick Bryant: Yeah, it was great talking to you, Jeff.
Jeff Schechtman: Thank you, and thank you for listening and for joining us here on radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you liked this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to whowhatwhy.org/donate.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Mike Schinkel / Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0), Sage Ross / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0), Ghislaine Maxwell / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0), Jamie Gray / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0), Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department / Wikimedia, lifescript / Flickr (CC BY 2.0), and The White House / Flickr.

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