Some of the same furtive techniques that Jeffrey Epstein employed in life are showing up in the litigation over dividing up the wealth he left behind when he died.
There are mysterious companies, lingering nondisclosure agreements and contractual clauses that some lawyers fear could protect anyone who took part in Mr. Epstein’s wrongdoing.
The estate’s lawyers say they have a plan to fairly distribute money to dozens of women who have accused Mr. Epstein of sexually abusing them as teenagers. But the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Mr. Epstein built a complex web of corporate entities, says Mr. Epstein’s money is still buying silence.
And in the middle is a fortune estimated at well over a half-billion dollars.
“We have a lot of concerns with respect to the transparency of the estate and its finances and the accounting of the estate,” the attorney general, Denise N. George, said in an interview last month.
Ms. George filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit against the estate in January, roughly five months after Mr. Epstein committed suicide while being held in federal custody in Manhattan after his arrest on sex trafficking charges. She said she sued to protect the interests of Mr. Epstein’s accusers and recoup some of the money that Mr. Epstein made during his two decades in the Virgin Islands.
The estate has insisted it is acting in the best interest of Mr. Epstein’s accusers. But it has also provided an incomplete accounting of his finances, according to records reviewed by The New York Times.
At least one business — IGO Company L.L.C., a corporate entity established by Mr. Epstein in December 2006 — was left out of the estate’s court filings. The company, which lists Mr. Epstein as its sole owner, was still active and in good standing as of Monday, according to a U.S. Virgin Islands government site.
Lawyers for the estate did not respond to a request for comment. The co-executors of the estate are Darren Indyke, a lawyer, and Richard Kahn, an accountant. Both men worked closely with Mr. Epstein for many years and were listed as officers for some of his businesses.
Much of the fighting between the estate and Ms. George’s office involves a plan to establish a victims’ compensation fund, which would allow accusers to receive payments from the estate without a potentially costly court case. The estate’s representatives say the proposed fund — which would be set up with the help of the specialist who ran the compensation program for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — would allow accusers to receive money quickly and privately.
But Ms. George said the estate wanted to attach too many strings to those payments.
On April 7, Ms. George’s office told the probate court handling Mr. Epstein’s will that she and the estate had reached an impasse over the estate’s demand that victims who take part in the fund agree to a broad release that would bar them from suing any party “whether they participated negligently or intentionally in wrongdoing themselves.”
To Ms. George, the estate’s conduct was a reminder of the legal maneuvers that surrounded Mr. Epstein’s guilty plea 12 years ago to soliciting prostitution from a minor in Florida. In 2007, federal prosecutors agreed to a wide-ranging nonprosecution agreement that covered Mr. Epstein’s named and unnamed co-conspirators. (A federal appeals court this month rejected a legal challenge brought by one of his victims to the agreement.)
Ms. George’s office said the estate now wanted to “secure similarly broad protection for Epstein’s compatriots-in-crime from their victims.”
Lawyers for the estate reject that argument. In their response, they said Ms. George had mischaracterized the situation and said two lawyers representing several accusers were ready to move forward with the fund. The estate’s lawyers contend the liability release is “modeled on releases employed in multiple voluntary compensation programs.” Its intent, they say, is to make sure a victim does not double-dip by getting compensation from the fund and then suing an individual affiliated with the estate who might be entitled to be legally reimbursed by the estate.
The particulars of how Mr. Epstein made his millions have long been a mystery, in particular after his 2008 conviction. Financial filings the estate has made so far have raised as many questions as they have answered.
The magistrate judge overseeing the probate of the will, Carolyn Hermon-Purcell, questioned the estate’s lawyers about the transfers and asked for a fuller accounting. The estate has not yet filed an explanation; the territory’s courts have granted blanket extensions because of the coronavirus outbreak.
But according to four people familiar with the matter, the estate’s $12 million payment to the bank involved preparations for Mr. Epstein’s criminal case. Mr. Epstein used the bank to pay a $12 million retainer fee to the criminal defense attorney Reid Weingarten, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter has not been made public.
In mid-December, Mr. Weingarten’s law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, returned the unused portion of that retainer — roughly $11 million, according to the estate’s first quarterly filing. The next day the estate sent that money to the bank.
What happened to the money in Southern Country after that is not clear; the estate reported the bank had a year-end balance of just $500,000.
Southern Country is an unusual kind of bank: an international banking entity, which is limited to conducting business for customers overseas. Mr. Epstein was approved for his license in 2014, but the bank had not commenced doing business as of April 2018, according to a letter the bank sent to its regulator.
Ms. George’s office is small compared with her mainland counterparts, and she has bulked up its resources by hiring a forensic accountant and outside lawyers with Motley Rice, a large plaintiffs’ litigation firm. But it has been active.
In recent weeks, Ms. George’s office sent a subpoena seeking bank records for Mr. Epstein’s businesses in the Virgin Islands, according to two people briefed on the matter. She also subpoenaed some records from the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority, the government agency that granted lucrative tax benefits to Mr. Epstein’s companies, said Tracy Bhola, an authority lawyer.
According to one person familiar with the matter, Ms. George’s office has also made a demand for information from Mr. Epstein’s former girlfriend and business associate Ghislaine Maxwell, who recently filed a lawsuit against the estate asking it to cover her legal fees for any claims brought against her by his accusers.
Ms. George’s office has also reached out to some of Mr. Epstein’s former employees in the Virgin Islands. She said her office was trying to navigate around nondisclosure agreements that Mr. Epstein had signed with many of his them. She said the estate should commit to releasing the employees from those agreements.
“Just the existence of an N.D.A. casts a shadow or chilling effect on anyone speaking freely,” she said.
While many of Mr. Epstein’s companies — including IGO Company L.L.C. — continue to exist on paper, there is little left of their physical operations.
Those include Southern Trust, once Mr. Epstein’s main business venture, which generated $300 million in profits in just six years. Mr. Epstein had said it was a DNA research firm, although Ms. George said her office had found no evidence it engaged in that kind of work. Southern Trust alone is valued at $234 million, and the estate has yet to disclose where most of its assets are being held.
For months after his death, employees still showed up at the company’s office in the American Yacht Harbor club on St. Thomas. That stopped in late February, and by the start of last month the office doors were secured with a padlock.