In what he later referred to as a “senior moment,” Jeffrey Epstein’s lead defense attorney seemed to forget a major facet of his client’s legal defense strategy in an exchange with the judge during Monday’s arraignment hearing.
In an indictment unsealed Monday morning, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York alleged that Epstein, 66, “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations,” and created a “vast network of underage victims,” some as young as 14 years old.
Appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman, prosecutors argued that Epstein was an “extraordinary flight risk” and should be denied bail and detained for the duration of his criminal trial. Claiming that Epstein had “every motivation in the world to flee” rather than face trial, the government pointed to the horrific nature of the alleged crimes, the strength of the evidence against Epstein, his previous guilty plea to soliciting underage girls, and his extraordinary wealth.
Reid Weingarten, Epstein’s lead attorney, responded by asserting that the government is acting in bad faith by reneging on a signed non-prosecution agreement and exaggerating Epstein’s behavior, which he said was already addressed by Florida authorities in a “three year sophisticated investigation” that only revealed evidence of prostitution.
In his argument to the court, Weingarten reasoned that because Epstein did not force or coerce any of the girls to do things against their will, he should not be charged under sex-trafficking statutes which he claimed were enacted to protect girls from being forcibly raped by “15-20 guys” in a brothel under threat of violence.
Weingarten said that according to the facts, Epstein did not rape anyone, but conceded that Epstein did engage in “maybe a lot of prostitution.”
That prompted Judge Pitman to interject and question Weingarten’s legal reasoning.
“Isn’t it rape if the girls are underage?” Pitman asked.
Weingarten paused for over a second, then in a matter-of-fact tone replied, “well…statutory maybe,” before moving on. The packed gallery responded with a combination of audible laughter and shocked gasps as Epstein’s attorney appeared to be admitting his client had committed rape.
Epstein’s defense went on to request a three-day stay on the proceeding to submit a bail proposal in writing, which Pitman granted.
Before the proceeding came to an official close, however, Weingarten addressed his gaffe, telling Pitman his reference to statutory rape was a “senior moment,” insisting Epstein had not committed statutory rape because there was “no penetration.”
Epstein and Weingarten will return to court for a bail hearing on Thursday.
[image via YouTube screengrab]