The NYPD said Thursday it wasn't required to monitor2010 sex-offender registration, despite a judge's orders that he check in every 90 days. The wealthy financier was arrested on new last week, alleging he abused dozens of girls as young as 14 as part of a sex trafficking ring.
The new indictment renewed scrutiny of a controversial secret plea deal he struck in 2008: Epstein pleaded guilty to state sex crimes in Florida but dodged federal charges. He served 13 months in jail and was required to register as a sex offender.
A judge ordered Epstein to register in New York because he maintained a residence in the state in 2011. In the 2011 New York court hearing, his lawyer called the residence a vacation home and said his primary residence was in the Virgin Islands, arguing for the least stringent sex offender classification. But a judge ordered Epstein to register as a Level 3 sex offender, the most stringent classification, rejecting the lawyer's argument that the required 90-day check-ins would "require him to come to New York more than he does normally."
"I am sorry he may have to come here every 90 days," New York County Supreme Court judge Ruth Pickholz said, according to a transcript of the January 2011 hearing. "He can give up the New York home if he does not want to come every 90 days."
NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said in a tweet Thursday Epstein registered in New York in 2010 before he changed his residence to the Virgin Islands, which Shea said required monitoring to take place there and not in New York.
In the tweet, Shea said Epstein changed his address before his first mandated check-in. Epstein lists a Manhattan home as a secondary residence with the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, which maintains the sex offender registry but relies on local jurisdictions for compliance enforcement. NYPD spokesman Sgt. Brendan Ryan said in a statement the NYPD Sex Offender Monitoring Unit monitored Epstein while his reporting address was in New York City.
"Jeffrey Epstein is in jail because of the hard work of NYPD detectives and our law enforcement partners who built a strong case and arrested him for his vile crimes," Shea wrote in the tweet.
At the same 2011 hearing, Pickholz expressed shock when a prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney's office also argued for the lowest sex offender classification for Epstein, despite a state board's recommendation that he register as Level 3 sex offender. The classification, reserved for those who pose a "high risk" of offending again and who pose a potential threat to public safety, requires the offender's photo and address to be published online in a searchable database, along with other requirements. But Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Gaffney instead argued Epstein should be classified as Level 1, which would not require that information to be published.
"I have to tell you, I am a little overwhelmed because I have never seen the prosecutor's office do anything like this," Pickholz said."...I could cite many, I have done many SORAs [Sex Offender Registration Act] much less troubling than this one where the People would never make a downward argument like this."
Gaffney acknowledged it was an "incredibly unusual" request. She argued that the state board made its recommendation for Level 3 based on the accounts of victims outlined in a Florida probable cause affidavit, but said those allegations were ultimately never prosecuted.
"I don't know that we can rely on it as clear and convincing evidence if the prosecutor's office never went forward on it," Gaffney said.
The Manhattan District Attorney's office later said Gaffney had mis-interpreted the law. Danny Frost, a spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., said the office "promptly filed briefs with the appellate court which acknowledged the error by the Assistant District Attorney and strenuously argued that Epstein should receive the highest sex offender status."
"D.A. Vance was not made aware that the Manhattan D.A.'s Office even had this SORA matter, or any matter involving Jeffrey Epstein, until well after the hearing occurred and only when the office corrected its legal error on appeal," Frost said.
Epstein remains registered in New York state under Level 3. In a memo arguing for bail on the new federal charges Thursday, a lawyer for Epstein described his "perfect compliance with onerous sex offender registration requirements – pinpointing his exact nightly whereabouts – across multiple jurisdictions over a 10-year period."
Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the new charges.