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What's next for Epstein's Zorro Ranch, where accusers say they were raped and trafficked

What's next for Epstein's alleged victims?
With Jeffrey Epstein's case dismissed, will victims get justice? 07:07

Jeffrey Epstein's massive 21,000-square-foot New Mexico mansion sits high on a mesa overlooking nearly 10,000 acres of desert land halfway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Multiple women say they were recruited and sexually abused by the convicted pedophile and his alleged co-conspirators at Zorro Ranch, which they say was integral to Epstein's alleged sex trafficking operation.

Several of Epstein's accusers say they were trafficked and raped on the ranch. It is also where Epstein, according to the New York Times, confided to scientists that "he hoped to seed the human race with his DNA by impregnating women at his vast New Mexico ranch."

Zorro Ranch, which includes a firehouse, log cabin, guest house, pool, airstrip, antique railroad car and train tracks, is part private, part public land. But New Mexico state officials say Epstein was so secretive about the ranch that they have virtually no access and little knowledge about what happens on the public portions.

The property appears to have been designed to create as much privacy as possible. The sprawling compound is tightly guarded with surveillance cameras, well-secured gates and fencing and employees who, despite requests, remain tight-lipped and appear to avoid interaction with any potential visitors.

That recently included New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard when she made an unannounced visit to the property after her office's requests to schedule a visit went unreturned. 

The state Land Commission has two land-lease contracts with Zorro Ranch; 1,200 acres of state property lie within Epstein's 10,000 acres of property. That public land is leased by Zorro Ranch, a cause for concern for Garcia Richard who insists the state should not be in business with a convicted pedophile.

Land-lease agreements are a common practice among states for the purposes of encouraging agriculture and ranching. But Garcia Richard recently told CBS News that Epstein's property does not operate as a "typical" ranch, a sentiment echoed by his accusers. 

"No one gets in trouble for anything here"

CBS News obtained exclusive photos of Epstein's "Zorro Ranch"  CBS News

One alleged victim, identified as "Jane Doe" in a recent federal court hearing in Manhattan, recounted her first experience at Zorro Ranch. She recalled riding an ATV with another young woman, who had been to the ranch before. When "Jane Doe" accidentally crashed her ATV, the other young woman told her not to worry because "no one gets in trouble for anything here."

"I certainly think there was a veil of secrecy. Access to state land was very secure and prohibited almost," Garcia Richard told CBS News.

The land-lease agreement includes access, which means occasional visits by Land Commission staff to the public property. But the Land Commission said, while this is usually an easy process with their other state land-lessees, it was never as simple when dealing with Zorro Ranch, which appeared to control the terms of any visits by state officials. 

The public property on Zorro Ranch is surrounded by Epstein's private property and can only be accessed by trekking through the private lands. Garcia Richard told CBS News that ranch staff would require advanced notice of any visits and would escort and tightly monitor officials while on the property.

When Epstein purchased Zorro Ranch through his Cypress Inc. holding company in 1993, he acquired the land-lease contracts as part of the sale. When Garcia Richard became land commissioner this year, she inherited oversight of those contracts. Disturbed by allegations of crimes that may have been committed on the ranch, Garcia Richard told CBS News she has been trying to find the legal ground to rip up those contracts ever since. 

Now she believes she has found that legal footing. Earlier this month, her office turned over 400 pages of Epstein's property records to investigators. Those documents may contain names of his alleged co-conspirators. 

On Thursday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said he concluded that the state has the legal authority to retake the 1,200 acres of state land on Zorro Ranch associated with the land-lease contracts.

"The original leases to Epstein appear to have no beneficial use justification to the State, but rather appear to simply have been taken by him to increase privacy and the land mass surrounding his estate," Balderas said in a written statement.

According to the AG's office, the leases were renewed on October 1, 2016 and set to expire on September 20, 2021.  

"Finally, the rising number of allegations from survivors saying they were trafficked to the Zorro Ranch is reason enough for us to rip these leases in half and seize back this public land," Garcia Richard told CBS News.

Epstein did not appear to have connections in New Mexico prior to purchasing Zorro Ranch. Asked what might attract a wealthy financier who grew up on Coney Island in Brooklyn to purchase a desert ranch in New Mexico, Garcia Richard said, "I think there's a perception that people won't ask questions (in New Mexico)." 

After serving 13 months in Florida for a 2008 guilty plea to one count of procuring a 17-year-old girl for prostitution, Epstein registered as a sex offender in New Mexico on August 17, 2010, per the guidelines of his plea deal, as well as in Florida and New York. But on August 19, 2010, the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office sent a letter to Epstein telling him he was not required to register as a sex offender. The legal age of consent is 17 in New Mexico.

At least two state officials told CBS News it is "curious" that Epstein was informed and the matter resolved so quickly — in just two days — considering the process of registering, checking and officially responding would typically take much longer to work its way through the bureaucratic process.

"I was raped on Zorro Ranch"

The federal sex trafficking charges against Epstein were officially dropped Thursday by the Southern District of New York in light of the 66-year-old's suicide on August 10. Two days before the case was dismissed, Epstein's accusers gave emotional accounts of sexual abuse and torment in what would be a final hearing.

One woman, identified as one of the multiple "Jane Does" who spoke that day, recounted being flown to Zorro Ranch for the first time in 2004 when she was 15 years old. She said, upon arriving, the sexual abuse began and continued "for hours" as Epstein took her virginity. She recalled Epstein telling her to lay on the floor in a room. From that vantage point, she said she remembered looking up and seeing multiple framed pictures on a dresser, including pictures of Epstein posing with famous and "powerful people." This, she said, as the man in those pictures was sexually abusing her while telling her how beneficial the experience would be for her.

Chauntae Davies spoke at the same hearing. She said she was recruited by Epstein's ex-girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell. She said it began as what seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. Epstein and Maxwell took her in, gave her a job and traveled with her around the world.

Maxwell has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime. 

Davies told CBS News that Epstein sent her to culinary school and paid for her sister to study abroad to be a translator in Spain. But Davies said for her the focus was education. 

She recalled feeling like part of a family but now says all the perks were accompanied by a horrifying level of sexual abuse. 

"I was raped on Zorro Ranch at least twice," she told CBS News.

Davies described what she believes was a sophisticated operation of rape, exploitation and manipulation of young women disguised as growth, apprenticeship and education. 

"It was about the third or fourth encounter meeting the two of them where things progressed to rape," Davies told "CBS This Morning." "He made it very confusing... the way that they were able to orchestrate and manipulate the situation, you know, led me to believe that something like that wouldn't happen again so I did go back a second time," she continued.

The "veil of secrecy" that Epstein appears to have created around Zorro Ranch extended to visitors. Whenever she was there, she would see others — "random young women, some models, other women," she told CBS News — but when asked if they were also allegedly sexually abused, Davies said she was unsure. "There was always a lot of people there," she said. 

Davies said people would travel to Zorro Ranch either on commercial flights into Santa Fe Airport and would then be driven to the ranch or they'd fly on Epstein's private jet and land on the airstrip built on the ranch's private property.

Virginia Roberts Giuffre, another Epstein accuser, claimed in a lawsuit that was ultimately settled that she was trafficked to the ranch as an underage sex-slave. A recently unsealed 2016 deposition references Prince Andrew, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, high-powered attorney Alan Dershowitz and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as men she was "directed" to have sex with. Giuffre's legal team told CBS News she was trafficked and lent out for sex on Zorro Ranch.

All the men have denied the allegations.

"These allegations and inferences are completely false," Richardson said recently in a written statement. "Governor Richardson has never even been contacted by any party regarding this lawsuit. To be clear, in Governor Richardson's limited interactions with Mr. Epstein, he never saw him in the presence of young or underage girls. Governor Richardson has never met Ms. Giuffre."

Former Governor Richardson is known to have visited Zorro Ranch at least once. 

Maria Farmer, another Epstein accuser, claimed in an affidavit submitted to a federal court in New York that her sister, Annie, told her she was flown to the ranch in 1996 and molested by Epstein and Maxwell.

"She was only 15 at the time and they directed her to take off all of her clothes and get on a massage table. Maxwell and Epstein then touched her inappropriately on the massage table,'" Farmer said in the court document.

Another accuser, identified as "Priscilla Doe" in her recent civil lawsuit against the Epstein estate, claimed Epstein coerced her to engage in sex acts at Zorro Ranch between 2007 and 2010.

What's next for Zorro Ranch?

"It's still going to be a rough road ahead": Epstein accusers speak out in court 06:26

The land commission told CBS News it plans to officially terminate the contracts next week, but acknowledges a complicated road may lie ahead. The office tells CBS News it plans to develop creative solutions to access the land, given that state land is surrounded by private land and that ranch employees have been unwilling to give land commission access. The office did not elaborate on those solutions.

Sources told CBS News that several women who say they were sexually abused and trafficked at Zorro Ranch have been interviewed by investigators. 

Davies told CBS News she was interviewed by the FBI for five hours one week before Epstein was arrested on federal sex trafficking charges after landing at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport on July 6, 2019. 

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office tells CBS News it is working with and forwarding evidence to federal investigators who say they will continue to pursue, investigate and bring charges against possible co-conspirators.

Still, the ranch appears to be the only Epstein property in the U.S. that has not yet been raided by federal agents

The New Mexico property is one of five — including ones in New York City, West Palm Beach, The U.S. Virgin Islands and France — that Epstein owned and frequented. Zorro Ranch is believed to have accounted for roughly $17 million of Epstein's estate, with claimed assets valued at $577 million.

Just two days before Epstein's August 10 death, ruled a suicide by the New York City Medical Examiner, he signed a will that put all of his holdings into a trust and transferred his vast assets into a private trust. The trust is secret — not open to the public — and administered by trustees.

Attorneys for Epstein's accusers admit the legal battle with the multi-millionaire's estate may be a long one, but it's one they're willing to have. Several civil lawsuits targeting Epstein's estate have already been filed and more are expected. Along with federal prosecutors, Epstein's accusers say they too will pursue and seek justice from anyone who may have exploited and abused them in relation to Epstein.

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