NEW YORK, July 15 (Reuters) - A U.S. prosecutor on Monday said Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier charged with sex trafficking underage girls, poses an “extraordinary risk of flight” and danger to the community and must remain in jail until his trial.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who is considering whether Epstein should remain in jail or be allowed to live under house arrest at his mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, said in court that he would probably announce his bail decision on Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
Berman said he needed more time to absorb the case and listen to people at Monday’s hearing in federal court in Manhattan who say they are among Epstein’s victims and oppose bail.
Epstein, 66, is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail that has been criticized by inmates and lawyers for harsh conditions.
Epstein, once known for socializing with politicians and royalty, is accused of arranging for girls under the age of 18 to perform nude “massages” and other sex acts, and of paying some girls to recruit others, from at least 2002 to 2005.
He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted. Epstein was arrested on July 6 after flying into New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport by private plane from Paris. He wore dark blue jail scrubs in court.
Prosecutors have said Epstein must remain in jail to prevent him from fleeing the country, citing his wealth and connections overseas, as well as allegations he paid two potential witnesses last year in an apparent effort to influence them.
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller, told the judge that a search of Epstein’s home uncovered nude images of underage girls, including at least one who claimed to be among the financier’s victims.
Rossmiller also said one of the seized items was a passport that appeared to have been issued by a foreign country in the 1980s that contained Epstein’s photo, but someone else’s name.
Epstein’s lawyers have countered that their client is willing to pay for armed guards to monitor him at all times at his Manhattan home, which has been valued at $77 million, and should be granted bail so he can help prepare his defense.
“You don’t punish first and have a trial second,” Martin Weinberg, a lawyer for Epstein, told the judge.
In a court filing, the lawyers said Epstein has had a “spotless 14-year record of walking the straight and narrow” since he pleaded guilty to similar offenses in Florida, and had shown “perfect compliance with onerous sex offender registration requirements.”
In 2016, Berman rejected a bail proposal from Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to let him live in an apartment under the watch of privately funded guards.
Berman said wealthy defendants should not be allowed to “buy their way out of prison by constructing their own private jail.”
Other New York federal judges, however, have agreed to such arrangements, including for Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff.
When Epstein was charged in Florida, he reached a deal to avoid federal prosecution by pleading guilty to a state prostitution charge and registering as a sex offender.
He served 13 months in a county jail, but was allowed to leave during the day to go to his office.
A federal judge ruled in February that the agreement violated a federal law on crime victims’ rights, but Florida prosecutors have argued it should nonetheless remain in place.
Alex Acosta, who oversaw the deal as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, went on to be appointed Secretary of Labor by President Donald Trump.
Acosta resigned on Friday, saying he did not want to be a distraction for the White House.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)