Former federal prosecutors explain where the Epstein investigation goes now and dismiss 'far-fetched' conspiracy theories

  • Now that convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has died of an apparent suicide while in federal custody, questions remain concerning what will happen to the investigation into his charges of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy. 
  • Two former federal prosecutors told Business Insider what they predict will happen in the cases against Epstein, and cast doubt on the prevailing conspiracy theory that he was murdered by one of his high-profile connections.
  • The Southern District of New York US Attorney's Office confirmed its investigation into Epstein's conduct, particularly the charge against him of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, remains ongoing.

Convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's death by apparent suicide early Saturday morning while in federal custody has made the future of already complex legal proceedings even murkier. 

The Southern District of New York charged Epstein with sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors in an indictment in July that accused him of sexually assaulting dozens of underage girls between at least the years of 2002 and 2005 in his Palm Beach, Florida, and Manhattan residences.

The US Attorney's Office released a statement on Saturday saying that investigation, with emphasis on the charge of conspiracy, will continue. Epstein's victims have been and continue to be urged to contact the FBI, which along with the SDNY and Office of the Inspector General is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein's suicide.

In examining what lies ahead for the prosecution, Epstein's accusers, and the rampant conspiracy theories surrounding wealthy financier's death, two former federal prosecutors shared their insight with Business Insider. Both cast doubt on the conspiracies, and suggested that his victims may sue his estate for damages.

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NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against billionaire financier Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 08: Two of the purported victims of multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Michelle Licata (L) and Courtney Wild leave a Manhattan court house after a hearing on sex trafficking charges for financier Jeffrey Epstein on July 08, 2019 in New York City. Epstein is charged with having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Two of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims, Michelle Licata (L) and Courtney Wild (R), exit the courthouse after the billionaire financier appeared for a hearing on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, center, sits with attorneys Martin Weinberg, left, and Marc Fernich during his arraignment in New York federal court, Monday, July 8, 2019. Epstein pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking charges. The 66-year-old is accused of creating and maintaining a network that allowed him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls from 2002 to 2005. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
NEW YORK, US - JULY 08: David Boies, attorney for the alleged sex victims of the US financier Jeffreey Epstein case, delivers a speech to the media outside the United States Federal Court on July 08, 2019 in New York, United States. (Photo by Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: A residence belonging to Jeffrey Epstein at East 71st street is seen on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein is charged with running a sex-trafficking operation out of his opulent mansion. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Prosecutors exit the room after US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Member of the press listen as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: A protest group called "Hot Mess" hold up signs of Jeffrey Epstein and President Donald Trump in front of the Federal courthouse on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a news conference, in New York, Monday, July 8, 2019. Federal prosecutors announced sex trafficking and conspiracy charges against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. Court documents unsealed Monday show Epstein is charged with creating and maintaining a network that allowed him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
In this courtroom sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, second from right, listens along with defense attorneys, from left, Marc Fernich, Michael Miller, and Martin Weinberg as Judge Richard M. Berman denies him bail during a hearing in federal court, Thursday, July 18, 2019 in New York. Judge Berman denied bail for the jailed financier on sex trafficking charges, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (Aggie Kenny via AP)
FILE - This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein. A judge denied bail for jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges Thursday, July 18, 2019, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP)
In this courtroom sketch, Judge Richard M. Berman speaking as he denies Jeffrey Epstein bail during a hearing in federal court, Thursday, July 18, 2019 in New York. Judge Berman denied bail for the jailed financier on sex trafficking charges, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (Aggie Kenny via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, and his attorney Martin Weinberg listen during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Epstein's lawyers want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
This courtroom sketch shows Judge Richard Berman as he speaks during the Jeffrey Epstein bail hearing in federal court, Monday July 15, 2019. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, listens as accuser Annie Farmer, second from right, speaks during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Farmer says she was 16 when she "had the misfortune" of meeting Epstein and later went to spend time with him in New Mexico. Accuser Courtney Wild, right, said in the hearing that she was abused by the wealthy financier in Palm Beach, Florida, starting at age 14. Epstein's lawyers want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, and attorney Reid Weingarten, second from right, listen as attorney Martin Weinberg, right, speaks during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Epstein's lawyers have insisted he will not run. They want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. Courtney Wild, third from left, said in the hearing that she was abused by the wealthy financier in Palm Beach, Florida, starting at age 14. She called him a "scary person" and urged detention "for the safety of any other girls" out there. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
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Read more: Attorney General Barr announces investigation into Epstein's death by suicide amid reports the convicted sex offender wasn't on suicide watch when he died

"I think it's far-fetched for somebody to say 'I'm gonna kill off Epstein because I'm not charged yet, but maybe I will be,'" Laurie Levenson, who is now a professor of law at Loyola Law School, told Business Insider.

Levenson said the federal prosecutors pursuing Epstein's case will potentially seek charges against co-conspirators. Given the public pressure for someone to be held responsible for the charges against Epstein, she thinks "now is the time to worry" for those who were involved with Epstein's alleged sex trafficking operation. 

"Frankly, I think if they had a strong case against other people, we might have already seen it," Levenson said. "Maybe what the hope is, now that Epstein's not around, the people will say 'Someone has to be held responsible,' and more people will come forward. So that's a possibility. But right now it's pretty theoretical." 

fast facts jeffrey epstein case graphicShayanne Gal/Business Insider

David Weinstein, an attorney who for 11 years served as an Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where Epstein was initially charged, told Business Insider that the non-prosecution agreement Epstein signed in 2008 may hamper the SDNY's investigation into possible co-conspirators going forward, if they pursue the conspiracy charge against Epstein.

"There's a particular specific paragraph that uses the words 'the United States' and then talks about named co-conspirators and then unnamed," Weinstein said, referring to the controversial plea deal that led to its co-signer, former Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who was then US Attorney in Miami, to step down after the deal came under scrutiny.

"So there may be some leverage there that the unnamed co-conspirators can use to argue that the United States had given them immunity," he said. "But it'll be a little difficult because they'll have to interpret the words on the page."

Epstein's victims will be able to identify co-conspirators going forward, Weinstein said, but depending on where the sexual assaults took place, some evidence may not be able to be included. Epstein owned at least one private jet and had global connections, and took some of his accusers on trips worldwide, where they allege they were also abused.

"It'll also be interesting to see what they seized, both from his apartment in New York, off of his person when they arrested him at the airport, any bank accounts that they've subpoenaed, any logs that they've either subpoenaed or been provided from his planes, and whether or not that adds to the corroboration for any live witnesses they have," Weinstein said.

Weinstein also suggested that, as reports emerge that Epstein was no longer on suicide watch at the time of his death, an examination by medical professionals must have occurred that determined suicide watch unnecessary.

"There have even been incidences where prisoners who were on suicide watch were still able to take their own lives," Weinstein said. "There are 10 to 15 minute increments where there's not somebody who's specifically watching them, and that despite trying to keep everything away from them in their cells, they still find a way to take their own lives. I wouldn't say it's common but I don't think that this is uncommon, it's just rather infrequent."

Read more: A Manhattan mansion, a ranch in New Mexico, a private jet, and a black stuffed poodle on a Steinway. Here's a look at the assets of Jeffrey Epstein.

Both former federal prosecutors noted that conspiracists will continue to deny facts, even as new information is presented to them, but said that if ineptitude on the part of the detention facility is to blame, there should be consequences for those who did not do their jobs. 

"You've got power and politics and sex and open questions, and conspiracy theorists are going to run with this no matter what, but it's important for all of us who are not looking for conspiracies to understand what happened," Levenson said. "I think it could put the credibility of the criminal justice system on the line, and that's so important."

On the civil side of the investigation, lawyers representing Epstein's accusers have called for the administrators of Epstein's estate to freeze and hold his assets, so that victims can receive compensation. 

"It may result in more people wanting to come forward," Levenson said. "Or it just may be that they realize that there's an estate they can sue, and who knows what that estate will be? I don't know whether they'll fight all these claims, get the money on all these claims, that's a big question mark to come."

Since Epstein is dead, both Weinstein and Levenson said the current indictment against him will be dismissed, and Weinstein predicted the federal prosecution will meet with US District Judge Richard Berman within the next week to file a motion to dismiss it. The timeline for what could potentially include new criminal charges for co-conspirators, civil lawsuits, and investigations into Epstein's suicide is unclear.

Levenson suggested that it will take several months just to sort out potential additional accusers, evidence, and information. She said concrete legal action probably won't emerge for up to a year. 

"The interesting thing is how patient the public can be," Levenson said. "I don't know that they'll have all the answers overnight. There are a lot of people to talk to, a lot of things to find out, and in some ways it would be bad for them to rush out a conclusion and then have that picked apart as well. There's going to be a lot of pressure to investigate this very quickly, but the most important thing is that they be right."

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