Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — More than two decades before Jeffrey Epstein took his own life, a woman went into a California police station and filed one of the earliest sex-crime complaints against him: that he groped her during what she thought was a modeling interview for the Victoria's Secret catalog.

Alicia Arden said she never heard back from investigators about her complaint. No charges ever came of it. And to this day she sees it as a glaring missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice long before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls and women.

"If they would have taken me more seriously than they did, it could have helped all these girls," said Arden, an actress and model. "It could have been stopped."

With recent scrutiny focused on Epstein's life , wealth and connections to powerful people , his early brush with the law has been something of a mystery. After Arden's 1997 complaint to Santa Monica police first came to light several years ago, the department said little about it and Epstein's lawyers said only that police discounted her allegations.

In response to Associated Press inquiries and a public records request, Santa Monica police agreed last week to summarize parts of the detective's notes to a reporter. The notes showed that Epstein was questioned soon after Arden's complaint and gave a conflicting statement. Most notably, the detective wrote that Arden did not want to press charges against Epstein but wanted him warned about his behavior, an assertion that she strongly denies.

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The Jeffrey Epstein case
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The Jeffrey Epstein case
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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In a follow-up statement, police spokeswoman Lt. Candice Cobarrubias declined to say anything more about how Epstein's account differed from Arden's and stressed that the case was closed because the victim was not "desirous of prosecution."

"If the victim tells the detective they do not wish to prosecute, then the detective will close the case," the statement said. "In this case, the victim advised the detective she did not wish to prosecute so there was no point in presenting it to the City Attorney for review."

When asked to provide documentary evidence of Arden's stated wishes, Cobarrubias refused to provide any more details from the detective's notes.

Contacted this past week, Arden was adamant that she did not, in any way, communicate to the police that she did not want to press charges. She was outraged to hear that the police say otherwise.

"The fact that they didn't do anything, and they discredited me, is just a stab to my heart," Arden said.

At the time of Arden's May 12, 1997, encounter with Epstein, she was 27 and had credits including TV's "Baywatch" and "Red Shoe Diaries." She says she sent modeling portfolio shots to Epstein's New York office after hearing from a mutual friend that he could help get her into the Victoria's Secret catalog. He followed up by asking to meet her, and his secretary booked an appointment for the two at a beachfront hotel.

"I always was sending my resumes and pictures around to people who owned magazines," Arden said. "I never thought that it would be bad to go and meet him."

But when she showed up, Epstein was not what she expected. Barefoot and clad in sweat pants and a red, white and blue USA T-shirt, he started criticizing her figure and asked her to come close to him so he could evaluate it, according to accounts she gave in interviews with the AP and in her police report.

He then asked her to undress and assisted in pulling her top off and skirt up, saying, "Let me manhandle you for a second" as he began groping her buttocks.

Arden said she pushed his hands away and left.

"He was bigger than me," she said. "I felt like it could have been bad if I didn't leave."

7 PHOTOS
The few publicly-available photos of Jeffrey Epstein
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The few publicly-available photos of Jeffrey Epstein
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16: Carol Mack, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell attend Henry Street Settlement Event on May 16, 1995 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
From left, American real estate developer Donald Trump and his girlfriend (and future wife), former model Melania Knauss, financier (and future convicted sex offender) Jeffrey Epstein, and British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell pose together at the Mar-a-Lago club, Palm Beach, Florida, February 12, 2000. (Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 13: Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell attend Batman Forever/R. McDonald Event on June 13, 1995 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Portrait of American financier Jeffrey Epstein (left) and real estate developer Donald Trump as they pose together at the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, 1997. (Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 7: Guest and Jeffrey Epstein attend Imperia U.S. Launch Party at The Statue Of Liberty at Liberty Island on September 7, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, MA on 9/8/04. Epstein is connected with several prominent people including politicians, actors and academics. Epstein was convicted of having sex with an underaged woman. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Rick Friedman Photography/Corbis via Getty Images)
Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, MA on 9/8/04. Epstein is connected with several prominent people including politicians, actors and academics. Epstein was convicted of having sex with an underaged woman. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)
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One detail she told the AP that was not in her original complaint was what happened as she left the hotel room. She said Epstein spontaneously pulled out $100 and tried to give it to her, an offer she refused because she felt he was treating her like a prostitute. But after he followed her out to her car, she took it because she needed gas.

Arden went to police the next day, and she says she got an off-putting reception. A male detective noted that she had willingly gone to Epstein's room — though she emphasized the purpose was business, she said. She remembered the detective suggesting she think about whether she really wanted to file a report.

She left, crying on the phone to a friend that she wished she could talk to a female police officer.

"I felt like I was being blamed," she said.

Nevertheless, she went back to police a week later and filed the report with the same detective.

"I wanted to be taken seriously," she said.

The report recorded Arden's account in two pages of detail and noted that she had been there a week earlier, but it did not address what the detective told her. Police spokeswoman Cobarrubias said there's no record of it.

Epstein went on to be accused of operating a sex-trafficking scheme involving a network of recruiters and dozens of teenage girls, some as young as 13. He was arrested last month on federal charges involving allegations that he paid teenage girls hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and then sexually abused them.

At the time of his death on Aug. 10 , he had pleaded not guilty and was preparing to make the argument that he could not be charged because of a 2008 deal he made to avoid federal prosecution on similar allegations. The medical examiner's office on Friday ruled the 66-year-old's death a suicide, confirming that he hanged himself in his cell. A person familiar with operations at the jail said Epstein was discovered with a bedsheet around his neck.

The entire episode has left Arden appalled — by the jail's questionable monitoring, the u nanswered questions and the way police handled her own complaint.

"The whole situation is just awful," she said. "And he doesn't have to face us."

___

Peltz reported from New York. Associated Press Writer Bernard Condon in New York contributed to this report.

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