Denied justice in the courts and later by his death in a jail cell, victims of Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual predations are finally able to get a shot at compensation.
The Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program, based in New York and authorized by the Probate Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands, officially begins accepting claims Thursday from young women who allege the disgraced financier sexually abused them.
The fund was proposed by the Epstein estate in November but only recently authorized after months of wrangling with lawyers representing roughly 70 victims and the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Epstein lived, owned two islands and where his estate is being settled.
The compensation fund is patterned after similar efforts to compensate victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy and the families of those who died in the 9/11 terror attacks.
“The harm is different, but the guiding principles are very much the same. These programs are designed as alternatives to litigation,” said Jordana “Jordy” Feldman, who will administer the fund “outside the glare” of public proceedings. “One of the main aspects of these programs is there is a sense of fairness of both outcome and process. Victims feel like they’re treated with respect and compassion.”
Similar to other funds, including one to compensate boys who were abused by Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, Epstein’s victims will have to meet what are called evidentiary requirements.
“We are looking for corroborative information. If a victim has contemporaneous with the time of the abuses — or even afterwards — reported the abuse to law enforcement or a friend or a parent or teacher. We’ll look to that kind of information,” said Feldman, adding that sexual abuse is a complicated topic. “Just the very nature of this kind of abuse doesn’t lend itself to heavy documentary evidence.”
Some information extracted by reporters over the past few years will prove useful. Fund administrators will look to so-called collateral sources to cross-reference dates and places, records such as Epstein’s flight logs, and Customs and Border Patrol notations of his arrival and departure from the United States.
Once it is determined that a victim is eligible for compensation, then the question becomes how much.
“This is the toughest question. First, we recognize that no amount of money is going to make this victim whole or erase their suffering,” said Feldman, adding that factors can include the nature of the abuse, frequency, a victim’s age at the time and the psychological impact on the victim.
Compensation is also measured through the lens of similar funds such as the Catholic Church and Penn State scandals, which give the Epstein fund administrators a benchmark against which to measure.
Epstein, 66, was arrested last July 6 and was found dead in his federal prison cell in Manhattan on Aug. 10. New York’s medical examiner ruled his death a suicide by hanging.
A friend of U.S. presidents, British royalty and business moguls, Epstein was investigated in 2006 for allegedly molesting scores of underage girls at his Florida mansion.
Represented by top-tier lawyers, Epstein won an extraordinarily lenient sentence on state charges, getting immunity from federal prosecution and by 2010 returning to his fortune in the Virgin Islands.
Unique to the Epstein compensation fund, U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George insisted that a child sexual abuse expert be part of the compensation process. Marci Hamilton, who heads Child USA and is an expert on child sexual abuse issues, will assist Feldman as a sounding board on matters where she feels input is needed.
“It’s kind of premature to say under what specific circumstances we would be doing that kind of outreach. I have a feeling we’ll know it when we see it,” said Feldman, who co-administered the 9/11 fund.
When a claim comes to the Epstein compensation fund, the co-executors of his estate — lawyers Darren K. Indyke and Richard Kahn — will be notified. They are afforded the right to provide information to the fund administrators.
“They have no ability to reject or ask me to reconsider any determination I make as to whether a claimant is eligible, and their compensation,” Feldman said.
Wasting little time, West Palm Beach lawyer Spencer Kuvin, who said he represents four victims, scheduled a press conference Thursday morning to “educate” others who might want to step forward.
“Epstein was able to perpetrate these horrific crimes for decades, thanks to his wealth and political connections, which eventually produced the now-infamous sweetheart plea deal for federal charges in 2009,” Kuvin said in a statement Wednesday. “The number of potential claimants could be in the hundreds.”
Some of Epstein’s victims will skip the compensation fund and sue the estate directly. But those who wish to stay out of the spotlight now get a chance to make their claim without the adversarial atmosphere of a lawsuit.
There is no monetary cap on compensation, and claims are settled on an individual basis without consideration of a sum of money set aside for the fund. No set amount has been offered, but one measure is that Epstein’s estate was valued in the ballpark of $560 million before the COVID-19 pandemic struck globally.
Even though Feldman has helped design numerous high-profile funds, she thinks the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program will leave its own mark.
“I don’t know that this is necessarily different, but based on what we know at this point about the victims, and conversations we’ve had with their lawyers, they’ve been repeatedly denied opportunities to achieve any measure of justice — either through people turning a blind eye or people refusing to acknowledge what is happening,” said Feldman. “This is kind of the end of a long history for the victims.”
Victims wanting to file a claim with the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program can call the toll-free number 877-312-3055, send an email to [email protected] or visit the website www.epsteinvcp.com.
© 2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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