Subject: The Epstein files. Message: Pack them – ASAP.
Text messages, calls and emails follow one another.
Denise George knew all along that she was up against powerful players on Wall Street because of their alleged ties to Jeffrey Epstein. But she soon felt she was also confronting forces here at home in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the financier appeared to have preyed on women and girls with impunity.
St. Thomas residents wanted the Epstein scandal – and the uncomfortable questions it raised – to go away quickly. But George said she needed time. She was fired from her position as attorney general after spending more than three years trying to get justice.
Correspondence about the case obtained by Bloomberg News underscores the sense of urgency within local government and the pressure George was under. Hundreds of pages of court documents offer a window into the details of Epstein’s network of influence in the United States.
George was the driving force behind three high-profile legal battles involving Epstein, the Svengali who courted a wide circle of rich and powerful men — from Bill Gates to Prince Andrew — even after he was labeled a sex offender.
On this rainy Tuesday in the Caribbean, George tells his story about these historic cases, which reverberated like thunder through the corridors of power, business and politics. Even today, four years after Epstein committed suicide in a Manhattan jail cell, it’s hard to shake the feeling that a code of silence, some sort of omerta, weighs on his affairs here.
George, 64, sits in a poolside restaurant in a flamingo-pink hotel, overlooking the St. Thomas skyline. It’s midsummer in the tropics, low season here. The place is empty. From the silver chain she wears around her neck hangs a gift from her husband: a pendant in the shape of the scales of justice.
Epstein’s estate was the first to settle in the Virgin Islands. A year ago, she agreed to pay $105 million, plus half the proceeds from the sale of Little St. James, aka “Little St. Jeff,” the private island where authorities say some of the crimes of Epstein took place.
Then, last January, Wall Street billionaire Leon Black paid $62.5 million. Then came JPMorgan Chase., in September, for 75 million dollars. Neither party admitted wrongdoing. All declined to comment for this story.
Without these cases, the world may never have glimpsed some of the secrets Epstein and his inner circle hid, or the depth of his influence here in the Caribbean. Emails that surfaced in the litigation, for example, revealed Epstein’s unusually close relationship with Jes Staley, a top banker at JPMorgan Chase & Co. who later headed Barclays Plc.
JPMorgan had alleged in court that Staley failed to alert the bank of everything he knew about Epstein. Staley — who exchanged sexually suggestive emails about young women with Epstein and visited Little St. Jeff, according to emails filed in court — has not been accused of wrongdoing by authorities. Staley’s lawyers say he had no decision-making authority over Epstein’s JPMorgan accounts.
In a nutshell, George’s story behind these stories is this:
She felt pressure from the territory’s governor to quickly resolve the Epstein cases and move on. For George, the message was clear: bury the Epstein scandal once and for all.
“It was very professional, but we had very different values and that created a lot of conflict between us throughout the Epstein investigation and other matters as well,” she said.
After George’s firing last December, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. made it clear he was eager to put the whole scandal behind the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“If we never mention Jeffrey Epstein again, that would be good for me,” Bryan told The St. Thomas Source. At the time, his office said George’s firing was unrelated to his pursuit of JPMorgan. But Bryan later said he couldn’t let an attorney general launch charges he didn’t know existed. His office did not respond to requests for comment.
One thing is certain: Over the years that Epstein sex trafficked and sexually abused dozens of underage girls and young women, he projected money and influence throughout the Virgin Islands as if the territory were his private fiefdom.
He cultivated politicians, donated heavily to campaigns, and formed close ties to a powerful and well-connected local law firm. Cécile de Jongh, wife of one of Bryan’s predecessors as governor, John de Jongh, even worked for Epstein. She served as bureau chief and unofficial political emissary. Ms de Jongh declined to comment for this story.
During her deposition in the JPMorgan litigation, Ms. de Jongh was asked about enrolling in English classes for women at Epstein’s request. She said she had never seen anyone in distress and that she would “never do anything to harm anyone, nor aid or abet anyone to harm anyone.”
Epstein pushed to relax the rules imposed on him as a sex offender, with mixed success. He also received $300 million in tax breaks from the Territory Economic Development Commission, some of them while current Gov. Bryan was EDC chairman. Neither Bryan nor any other officials have been accused of wrongdoing.
Epstein expanded his influence over the islands in order to protect himself and hide his dark secrets, George says.
Despite the grim record and all the stories surrounding Epstein, George says she was unaware of the extent of his crimes when she was appointed attorney general in 2019, less than two months before Epstein was arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey after leaving Paris. .
It didn’t take him long to find out. She had only been on the job for a few weeks when reporters started calling her. They wanted to know if authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands were investigating what Epstein had done all those years in Little St. Jeff.
This was not the case.
Around the same time, Gov. Bryan, who was sworn in in 2019, told George that Epstein had made a request: He wanted a new waiver to ease some restrictions placed on him as a convicted sex offender , according to court filings. Epstein, for example, had to give 21 days’ notice to the Virgin Islands when he planned to travel.
“In my head, I think: Relax?” George remembers. “If anything, wouldn’t you say, Tighten them?»
A previous attorney general had granted such a waiver, but it was later revoked. Epstein wanted a new one, George testified in a deposition earlier this year.
Gov. Bryan told her that Epstein’s lawyers would make contact, she said. They worked for Kellerhals Ferguson Kroblin, according to the former attorney, the same local business that supported his gubernatorial campaign.
Erika Kellerhals, who filed for the waiver on Epstein’s behalf, had organized a $1,000-a-head fundraiser for Bryan with her partner Greg Ferguson in 2018. Ferguson was later named to Bryan’s transition committee for regulation economical, according to a report. local press article.
Gov. Bryan texted George in May 2019, she testified in a deposition, telling her to make a decision. She rejected Epstein’s request.
George later testified that she thought Epstein was “exerting his political influence on or with the governor” rather than going through the usual channels.
Given Epstein’s apparent influence in the Virgin Islands, who would want to shake things up? George said she was willing to try. Around St. Thomas, she has a reputation as a straight shooter. The former public corruption lawyer does not go so far as to point out the authorities’ wrongdoing. But on this sticky August day, in her blazer with gold buttons, she makes it clear that, for her part, she would not tolerate it.
“If I had to lose my job to avoid being part of a conspiracy to cover something up, I would,” George says. “My bar license, my integrity were more important to me. I wasn’t going to compromise with that.
When Epstein was found dead a few months later in his cramped Manhattan jail cell, George saw an opening. Epstein had quietly established a trust in the Virgin Islands as a custodian for his personal fortune, valued at $577 million at the time of his death. George decided to go after the estate and those who might have helped Epstein.
“He is dead,” she thought, “but his accomplices must be alive. »
The law firm representing the estate: Kellerhals Ferguson Kroblin, the same one that Epstein had used for years here, and the same one that had ties to Governor Bryan. In court filings, the company quickly lambasted the Virgin Islands for standing idly by while Epstein was alive.
Kellerhals did not respond to a request for comment.
The governor gave his blessing when George indicated she wanted to launch civil action against the estate. But the tone changed when the dispute stretched into a second year.
Privately, Bryan expressed his frustration. He wanted to know why it was taking so long to settle Epstein’s estate.
George asserted that the civil racketeering case was complex and warranted a resolution that at least partly addressed Epstein’s myriad wrongdoings in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the end, the estate returned $80 million in tax incentives, agreed to pay half a million to repair environmental damage to one of Epstein’s islands, committed half of the proceeds from the future sale of Little St James and established a victims’ compensation fund.
Officially, it was George, not the governor, who was responsible for making legal decisions. But Bryan was still his boss and held the purse strings. It was a delicate balance, George said.
Trying to untangle a half-billion dollar estate is a formidable task at the best of times. It was even more difficult given the code of silence that still surrounds the deceased financier. Many of Epstein’s employees had signed confidentiality agreements. Some alerted the estate’s lawyers as soon as investigators contacted them. In Little St. Jeff, gardeners avoided eye contact as authorities approached.
George herself visited Little St. Jeff. She still can’t shake the strange absurdity of seeing a dentist’s chair inside the luxurious island villa.
Ultimately, Epstein’s estate was settled. The other battles would soon follow.
George didn’t have much time to celebrate. Four weeks after that deal was made — and four days after George filed a lawsuit against JPMorgan — the official news came from the Governor’s Office.
It was New Year’s Eve. George was cooking callaloo, Caribbean greens, at his father’s house. A security guard came to the door and handed him a letter.
Denise George, the 16th Attorney General of the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been removed from her position without notice.