Inside the Effort to Compensate Jeffrey Epstein’s Victims

Jordana Feldman, like many Americans, lived through a pandemic defined by hundreds of


Zoom

meetings. Unlike many Americans, she held meetings from June 2020 to August 2021 with 200 women who were all there to talk about the same subject: sexual abuse at the hands of Jeffrey Epstein.

Feldman was the administrator of the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program. Announced in November 2019, the fund served two purposes. It would offer some form of justice for victims of the well-connected financier, who killed himself in jail while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges. And it would protect Epstein’s estate from an avalanche of lawsuits brought by accusers who wanted a piece of the $630 million in assets he left behind.

The compensation program, the thinking went, was a clean way to secure a good outcome for everyone involved. Epstein’s accusers could seek compensation without the messiness of a public lawsuit. Epstein’s longtime attorneys Darren Indyke and Richard Kahn, who’d been busy trying to liquidate Epstein’s vast estate while fending off the attorney general in the US Virgin Islands, could resolve the claims more quickly outside the court system.

Feldman had to figure out how to put a dollar amount on the sexual assaults of a couple hundred women and make sure the estate’s co-executors didn’t meddle too much. She would also have to persuade the women — many of whom were already jaded after the Justice Department kept them in the dark while making a secret plea deal with Epstein in 2007 — that the program was worth the emotional cost of baring their souls.

Feldman’s process was secretive; she wouldn’t explain how she arrived at her dollar amounts. The women would sign a document guaranteeing they’d drop any claims against Epstein they’d made since “the beginning of the world.” And they’d cede the right to file lawsuits against Epstein’s alleged accomplices, including Ghislaine Maxwell, who was found guilty last week of trafficking girls for Epstein to sexually abuse.

How hard could it all be?

Compensation funds gained popularity as an alternative to court litigation after 9/11, when Congress established a fund for families who would have otherwise sued airlines into bankruptcy. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was overseen by Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney whose work was dramatized last year in a Netflix movie starring Michael Keaton, and who had taught Feldman in law school.

Feldman was working at a firm a few blocks from the World Trade Center when the towers fell. When she learned her former professor would run the compensation program, she wanted to get involved. Over the next two decades, the 9/11 fund became a model for compensation programs everywhere. Feldman worked with Feinberg to establish and administer funds for people who suffered health problems from asbestos and breast implants and for victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

After Epstein died in jail in August 2019, the financier’s two private jets, two islands in the US Virgin Islands, real-estate holdings, and many other assets had to be liquidated to pay a $190 million tax bill. Indyke and Kahn, the estate’s executors, also had to address litigation from Epstein’s many accusers, who were bereft of the opportunity to face him in court. Once he was in the grave, even more women stepped forward.

Jordana Feldman Kenneth Feinberg

 

Jordana Feldman, the administrator of the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program, and Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Precision Strategies; David Handschuh/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

So Indyke and Kahn called Feinberg. The program they ultimately established for Epstein’s victims promised a measure of justice that had eluded them in court, the attorney Gloria Allred said.

“It took a great deal of courage for the victims to share the details of how Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficked or sexually victimized them,” Allred, who represents 20 of Epstein’s victims, told Insider. “Many of them are suffering from what he did to them many years ago, and there has been little or no justice for them in the criminal-justice system.”

The protocols for the compensation program were negotiated between November 2019 and February 2020 over a series of meetings between the Epstein estate’s lawyers, Feinberg and Feldman, victims’ attorneys, and the office of the US Virgin Islands’ attorney general, which still has its own legal claims over the estate. Several of the meetings were held in the Manhattan office of David Boies, the legendary attorney whose firm offered pro bono representation for several women in some of the longest court battles against Epstein, Maxwell, and Epstein’s former friends Alan Dershowitz and Prince Andrew.

The attorney Gloria Allred holds up a photo of one of Epstein’s victims during a press conference in Los Angeles on July 6, 2020.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty ImagesShow less

Virginia Giuffre and the lawyer David Boies arrive for a hearing in the criminal case against Epstein in New York on August 27, 2019.
REUTERS/Shannon StapletonShow less

The attorney Lisa Bloom outside court on the second day of Maxwell’s trial in New York on November 30.
REUTERS/Jeenah MoonShow less

Attorneys for the women persuaded Feinberg to allow participation from victims who’d settled with Epstein’s estate years earlier or whose claims would otherwise be outside of the statute of limitations. Feldman would independently administer the program so that Indyke and Kahn would be kept at arm’s length and victims would deal with someone they trusted. The claims would be processed within 90 days, making things faster for victims who would otherwise dangle for years in court.

Arick Fudali, a partner at The Bloom Firm who represents eight victims, negotiated some of the compensation fund’s protocols. He told Insider he made sure that women wouldn’t be penalized for waiting until after Epstein’s death to come forward.

“Epstein instilled fear in all of them,” Fudali said. “He would show them pictures with him and these really important people — we heard a lot of important names in the trial already — and go as far as actually making physical threats, coded threats, and sometimes just outright threats against them and their families.”

The program began accepting applications in June 2020. Victims or an attorney representing them had to fill out a questionnaire, give their personal information and a summary of their experience with Epstein, and offer supporting documentation. An interview was optional.

To Feldman’s surprise, more than 90% of the approximately 225 claimants who came forward requested an interview, she said.

Allred told Insider that in these interviews, her clients laid out in detail their background, what their life was like before they met Epstein, and how Epstein damaged them.

“Many of my clients found the courage in the compensation process to bare their souls to us and the administrators of the fund,” Allred told Insider, “and recount the details of what was done to them, even though it was very painful for them to recall what they were forced to suffer.”

Feldman said Epstein’s victims found the interviews to be a form of catharsis.

“It’s very enervating for these victims,” Feldman said. “It took so much out of them. We would hear stories of victims who slept for 24 hours after the meetings.”

Feldman had expected to host many of the meetings in person, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the process to unfold on Zoom. It was an unexpected benefit, she said: Each victim could be heard in a space of their choosing, without fear that their identity would be exposed if they were to be spotted walking into an office building.

jeffrey epstein victims gloria allred teala davies

 

Allred speaks to journalists with Teala Davies in New York on August 27, 2019.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

From her home office in New York, Feldman steeled herself for each interview, drawing from her experience listening to 9/11 victims’ families. She conducted all the interviews herself, offering the option for Marci Hamilton, an advocate for victims of child sex abuse who was recommended by attorneys representing Epstein’s accusers, to be on each call as well. In addition to whatever therapeutic value the interviews offered accusers, Feldman found they gave color, context, and dimension that became useful in crunching the numbers for what each victim would receive.

“The meetings are at the heart of the program,” Feldman said. “You can only capture so much in a paper filing when you’re talking about harm like this.”

Fudali said many of his clients had withdrawn into a fragile emotional state before making their claims. The interviews, he said, transformed them.

“They were finally getting closure to this Epstein nightmare,” Fudali said. “This was the beginning of the new chapter of their lives, that Jeffrey Epstein was no longer a part of.”

Unlike litigation, the interviews were nonconfrontational. Lisa Bloom, who represented eight accusers along with Fudali, said the way Feldman treated the women was a far cry from how Maxwell’s attorneys grilled accusers on the stand in her trial.

“The claims administrators were respectful and very fair in the way they asked the questions,” Bloom said. “It’s a world of difference between the cross-examination that you see in the trial.”

Feldman didn’t keep recordings or transcripts of each meeting. She did take notes, which she and her staff of about 10 people used to help determine how much compensation each victim’s experience demanded. That was a unique challenge, Feldman and Allred said. You can’t exactly punch someone’s experience with sex trafficking into a calculator and accept the number it spits out.

“You can’t plug it in and say, ‘OK, here’s what happened, therefore you’re entitled to this much,'” Allred said.

More than twice as many claimants stepped forward as Feldman had expected.

The police in Palm Beach, Florida, who first investigated Epstein, had identified 34 victims by 2006. Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald reporter whose “Perversion of Justice” series led to the federal sex-trafficking charges against Epstein, said she identified about 80 victims. Feldman expected about 100 women to make claims to the fund.

Of the approximately 225 claimants who came forward by the March 2021 deadline, Feldman identified about 150 who would be eligible to receive compensation. She turned some claimants away after determining they couldn’t substantiate their relationship with Epstein. Other claimants may have decided to continue fighting the Epstein estate in court or declined to sign the estate’s release form. In the end, 138 accusers accepted the money.

The fund paid out about $125 million in total, but the amount dispensed for each accuser varied wildly.

Maxwell’s child-sex-trafficking trial dispelled some of the secrecy around the compensation process. Before each of the trial’s four accusers testified in court, Maxwell’s attorneys subpoenaed material from the program and entered into evidence filings showing how much money Feldman had offered them.

One of the accusers received $5 million from the Epstein fund, while the other three received between $1.5 million and $3.25 million. Those numbers suggest that some other claimants received compensation in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some Epstein victims and their attorneys, watching the proceedings in overflow rooms from the Manhattan federal courthouse, grumbled about the gap in the numbers.

Ghislaine Maxwell trial illustration

 

A courtroom sketch depicting Maxwell pulling down her mask to drink from a cup during jury deliberations in her trial.

Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell pulls down her mask to sip from a cup as deliberations extended into a second week in a courtroom sketch in New York City, U.S., December 27, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

The compensation program’s protocol document doesn’t reference Maxwell. But in closing arguments at the trial, the defense attorney Laura Menninger argued that Maxwell’s accusers’ lawyers, who helped shape the program, had embellished the women’s stories to get more money from the fund.

Every accuser who testified against Maxwell flatly denied that suggestion. And since the program closed in August, there is no longer any mechanism to pay out more money in compensation. David Boies, who represents 14 Epstein accusers — including Annie Farmer, who testified against Maxwell in the trial — said Menninger’s claims about the compensation fund made no sense.

“The victims were compensated out of the compensation fund for the abuse they suffered,” Boies told Insider. “They were not compensated for cooperating with the government or doing anything else.”

Bloom, who has one client who made claims against Maxwell, said the socialite wasn’t a factor in the compensation process.

“Our eight victims who we took through this process every step of the way, there was never any suggestion they would get more money if they cooperated with the government or if they named Ghislaine Maxwell,” she said.

Feldman said that cooperating with law enforcement made no difference in how much money was given to the accusers.

“As the administrator of the program, who oversaw every aspect of this program, implemented the terms of the protocol, participated in every communication with counsel, reviewed every claim and made every determination, that is misinformed,” Feldman said of Maxwell’s defense. “That is wrong.”

The Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program didn’t have a fixed pot of money to split among accusers, and Feldman said there wasn’t some grand matrix or algorithm she used to calculate the amount of money each woman received. She and her staff used other programs including the 9/11 fund and the Catholic Church sex-abuse fund as frames of reference.

“What was the age of the victim at the time of the abuse? How severe was the abuse? How frequent? What impact did it have on the claimant? What’s the extent of corroboration and then the overall credibility of the claims? Those were among the driving factors in the evaluation,” she said.

“There is a certain level of objectivity, and it’s coupled with a subjective assessment of the facts and circumstances presented in each claim,” she added. “It’s a judgment call ​​based on experience and the totality of information.”

Feldman was reticent in describing just how the amounts were determined. Victims submitted material similar to what you’d expect in a lawsuit or journalistic exposé: diary entries, calendars, and statements from friends or family members describing contemporaneous accounts.

“Some programs it might be more like ‘check the box here,'” Feldman said. “It’s obviously more narrative-driven in a case like this.”

Jennifer Araoz Epstein court

 

Jennifer Araoz has said Epstein raped her in his New York townhouse in 2002, when she was only 14.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Feldman’s team cross-referenced that information with other material to evaluate each victim’s credibility and determine how much money they should receive. Feldman also paid attention to academic literature on trauma and memory.

“Sexual-abuse victims, or any victims of traumatic events, often have very vivid recollections of certain things and very hazy recollection or mixed-up time frames with others,” she said. “I’m looking at these things holistically.”

Some attorneys who represented multiple claimants inferred some patterns and principles for how Feldman’s team determined compensation. Boies observed that his clients who had lengthy abusive experiences with Epstein were granted more money than those who immediately escaped his grasp.

“There were women who were sort of forced on one occasion to give him a massage that did not end with a sex act who were treated somewhat differently than those who were forced into sex acts,” he said. “The overall principle was to try to assess the extent of the abuse both in terms of its nature and duration. And I think that ultimately came down to a judgment that was somewhat subjective.”

Feldman’s wishy-washy explanation of the compensation amounts didn’t sit well with every victim. To them, her process was a black box. All she gave the women was a dollar figure, with the opportunity to take it or leave it.

Victims’ attorneys told Insider they got only vague explanations when they asked Feldman to elaborate on how she determined compensation.

“Things like the age and the circumstance, but no real specifics or nuances about why they arrived at certain numbers,” Fudali said.

Allred said the reaction among her clients to the amounts Feldman offered was “mixed.”

“Some of them were satisfied with the award,” Allred said. “There were others who felt that they were not fairly compensated for what Jeffrey Epstein did to them and the harm that they suffered, which they felt had been proven.”

There was no way to appeal Feldman’s compensation offer. Feldman herself sometimes reconsidered her judgement, but only if the accusers offered new information. If a victim didn’t like her offer and her claims weren’t outside the legal statute of limitations, she could reject the offer and file a civil lawsuit — an option that wasn’t typically available in other compensation programs, including the 9/11 victims’ fund.

Ghislaine Maxwell Jeffrey Epstein Michael Bolton

 

Maxwell and Epstein at Mar-a-Lago in February 2000.

Davidoff Studios/Getty Images

Some victims did pursue litigation. One of Allred’s clients, a Russian national who filed her lawsuit under a pseudonym, sued the Epstein estate in October, alleging Epstein repeatedly raped her for years, up until his arrest in 2019. Two of Boies’ clients thought civil lawsuits would be their best chance at justice, and Bloom and Fudali had three clients who opted to keep their lawsuits going and ultimately settled with the estate. There are several other ongoing civil lawsuits against the estate, including one from a woman who alleged Epstein threatened to feed her to alligators if she told anyone about him sexually abusing her.

Allred said she found the total amount of money granted by the compensation fund particularly baffling. The program’s protocol documentation says it had “no cap or limitation on the aggregate amount of funds available.” (At one point, litigation in the US Virgin Islands did lead to liquidity issues that forced the fund to pause.) But the $125 million the fund meted out was a fraction of the estate’s value.

“Given that the estate at one point was valued at $634 million, this seems, in my opinion, to be a very small amount paid to victims for the harm that they suffered,” Allred said. “It’s my opinion that victims should have been compensated with a much larger share of Epstein’s estate and that the amount awarded to many of them was insufficient and undervalued the sexual abuse that they suffered.”

Feldman said the amounts she awarded reflected an “individual” and “bottom-up, claim-by-claim approach” based on her team’s experience with other compensation programs. Boies, Fudali, and Bloom told Insider that while the amounts Feldman granted were in line with what would be expected from a court settlement, they believed the estate should have doled out more.

“I’m of the opinion that every single penny in the Jeffrey Epstein estate should have gone to the victims,” Fudali said. “There should not have been a single cent left over for anything but compensation to the victims.”

There was one last step to take for victims who wanted to accept the compensation program’s offer, and it was outside Feldman’s control.

The women had to sign a release form that required them to promise not to sue Epstein’s estate and to drop any lawsuits they may have against the estate or its administrators. The provision was binding, including any “cause or thing whatsoever from the beginning of the world through the date of this General Release.”

The release form also included protections for anyone who had been “employed by, worked in any capacity for, or provided any services to Mr. Epstein.” That includes Indyke and Kahn, the estate administrators whom prosecutors in the US Virgin Islands have accused of facilitating Epstein’s abuse. And it includes Ghislaine Maxwell.

Victims had the opportunity to carve out certain individuals from the release form, preserving the right to sue them in court. Virginia Giuffre, for example, reserved the right to sue Prince Andrew; her sexual-abuse case against him is ongoing. (Andrew has strenuously denied Giuffre’s allegations of sexual abuse and has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.) The Epstein estate determined whether to approve the carve-outs, with Feldman acting as the liaison to the victims’ attorneys.

When victims’ attorneys asked to reserve the right to sue Maxwell, the estate rejected them. The estate also refused to permit carve-outs for Sarah Kellen or Lesley Groff, two other women accused of aiding Epstein and of sexually abusing girls themselves. Indyke, Kahn, Kellen, and Groff have all denied wrongdoing.

Ghislaine Maxwell Jeffrey Epstein intimate

 

An undated photo of Maxwell and Epstein that was entered into evidence during her criminal trial.

US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

Daniel Weiner, an attorney for Indyke and Kahn, told Insider that Epstein’s estate had to protect Maxwell because if it didn’t, Maxwell would keep suing the estate for legal fees. In a lawsuit filed in the US Virgin Islands, Maxwell said Epstein and Indyke promised to cover her legal costs, including the cost of fighting federal prosecution. The estate’s executors have moved to dismiss the lawsuit.

“It would make no sense for the Estate — and would be inconsistent with the Co-Executors’


fiduciary

duties to the Estate, including its creditors and remaining claimants — to pay out over $120 million in awards under the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program, and then risk being dragged back into litigation,” Weiner wrote in an email.

While Maxwell’s trial had no effect on the compensation program, her inclusion in the release form did. Since accusers waived the right to sue the Epstein associates protected by the release, Feldman took credible accusations against those associates into account when determining how much money to award claimants, she said.

“We did consider the underlying allegations regarding the nature and extent of others’, including Maxwell’s, involvement in facilitating, normalizing, or participating in the abuse,” Feldman said. “And if I found those allegations to be credible, that was factored into the compensation determination.”

Boies said Maxwell’s protection from civil litigation raised the stakes for the criminal case against her.

“The inability to hold Maxwell civilly accountable, it’s frustrating,” Boies said. “I think that has, in the survivors’ minds, made accountability through the criminal process even more important.”

The guilty verdict rendered last week was, in Feldman’s eyes, vindication for the women who’d made the courageous decision to go public with their claims.

“Like the program, this is another independent body — the jury — that evaluated the testimony and the other evidence present at the trial and concluded that the victims were credible, the case was compelling, and that legal redress was appropriate and justified,” Feldman said.

Be known by your own web domain (en)

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *