RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell last week. That is not stopping a civil suit against his estate and his co-conspirators. Jennifer Araoz is accusing at least four people of enabling the sexual abuse that she suffered when she was just 14 and 15 years old. Among the others named in this suit unveiled today is Epstein's former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, who Araoz alleges helped to find new victims for Epstein. Here's Araoz speaking on a conference call today with reporters.
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JENNIFER ARAOZ: I am here because today is my first step towards reclaiming my power. Jeffrey Epstein and his network of enablers stole from me. They robbed me of my youth, my identity, my innocence and my self-worth.
MARTIN: Joining us now, Associated Press reporter Michael Sisak. He has been covering the Epstein story and the aftermath and digging into police and court records related. Thanks so much for being with us, Michael.
MICHAEL SISAK: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So the civil suit filed in New York this morning lists Epstein's longtime associate Ghislaine Maxwell. She is named; three other women are not named, but they are alleged to have been co-conspirators. Can you explain what that means? I mean, what exactly is being alleged here?
SISAK: Well, this lawsuit echoes a lot of the other lawsuits that have come out over the last several years against Epstein and some of his alleged co-conspirators, that there was a vast network that was recruiting young women, and then those young women were made to recruit other young women and perpetuate this cycle.
So this is the first in what we expect to be a new wave of lawsuits, where the targets are now the people who surrounded Epstein, whether it's his longtime girlfriend Maxwell - longtime associate and former girlfriend, I should say, or the maids, the butlers, the pilots of his private jet - anybody that may have been around the mansion or the private island that knew something or helped facilitate what is alleged to be a vast sex trafficking network.
MARTIN: You've said vast a couple of times now. So we've got the - Ghislaine Maxwell is named. These three other people named in the current suit. You're saying that this will be the beginning not just of accusers coming forward with similar civil suits, but the list of co-conspirators is likely to get longer.
SISAK: That's quite possible. You have, you know, at least four pilots that have been mentioned in various court documents. You have people that worked at these various properties that he owned. He had a New Mexico ranch, an apartment in Paris, an island in the Virgin Islands and one of the largest mansions in New York City, all with people working for him there, and we've seen some names trickle out not only in these recent developments but in the past.
And the vastness also goes to the extent of how many young women alleged that they were abused. Dozens of people have come forward, either in lawsuits or in other reporting. And now that New York state has opened the window to look back at sexual abuse and to allow people to file civil litigation, we may see many more of them come forward and sue these alleged co-conspirators.
MARTIN: Right, that legal change in New York taking effect today. I mean, what about the non-prosecution agreement that Jeffrey Epstein was able to strike back in Florida? He served 13 months in jail, but it protected his associates from prosecution. So how do federal prosecutors - let's talk about the federal side of this - how do they get around that?
SISAK: Well, that's a great point, and that's, I think, going to be a sticking point in any potential criminal prosecution of these folks surrounding Jeffrey Epstein. Jeffrey Epstein's lawyers tried to use that plea agreement as a way to quash the charges that were filed just last month against him. They said this protected him against all criminal liability. But the prosecution said that only pertained to Florida, not to New York. Now, that same argument could be made by lawyers for these alleged co-conspirators. There were four women...
MARTIN: So in the civil suits this could be a problem?
SISAK: No, in the criminal and - if there's a criminal case. Attorney General William Barr has pledged to move forward with investigations into those folks around Jeffrey Epstein. But their lawyers may come back and say, hey, wait a minute - there's a plea agreement that also includes their name and also include anybody who's an alleged coconspirator, so they should be protected from prosecution.
MARTIN: Do we know where Ghislaine Maxwell is now?
SISAK: I don't know where she is, and she has not spoken publicly. We've made repeated attempts to contact her, her lawyers and her representatives, and nobody has come forward and spoken on her behalf.
MARTIN: Mike Sisak, a reporter for the AP, following the Jeffrey Epstein case closely. Thanks. We appreciate it.
SISAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.