Jef­frey Ep­stein’s New Mex­ico ranch linked to in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Second Front - By MARY HUDETZ

ALBUQUERQU­E, N.M. — At the cen­ter of Jef­frey Ep­stein’s se­cluded New Mex­ico ranch sits a sprawl­ing res­i­dence the fi­nancier built decades ago — com­plete with plans for a 4,000-square-foot court­yard, a liv­ing room roughly the size of the av­er­age Amer­i­can home and a nearby pri­vate airplane run­way.

Known as the Zorro Ranch, the prop­erty is now tied to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice says it has opened into Ep­stein with plans to for­ward find­ings to fed­eral au­thor­i­ties in New York.

Ep­stein, who pleaded not guilty this week to fed­eral sex traf­fick­ing charges in New York, has not faced crim­i­nal charges in New Mex­ico. But the scan­dal sur­round­ing him has still sent a jolt through the ru­ral south­west­ern state as it comes un­der scru­tiny for laws that al­lowed him to avoid reg­is­ter­ing as a sex of­fender fol­low­ing a guilty plea a decade ago in Florida.

“New Mex­ico con­tin­ues to lag be­hind the rest of the coun­try in strength­en­ing outdated and weak laws that fail to pro­tect our chil­dren from abuse,” New Mex­ico At­tor­ney Gen­eral Hec­tor Balderas said in an emailed state­ment to The As­so­ci­ated Press. “This is a huge black eye for our state.”

In ad­di­tion to con­firm­ing his of­fice had in­ter­viewed pos­si­ble vic­tims of Ep­stein who vis­ited his ranch south of Santa Fe, Balderas’ spokesman also said Fri­day that the at­tor­ney gen­eral would re­new his push for leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing any­one with a sex traf­fick­ing con­vic­tion to reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender in New Mex­ico.

In 2008, Ep­stein pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of so­lic­it­ing a mi­nor for pros­ti­tu­tion un­der an agree­ment that re­quired him to spend 13 months in jail and reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender. The agree­ment has been widely crit­i­cized for se­cretly end­ing a fed­eral sex abuse in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­volv­ing at least 40 teenage girls at the time that could have landed him be­hind bars for life.

La­bor Sec­re­tary Alexan­der Acosta said Fri­day he’s step­ping down amid the tu­mult over his han­dling of the 2008 deal with Ep­stein. Acosta was the U.S. at­tor­ney in Mi­ami when he over­saw the non-pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment.

The in­dict­ment filed in New York this week ac­cuses Ep­stein of pay­ing girls hun­dreds of dol­lars in cash for mas­sages and then mo­lest­ing them at his homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York from 2002 through 2005. The charges carry the po­ten­tial for up to 45 years in prison.

In a 2015 court fil­ing in Florida, a plain­tiff in a law­suit against Ep­stein said she had been abused at sev­eral lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the New Mex­ico prop­erty.

Records show Ep­stein pur­chased the ranch, val­ued by county of­fi­cials at over $12 mil­lion, from the fam­ily of for­mer Gov. Bruce King, who died 10 years ago. A 1995 Santa Fe New Mex­i­can story about his plans to build a man­sion said the home would be 26,700 square feet with a 2,100-square-foot liv­ing room.

The King fam­ily still owns land sur­round­ing much of the ranch near the town of Stan­ley, a ru­ral out­post on the plains that stretch east of the San­dia Moun­tains.

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