Ep­stein’s Caribbean re­treat dubbed ‘Pe­dophile Is­land’

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Dan­ica Coto

CHAR­LOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Is­lands — Ask about Jef­frey Ep­stein on St. Thomas and rooms go quiet. Some peo­ple leave. Those who share sto­ries speak in barely au­di­ble tones.

The 66-year-old bil­lion­aire bought Lit­tle St. James Is­land off this U.S. Caribbean ter­ri­tory more than two decades ago and be­gan to trans­form it — clear­ing veg­e­ta­tion, ring­ing the prop­erty with palm trees and plant­ing two mas­sive U.S. flags on either end.

It was off-putting to residents of St. Thomas — a lush trop­i­cal is­land east of Puerto Rico with wind­ing roads through moun­tains dot­ted with dainty Dan­ish colo­nial-era homes. Then, when Ep­stein pleaded guilty in a 2008 to so­lic­it­ing and procur­ing a mi­nor for pros­ti­tu­tion, his need for pri­vacy be­gan to ap­pear more sin­is­ter.

“Every­body called it ‘Pe­dophile Is­land,’ ” said Kevin Goodrich, who is from St. Thomas and op­er­ates boat char­ters. “It’s our dark cor­ner.”

Many peo­ple who worked for Ep­stein told The As­so­ci­ated Press that they had signed long nondis­clo­sure agree­ments, and re­fused to talk. One for­mer em­ployee who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied said Ep­stein once had five boats, in­clud­ing a large ferry in which he trans­ported up to 200 work­ers from St. Thomas to his is­land ev­ery day for con­struc­tion work.

The man said he saw a hand­ful of young women when he was on Ep­stein’s prop­erty but he be­lieved they were older than 18.

“When he was there, it was keep to your­self and do your thing,” the man re­called, adding that Ep­stein paid well.

Ep­stein built a stone man­sion with cream-col­ored walls and a bright turquoise roof sur­rounded by sev­eral other struc­tures in­clud­ing the maids’ quar­ters and a mas­sive, square­shaped white build­ing on one end of the is­land. Its gold dome flew off dur­ing the deadly 2017 hur­ri­cane sea­son. Lo­cals re­called seeing Ep­stein’s black he­li­copter fly­ing back and forth from the tiny in­ter­na­tional air­port in St. Thomas to his he­li­pad on Lit­tle St. James Is­land, a roughly 75-acre re­treat a lit­tle over a mile south­east of St. Thomas.

Gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments and ledgers show that Lit­tle St. James Is­land was once known as Mingo Cay. In April 1998, a com­pany called L.S.J. LLC bought it for $7.95 mil­lion. Ad­di­tional doc­u­ments showed that Ep­stein is the sole mem­ber of L.S.J.

Ep­stein later bought neigh­bor­ing Great St. James Is­land, which once was pop­u­lar with lo­cals and tourists for its main at­trac­tion, Christ­mas Cove, a place where you could hang out and or­der pizza and have it de­liv­ered via boat.

“He wasn’t well re­ceived,” re­called Spencer Con­solvo, a St. Thomas na­tive who runs a tourist shop near a large ma­rina. “Peo­ple think he’s too rich to be po­liced prop­erly.”

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties con­sider the smaller of the two is­lands to be Ep­stein’s pri­mary res­i­dence in the United States, a place where at least one al­leged vic­tim said in a court af­fi­davit that she had sex with Ep­stein and other peo­ple. She said she saw for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton on the is­land, but that she never saw him hav­ing sex with any­one. A Clin­ton spokesman is­sued a state­ment say­ing he never vis­ited there.

A day af­ter he pleaded not guilty in a New York court­room to charges of sex­u­ally abus­ing dozens of un­der­age girls, there was scant move­ment on the Caribbean is­land. Hur­ri­cane shut­ters cov­ered the win­dows, lo­cals hadn’t seen any lights at night and a lone worker drove a bright blue golf cart around the prop­erty.

GIANFRANCO GAGLIONE/AP

An aerial view is shown of Lit­tle St. James Is­land, in the U.S. Virgin Is­lands, which Jef­frey Ep­stein bought decades ago and on which he built his stone man­sion.

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