A protest group called "Hot Mess" hold up photos of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse in New York City on Monday. Stephanie Keith / AFP
Prosecutors on Monday accused American financier Jeffrey Epstein of luring dozens of girls as young as 14 to his luxury homes in New York and Florida and paying them for sex acts.
Epstein was charged with sex trafficking.
An indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan said Epstein, 66, "intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18, including because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age."
Epstein, a former hedge fund manager, was accused of arranging for girls to perform nude "massages" and other sex acts, and paying some girls to recruit others.
The indictment charged Epstein with one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy for alleged misconduct from at least 2002 to 2005. The maximum possible sentence for conviction on those charges is 45 years.
Prosecutors will ask a judge that Epstein be detained pending trial, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a press conference.
"The alleged behaviour shocks the conscience," Berman said.
He said that despite the large amount of time that has passed, "it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims, now young women. They deserve their day in court."
Epstein has said in earlier court filings that his encounters with alleged victims were consensual and that he believed they were 18 when they occurred.
His lawyer, Jack Goldberger, said before the indictment was made public that Epstein will plead not guilty.
Epstein was arrested on Saturday night at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he had returned on his private plane from France, and is expected to appear in federal court on Monday.
Known for socializing with politicians and royalty, Epstein once had friends including US President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton, and according to court papers Britain's Prince Andrew.
None of those people were mentioned in the indictment.
The case is being handled by the public corruption unit of Berman's office. Berman said he would not comment on Epstein's associates and added "not to read into that one way or another." Trump praised Epstein in an interview with New York magazine in 2002.
"I've known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy," Trump said.
"He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it - Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
Epstein first came under investigation in 2005 after police in Palm Beach, Florida, received reports he had sexually abused underage girls in his mansion there.
The new accusations are part of protracted, bitter dispute between Trump's company and Fintiklis, the majority owner of the 70-story, seaside, sail-shaped building.
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