Finance

JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank on the hook for class action lawsuits over facilitating Jeffrey Epstein’s sex-trafficking

Women who accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexual abuse are suing Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan, saying the banks facilitated Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking operation and ignored red flags about their wealthy client.

The two lawsuits seek class-action status and unspecified financial damages. They were both brought by lawyers that have represented many of the late financier’s accusers. The suits were filed in federal court in New York on 24 November

“The time has come for the real enablers to be held responsible, especially his wealthy friends and the financial institutions that played an integral role,” said one of the lawyers, Bradley Edwards, in a written statement. “These victims were wronged, by many, not just Epstein. He did not act alone.”

A Deutsche Bank spokesman said, “We believe this claim lacks merit and will present our arguments in court.”

A JPMorgan spokesman declined to comment.

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The Deutsche Bank suit cites many of the findings from an investigation by New York state’s financial regulator into that bank’s relationship with Epstein. The JPMorgan suit cites the relationship between Epstein and a former top JPMorgan executive that was investigated by UK regulators.

The unnamed woman suing JPMorgan is a former ballet dancer in New York who was recruited by another young female and sexually abused by Epstein from 2006 through 2013, according to her suit. She alleges she was also trafficked to his friends. Large sums of money were withdrawn from JPMorgan to make cash payments to her and other women, the suit says. The suit alleges that Epstein used the cash to pay for sex acts.

A different woman suing Deutsche Bank was sexually abused by Epstein and trafficked to his friends from about 2003 until about 2018 and was also paid in cash for sex acts, according to her suit. The bank ignored red flags including payments to numerous young women and large withdrawals of cash, the suit says. New York’s regulator found Epstein, his related entities and associates had more than 40 accounts at Deutsche Bank.

The lawsuits state that both banks assisted and participated in Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking by enabling him to make payments to women for sex acts and that the banks profited from Epstein’s activities. Both banks worked with Epstein for years after he pleaded guilty in a Florida state court in 2008 to soliciting prostitution from a minor. Epstein died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges.

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The suits allege the banks violated human-trafficking laws by aiding Epstein with access to accounts and cash. Banks must know who their customers are and what the accounts are being used for to police money laundering and avoid enabling criminal activity.

The suit against JPMorgan says that Epstein started banking with the firm sometime around 1998 and developed a close relationship with Jes Staley, who was then head of private banking. Epstein turned to Deutsche Bank when the ties with JPMorgan ended around 2013, the lawsuits say.

The suit says JPMorgan turned a blind eye to Epstein’s activities in exchange for financial gain. Epstein introduced Staley to wealthy clients and helped the bank arrange its deal to buy a majority stake in Highbridge Capital in 2004, at the peak of Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking, according to the suit.

The suit states that JPMorgan also housed accounts for longtime Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell and that she received about $31m from Epstein between 1999 and 2007 as alleged compensation for her help with sex trafficking. After Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008, Staley visited him while he was serving his sentence in Florida, the suit says.

Staley later left JPMorgan and became CEO of Barclays in December 2015. He resigned in November 2021 amid an investigation by UK regulators into his relationship with Epstein and the bank’s disclosures about their ties. The two men exchanged more than a thousand emails during Staley’s time at JPMorgan, the suit says.

“I deeply regret having had any relationship with Jeffrey Epstein,” Staley told reporters in 2020. Staley previously said his relationship with Epstein was professional and ended before he took over Barclays.

A lawyer for Staley declined to comment.

The suit says Mary Erdoes, currently head of JPMorgan’s asset- and wealth-management division, also protected Epstein as a client after other executives questioned why the bank worked with him. A JPMorgan spokesman has previously disputed Erdoes protected Epstein and said she only recalled one formal meeting with him, “which was the day she fired him as a client.”

The JPMorgan spokesman declined to comment on Erdoes’s behalf.

Paul Morris, who was among Epstein’s private wealth managers at JPMorgan and then at Deutsche Bank, emailed his bosses at Deutsche Bank in 2013 to tell them that Epstein’s accounts could generate $100m to $300m in money flows and $2m to $4m in annual fees, and the men agreed to add him as a client despite his prior conviction, according to the suit against Deutsche Bank.

Morris didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

New York state’s financial regulator fined Deutsche Bank $150m in 2020 for failing to properly monitor its dealings with the convicted sex offender and other lapses. Deutsche Bank said at the time that it was a mistake to take Epstein as a client and acknowledged weaknesses in its processes, and that it had learned from its mistakes.

In its 2020 findings, the New York regulator said some of the payments Epstein made from his Deutsche Bank accounts were suspicious. For example, it said, Epstein sent $2.65m in more than 120 wire transfers to beneficiaries of an entity called the Butterfly Trust. Some payments went to people who had been named as co-conspirators in his past cases involving sexual abuse or to women with Eastern European surnames for hotel expenses, tuition and rent, the regulator said.

“Knowing that they would earn millions of dollars from facilitating Epstein’s sex trafficking, and from its relationship with Epstein, Deutsche Bank chose profit over following the law,” the suit states.

Deutsche Bank ended ties with Epstein after the Miami Herald’s reporting in 2018 that detailed accusations by women who said that, as girls, they were victims of Epstein. But a Deutsche Bank official wrote reference letters to other banks, according to the suit.

Epstein left an estate worth at least $577m that has been the subject of litigation. Last year, Maxwell was convicted by a federal jury for her role in helping recruit and groom teenage girls for him.

—Patricia Kowsmann and Jenny Strasburg contributed to this article.

Write to Khadeeja Safdar at [email protected] and David Benoit at [email protected]

This article was published by The Wall Street Journal, part of Dow Jones

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