The fund created by the estate of Jeffrey E. Epstein to compensate victims of sexual assault by the financier finished its work by paying just over $ 121 million to more than 135 people – far more than expected, according to the fund administrator.
Jordana Feldman, the administrator of the fund, who started her work in earnest last August, said she wanted to hand money over to eligible victims as quickly as possible because many of them had been waiting for years. She said she had wanted to approve the final awards before Tuesday – the second anniversary of Mr. Epstein’s death in federal custody from apparent suicide.
“I really wanted this process to happen quickly and in a meaningful and determined manner,” said Ms. Feldman, a lawyer who also worked on the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. “I really believe these programs are as much about validation as they are about compensation.”
The money handed over to Mr Epstein’s victims is sizable compared to the roughly $ 17 million that dozens of victims of sexual abuse from former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein received in a settlement approved earlier this year by a bankruptcy judge.
When Mr. Epstein died, he left behind a large estate valued at around $ 600 million. But because he had put so much of his fortune in a trust, there were concerns that it would take years for his victims to recover the money from his estate.
The executors of the estate decided to create a restitution fund to allow accusers to seek compensation, including those who had made earlier deals with Mr Epstein after his conviction in 2008 for soliciting prostitution of a girl minor. As part of his plea deal in that case, Mr Epstein avoided more serious federal charges, but was required to register as a sex offender. He was arrested again in July 2019, after years of trying to rehabilitate his image, on charges of sex trafficking in teenage girls. He died a month later in his Manhattan jail cell.
Ms Feldman said the fund was expected to be able to receive requests from around 100 people. But in the end, around 225 people came forward to seek restitution.
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Not all people who submitted an application were deemed eligible. Ms. Feldman and her team turned down around 75 requests. In total, the fund was prepared to pay out $ 125 million, but she said a few people decided not to accept the rewards, allowing them instead to sue the estate.
Ms Feldman said she couldn’t discuss the details of the claims she approved or disapproved because the fund had promised confidentiality and anonymity for everyone who came forward. She also said she could not disclose how many of the qualifying claims were for sexual assaults committed after Mr Epstein served his prison sentence in Florida.
In keeping with the confidentiality of the process, Mr. Feldman said none of the video interviews she conducted with those submitting complaints were recorded. She also said there was no transcript of those calls – which were made remotely to avoid face-to-face contact during the pandemic.
Ms Feldman said she was allowed to contact authorities if she believed a claimant was attempting to make a fraudulent claim, but would not disclose if she made such references.
She said some victims received much greater compensation than others depending on the extent of the abuse and the amount of corroborating evidence they had to support a claim. She said about a quarter of those submitting applications came to the process without a lawyer representing them.
âThis is a highly individualized process and not one where you type the number into a computer and everyone gets the same award,â Ms. Feldman said. âIt can be heavy stuff. It’s intimate and people come in and disclose this private information that they may not have shared with their own spouse or family members. “
Ms Feldman finished her job months before Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime associate of Mr Epstein, was tried in Manhattan federal court on charges of sex trafficking and preparing young girls for Mr Epstein to abuse sexually.
Mr Epstein’s estate shrank considerably after paying off victims’ claims and $ 190 million in estate taxes owed to the federal government. The restitution fund was financed with money from Southern Trust, one of Mr Epstein’s main companies in the US Virgin Islands, where he had maintained a residence for nearly two decades.