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Mystery surrounds Epstein's 'orgy island'

Ex-staffer recalls women guests sunbathing topless or nude, as well as extra security over steel safe

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The private island of Little St James - which locals dubbed Pedophile Island - where Epstein hosted young women who were ferried over in groups. One of his business clients was Victoria's Secret mogul Les Wexner and Victoria's Secret models were among the guests there. Epstein has been charged with trafficking girls as young as 14.

New York

FROM the harbour on St Thomas, the boat skims eastward across the crystalline Caribbean, takes a turn and there it is: the palm-fringed paradise that was the private redoubt of Jeffrey Epstein.

It's quiet now on the island of Little St James. Epstein dubbed it Little St Jeff's. Locals have other names for it: Pedophile Island and Orgy Island.

This is where Epstein - convicted of sex crimes a decade ago in Florida and now charged in New York with trafficking girls as young as 14 - repaired, his escape from the toil of cultivating the rich and powerful.

Over the years, the 66-year-old crossed paths with former and future presidents, as well as a Who's Who of wealthy business figures and celebrities.

On St Thomas, he has been a subject of lurid speculation for as long as anyone can remember. Tourists still take boats out to get a glimpse of the island, where, according to a former employee, Epstein hosted young women who flew into St Thomas with him and were ferried over in groups aboard a 38-foot vessel called the Lady Ghislaine, apparently named for his friend Ghislaine Maxwell.

Epstein routinely touched down on St Thomas aboard his private jet before being whisked by helicopter to his 72-acre retreat.

He spent many millions after buying it for US$7.95 million in 1998, carving roads, planting scores of 40-foot palms, building several villas and the temple structure, which was topped by a gold-coloured dome until Hurricane Irma blew it off, according to locals.

Yet the size and source of his fortune are as much a source of speculation here as they are on Wall Street. Bankers and money managers wonder exactly what his business entailed, with theories ranging from helping the ultra-rich reduce their taxes to buying and selling currencies.

Epstein also has a second private island, Great St James, mansions in Palm Beach and Manhattan, an apartment in Paris and a ranch in New Mexico that, according to an October 2009 deposition in a civil lawsuit, has its own 4,500-foot airstrip.

The New York townhouse alone is worth more than US$100 million, according to Dolly Lenz, a luxury real estate agent who has viewed it.

Before Epstein transferred his operations two decades ago to the US Virgin Islands, he was based in New York. Financial Trust - a company he owns - was then called J Epstein & Co, a money-management firm he famously touted as catering to billionaires only.

The primary client, it appears, was Victoria's Secret mogul Les Wexner. Mr Wexner visited Little St Jeff's at least once, the former employee said, and Victoria's Secret models were among the guests he saw there.

The move to the US territory could have been for privacy, or the juicy tax benefits. Qualifying companies are eligible for a 90 per cent reduction in corporate income tax and personal income tax if they meet certain conditions, including employing at least 10 residents and investing US$100,000 in local industries.

Back in his heyday, before his 2008 guilty plea in Florida, Epstein would visit his piece of the Virgin Islands archipelago about two or three times a month for stays of three or four days, according to the former staffer, who asked not to be named because Epstein insisted on secrecy from his employees.

He described it as a Zen-like retreat when Epstein was there, padding around shirtless in shorts and flip-flops, with meditative music piped into the area around the main house, the cabanas and the pool, where women would sometimes sunbathe topless or in the nude.

The former employee said staff there had to obey one ironclad rule: Epstein could never catch sight of them.

The only unusual aspect of the main residence the former worker said he was aware of were the security boxes in two offices. The level of secrecy around a steel safe in Epstein's office, in particular, suggested it contained much more than just money, he said. BLOOMBERG