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Friday September 25th, 2020 12:18AM

Accuser says Jeffrey Epstein raped her when she was 15

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A new accuser of Jeffrey Epstein said Wednesday that the wealthy financier raped her in his New York mansion when she was 15.

Jennifer Araoz filed court papers seeking information from Epstein in preparation for suing him, and she aired her allegations on NBC's "Today" show , though she said she hasn't discussed them with authorities.

The 32-year-old makeup artist told "Today" she never went to police because she feared retribution from the well-connected Epstein.

"What hurts me even more so is that if I wasn't afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn't have done it to other girls," Araoz said. "I feel really guilty to this day."

Messages were left with Epstein's attorneys seeking comment.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined to comment on Araoz's claims. Messages were left with New York police seeking comment on Araoz's allegations.

The new allegation comes two days after federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein with abusing dozens of underage girls at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, Florida, in the early 2000s.

Epstein, a 66-year-old Wall Street master of high finance with friends in very high places , pleaded not guilty Monday to sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges— an indictment that could land him behind bars for up to 45 years.

His lawyers said in court that the allegations in the indictment couldn't amount to statutory rape because there was no penetration.

Epstein has not been charged with assaulting Araoz. But the woman's account contradicts his defense attorneys' contention that Epstein never used violence or coerced anyone who gave him massages.

"She was a child — a child on welfare, with no father, who was groomed, recruited and preyed upon," said one of Araoz's lawyers, Kimberly Lerner. Araoz's father died when she was 12.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Monday that many of Epstein's alleged victims "were particularly vulnerable to exploitation." Berman wouldn't elaborate on why they were vulnerable, saying he couldn't go into specifics on particular victims.

At a news conference announcing Epstein's arrest, Berman and other law enforcement officials repeatedly urged other potential victims and people with information about Epstein to come forward, pointing to a poster featuring his mugshot and the 1-800-CALL-FBI hotline.

Araoz, in her court filing and TV interview, said her first contact with Epstein came in 2001, when she was a 14-year-old high school freshman at a performing-arts high school, aspiring to become an actress. She said she was approached outside her school by a woman who told her that Epstein was a caring person who would help her with her career.

Araoz found Epstein welcoming, showing her his mansion filled with exotic taxidermy and elaborately painted ceilings, while his staff offered her wine and cheese, she said. After a few weeks of visits, each ending with a $300 payment, she said she was escorted to a "massage room," with a ceiling painted to resemble angels in a blue sky. There, she said, she would give him massages that would often lead to sex acts.

"I take care of you, you take care of me," Epstein told her, according to her court papers.

She said Epstein had a painting of a naked woman that he said resembled her; she also recalled prosthetic breasts he would play with while bathing.

"It was very odd," she said.

The visits continued once or twice a week until she turned 15, when she said Epstein told her to remove her underwear and climb on top of him.

She said she told him she didn't want to but that he forcibly had sex with her anyway.

"I don't want to say I was screaming, or anything of that nature. But I was terrified. And I was telling him to stop," she said in the "Today" interview.

"He had no intentions of stopping," she said. "He knew exactly what he was doing."

Araoz said she was "terrified" after the assault and never returned to Epstein's home. She even left her high school because it was so close to his mansion.

Epstein's staff continued reaching out to her for about a year, Araoz said, but she didn't respond.

Prosecutors said a search of Epstein's Upper East Side mansion yielded a vast trove of hundreds or even thousands of lewd photos of young women or girls.

The defense team says the federal charges should be dismissed in light of a once-secret agreement that allowed Epstein to avoid a potentially lengthy prison sentence — a case involving nearly identical allegations of Epstein sexually abusing underage girls.

Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges over a decade ago and spent 13 months in jail. That plea deal was supposed to protect Epstein from federal prosecution, his lawyers said.

Federal prosecutors say the Florida deal does not apply to the Southern District of New York. They said the charges unsealed this week overlap with the earlier case but include new allegations and victims from New York.

__

Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz, Kiley Armstrong and Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report

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