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Wednesday September 23rd, 2020 5:58AM

Woman 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 hadn'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, who is now facing federal charges of abusing dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida in the early 2000s. He has pleaded not guilty.

"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 and New York police seeking comment on Araoz's claims. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined to comment on them.

One of Araoz' attorneys, Daniel Kaiser, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon on whether he'd heard from authorities after Araoz went public with her accusation.

It came two days after Epstein, a 66-year-old Wall Street master of high finance with friends in very high places , pleaded not guilty to sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges. The indictment could land him behind bars for up to 45 years if he is convicted.

Epstein has not been charged with assaulting Araoz. But her 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 Kimberly Lerner, who represents Araoz with Kaiser. 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," for reasons he declined to detail. He and other law enforcement officials repeatedly urged other potential victims and people with information about Epstein to come forward.

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 on "Today."

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.

"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 trying to contact her for about a year, Araoz said, but she didn't respond.

A once-secret agreement allowed Epstein to avoid a potentially lengthy prison sentence nearly a decade ago in a case involving nearly identical allegations of sexually abusing underage girls.

Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges and spent 13 months in jail. That plea deal was supposed to protect Epstein from federal prosecution, his lawyers say. They argue the new federal charges should be dismissed.

They were brought by federal prosecutors in New York, who say the Florida deal does not apply to them. They said the new charges overlap with the earlier case but include new allegations and victims from New York.

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

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