NEW YORK (Reuters) - Financier Jeffrey Epstein’s effort to win bail while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking in underage girls appeared to suffer a setback on Thursday, as the appeals court weighing his request refused to grant bail to another wealthy defendant in an unrelated case.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected a bid by Jean Boustani, an executive in the Privinvest maritime services group, for home confinement pending trial on charges he had a role in a $2 billion fraud and money laundering scheme.
In a 3-0 decision, the court said it would be unfair to let Boustani, a Lebanese citizen, pay for private armed security guards to watch over him and keep him from being a flight risk, when less well-off defendants might be stuck behind bars.
The federal Bail Reform Act “does not permit a two-tiered bail system in which defendants of lesser means are detained pending trial while wealthy defendants are released to self-funded private jails,” Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes wrote.
“Such a two-tiered system would foster inequity and unequal treatment in favour of a very small cohort of criminal defendants who are extremely wealthy,” he added.
Reid Weingarten, a lawyer for Epstein, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Epstein is confined in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan while he appeals U.S. District Judge Richard Berman’s July 18 refusal to let him live under 24-hour guard in his $77 million mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Though a different panel of judges may hear his appeal, it is likely to apply the reasoning from Thursday’s decision.
Epstein is unlikely to be tried before June 2020. Berman said prosecutors offered enough evidence that Epstein would pose a danger to the community if released.
In recent years, some wealthy defendants have been allowed to live in luxury while facing criminal charges, including swindler Bernard Madoff and former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Berman has frowned on the practice, including when he kept Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab locked up over alleged Iran sanctions violations. Zarrab eventually pleaded guilty.
Epstein, who was arrested on July 6, has pleaded not guilty to charges covering allegations of misconduct from at least 2002 to 2005. He had pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida state prostitution charges and served 13 months in jail, under a federal non-prosecution agreement that is now widely considered too lenient.
Epstein’s lawyers have argued that the 2008 agreement barred the current criminal case. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who oversees the case, has said that agreement does not bind him.
The Boustani case is U.S. v Boustani, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-1018. The Epstein case is U.S. v. Epstein, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-cr-00490.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Grant McCool