August 30, 2019 / 1:07 AM / 22 days ago

New Mexico official orders cancellation of Jeffrey Epstein land leases

(Reuters) - New Mexico’s attorney general on Thursday called for the cancellation of state land leases to Jeffrey Epstein as his office investigated allegations the late financier sexually abused girls and women at his ranch south of Santa Fe.

FILE PHOTO: An exterior view of the Metropolitan Correctional Center jail where financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon/File Photo

The leased land forms part of Epstein’s nearly 10,000-acre Zorro Ranch near Stanley, New Mexico, one of multiple luxury properties held by Epstein, who was found dead in a Manhattan jail cell on Aug. 10.

Attorney General Hector Balderas requested the state retake the 1,244 acres of grassland after an investigation by his office found it appeared to have been improperly leased in the late 1990s.

“This sweetheart deal must be cancelled and reassigned to a New Mexico ranching family,” Balderas said in an emailed statement.

Epstein, a 66-year-old money manager who once counted U.S. President Donald Trump as a friend, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges involving dozens of girls as young as 14.

A New York City medical examiner concluded that he died in custody this month due to suicide by hanging.

A federal judge in New York on Thursday dismissed the criminal sex trafficking case against Epstein because of his death. Federal prosecutors said the government’s investigation into potential co-conspirators was ongoing.

Balderas said in July his office was investigating allegations Epstein’s Zorro ranch was at the centre of his alleged sexual abuse and trafficking of girls and women in the state.

Leases signed by Epstein’s holding company Cypress Inc in 1997 and 1999 said the state land forming part of the ranch would be used for grazing, according to the New Mexico State Land Office (NMSLO). Balderas said in a Thursday letter to state land commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard that a review by the attorney general’s office found no cattle on the lands.

Balderas said the leases “appear to simply have been taken by him (Epstein) to increase privacy and the land mass surrounding his estate.

Epstein’s lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

Angie Poss, a NMSLO spokeswoman, said Epstein employees had not responded to requests by her agency to inspect the land.

The Zorro Ranch is one of the few Epstein properties yet to be raided by law enforcement officials following his arrest.

“We are in the process of cancelling those leases by Cypress Inc,” Poss said.

Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Leslie Adler

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