Donald Trump once called Epstein a "terrific guy," while Trump's Secretary of Labor faced criticism for helping the billionaire secure a plea deal
Billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested and charged this weekend with coercing young girls into sex acts for money, bringing his alleged relationship with President Donald Trump and a prominent member of his cabinet under the microscope.
Epstein, 66, was charged with sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York said. On Monday, Epstein pleaded not guilty in a New York courtroom, according to CNN.
Authorities said Epstein exploited and abused dozens of girls between 2002-05 by luring them into his home and engaging in sex acts, after which he would pay them hundreds of dollars in cash.
The case brings renewed scrutiny to Epstein’s apparent friendship with Trump, who spoke highly of the financier to New York magazine in 2002.
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Politico reported in 2017 that Trump flew at least once on one of Epstein’s private planes, and Epstein had the future commander-in-chief’s phone numbers in his personal phone directory.
There’s also the Mar-a-Lago connection, as Virginia Giuffre, a former towel girl at Trump’s Florida resort, claimed Epstein used his girlfriend at the time to recruit her into sexual slavery while she worked at the Palm Beach club, according to Politico.
A lawyer for Trump, who has himself been accused of assault or misconduct by more than a dozen women, denied any knowledge of Epstein’s wrongdoing, the outlet reported at the time. Trump has denied all assault and misconduct allegations against him.
The New York Times also reports that a lawyer for Trump denied him ever having had a social relationship with Epstein.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, has also found himself wrapped up in the scandal, as he played a pivotal role in helping Epstein avoid federal charges more than a decade ago.
Acosta was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida when he struck a deal with Epstein’s lawyers in 2008 that allowed him to avoid federal charges, and with that, the possibility of life in prison, according to the Times.
As part of the deal, Epstein instead pleaded guilty to two state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution and served 13 months in jail.
Much of that time was not even spent in jail, but at his office as part of a work-release program that the sheriff’s department explicitly bans for sex offenders, according to a lengthy investigation by the Miami Herald published in November.
The outlet also reports that the deal “essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes.”
Acosta has also faced criticism for not letting Epstein’s underage victims know about the plea agreement, something a federal judge ruled in February broke the law, according to USA Today.
A DOL spokesperson told PEOPLE, “We are deferring to the Department of Justice for comment.”
Epstein’s attorney did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the White House did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
Epstein’s detention hearing set for Thursday.