When Cecile de Jongh first heard about her boss Jeffrey Epstein’s 2006 Florida arrest for procuring a minor for prostitution, she looked him in the eye, asked “what the hell is going on,” and was assured it was a one-time mistake that would never happen again, according to a partial transcript of her deposition in the government’s lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase bank.
The V.I. government released the transcript Tuesday along with hundreds more exhibits as both sides filed motions for summary judgment in the suit that the Attorney General’s Office filed against JPMorgan in December in federal court in Manhattan, alleging the bank violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in its dealings with Epstein.
JPMorgan has denied wrongdoing and has called the suit a “masterclass in deflection.”
De Jongh’s deposition took place on May 29 at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, and lasted 5 ½ hours, though the government exhibit reveals just a portion of the interview that was conducted by attorney Peter Neiman of WilmerHale, the law firm representing JPMorgan.
The former first lady was the office manager of Epstein’s Southern Trust company that received lucrative tax benefits through the territory’s Economic Development Commission, including while her husband was governor from 2007 to 2015, and was at the center of the V.I. government’s lawsuit against Epstein’s estate after his apparent suicide in August 2019 while in custody on federal sex-trafficking charges. That suit was settled in December for $105 million.
Asked about her reaction to news reports of Epstein’s 2006 arrest, de Jongh said she asked him “what the hell is going on. And he said, I — it was an error in judgment. And I said, So, that’s it, you approached somebody who you thought was older? And — but she wasn’t?” de Jongh testified. “And he said, no. And I said, And so you — that’s what you were arrested for? That was it? And he said, Yes,” she said.
“I said, so, this will never happen again? And he goes, absolutely not. I’ve learned my lesson,” de Jongh said. “I said, well, yeah, I mean, you know, seems like you’re in big trouble. And he says, yes. And then I learned, you know … that he would be — well, that’s, you know — that’s the conversation we had at this point.”
What de Jongh remembered, she said, was thinking that because of that one incident, Epstein would have to be a registered sex offender, according to the transcript.
“I remember it because I went home to my 17-year-old son and I said, you know, this sex offender thing is very serious and I want you to be very careful, because he was about to go off to college. And I said … don’t make any mistakes because this is the rest of your life you’re talking about. So don’t date anybody younger, don’t go out to bars and, you know … be on you P’s and Q’s,” de Jongh testified.
While her son had a typical teenage reaction, de Jongh said she was nervous about it, “because I have two boys, and my other son was nine years younger, so it wasn’t a conversation I would have with him at the time. But I just said, you know, you’re going off to college and I just — you know, we’ve had — we’ve had the Black talk, and I wanted to have this talk with him. That this was very important that you remember this because this is the rest of your life.”
Asked if she had any further discussions with Epstein about the events leading to his arrest or about the case he was facing in Florida, de Jongh said she did not, and never spoke with him further about anything related to the matter.
“I continued to see things in the newspaper about, you know, that it was solicitation, and that he was going to be a registered sex offender, which lined up with what he said,” de Jongh testified.
Asked if she recalled seeing articles indicating that the investigation was related to dozens of people, de Jongh said no, not until much later, in 2019, when the Miami Herald published a series, “Perversion of Justice,” about Epstein’s controversial non-prosecution agreement that saw him sentenced to 18 months in jail despite evidence that he had abused dozens of girls.
As to when she found out he would be going to jail, de Jongh said Epstein talked to the whole office, and told them he was going to be away.
“And what did he say?” Neiman asked.
“Just, I’m gonna be away for a while for a stupid thing that I did,” she said.
“And did it make sense to you his story, that he was going to jail for one time, soliciting one person who he didn’t realize was underage?” asked Neiman.
“It did at the time, you know. He was in Florida. You know, that was Florida law, and that’s, you know, his — you know, those were all the stories that came out in the newspaper, that this is what was going to happen. Nothing else came out — that he was going away for anything else,” de Jongh testified.
Asked if she recalled hearing rumors at the time that Epstein had been bringing young women to Little St. James, his private island estate off St. Thomas, de Jongh said “no,” and that she did not start hearing those rumors until early 2019, when the Miami Herald was running its series.
“And did you talk to Mr. Epstein when you saw those stories?” Neiman asked.
“No, I didn’t. I emailed Darren and said, basically, is there any truth to any of this?” said de Jongh. “And he responded no,” she said, referring to Darren Indyke, Epstein’s personal attorney of more than 20 years.
De Jongh also testified that she had never seen young women around Epstein, beyond his assistant Sarah Kellen, who was in her 20s (and later accused of enabling Epstein’s abuse, though never criminally charged), and his girlfriend Karyna, also in her 20s.
“Those were the — those were the young women that I had seen,” she said.
“OK. Do you remember a time when he asked you to help him with some issues related to other young women?” asked Neiman.
“I think there was a time when he asked about some young ladies going to UVI,” said de Jongh.
According to documents filed by JPMorgan in the case, when Epstein needed visas for three young women, he wanted to bring to the territory, de Jongh arranged for him to meet with a local immigration lawyer to assist at least one woman and contacted the University of the Virgin Islands to see if they could enroll in English as a Second Language classes to obtain student visas.
However, de Jongh testified in her deposition that she had no reason at the time to believe anything untoward was going on with the three women that Epstein proposed for enrollment in the UVI program, despite one of them having an Eastern European name.
“Did it ever cross your mind to wonder whether there was something wrong with this convicted sex offender telling you I have three women who I’d like to help learn to speak English?” Neiman asked.
“This is a person who had one offense, had to register as a sex offender. Didn’t see him with any — anybody underage, or anything. And I’m thinking he is just trying to be helpful to people,” said de Jongh. “OK. Just like he is helpful for people in our office when somebody dies and, you know, he helps them fly there, you know, their — their parents wherever they need to get buried. Whatever is asked, he would usually do it,” she said.
“I would hear, you know, when somebody is on the island, you know, somebody was from Haiti and they needed to take supplies down to their family, he flew them down to do that. In that context, that’s what I was thinking, that’s what he does. So I had no reason to believe that he was doing anything untoward with these ladies,” de Jongh testified.
“And the fact that he was doing something on behalf of Eastern European women didn’t raise a red flag in your mind?” asked Neiman.
“Well, how would I know based on the names that they’re necessarily Eastern European,” said de Jongh, as the exchange turned testy.
“Well, Renata?” said Neiman.
“Renata could be Italian,” said de Jongh.
“Svetlana?” said Neiman.
“Svetlana? You know, Julia?” said de Jongh.
“Well, Svetlana? Eastern European?” said Neiman.
“OK. I would never do anything to harm anyone, or to aid and abet anyone harming someone,” said de Jongh, adding, “You’re accusing me of something,” as her lawyer advised her to wait for the question.
“No, I have a daughter, too,” said de Jongh. “I have a daughter. And I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to my daughter. And by the way, just as a joke, I actually enrolled my daughter in ESL for camp not knowing what it was,” she said.
Referring to emails between de Jongh and Epstein regarding the ESL classes at the university, Neiman asked, “From your point of view, do you think it’s unfair to suggest that knowing that Mr. Epstein was doing things for women with Eastern European names is the same as a red flag for sex trafficking?”
“From hindsight, from where I sit now?” said de Jongh.
“No, well, from where you sat then?” said Neiman.
“Where I sat then? I didn’t know — didn’t know anything about sex trafficking then. He had one — one charge for solicitation. Didn’t know anything about sex trafficking,” said de Jongh.
After some discussion about what she knew about Epstein from any Google searches between his arrest in 2006 and 2018, de Jongh replied, “I didn’t Google a lot. I mean, I had a lot on my plate,” she said, having explained that her aunt had died of breast cancer and she was helping settle her estate, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, her son had medical issues, and her sister had a very public breakdown.
“And I did a lot of traveling with being First Lady, but also, you know, taking my kids for medical things and, you know, a lot of this job had to do with me trying to spend a lot of time focusing on my kids,” de Jongh testified.
“Understood. Fair to say you didn’t do your own investigation to make sure you were comfortable with Mr. Epstein?” Neiman asked.
“Well, I looked him in the eye and asked him, you know, ‘What the hell is going on,’ that I had a family, that I had a daughter and, you know, what’s going on, and what he said was just a mistake. Mistook somebody to be older than they were,” de Jongh testified.
“And, you know — and he got caught and had to go to jail and register as a sex offender. And I think I told you that I went home to my 17-year-old son and explained to him that this is real life. And I guess at that point, I just thought that if I could look someone in the eye, I like to tell the truth, and I figured that he was going to tell me the truth,” she said.
De Jongh testified that she was never contacted by law enforcement concerning Epstein up until his arrest in 2019 in New York on the federal sex-trafficking charges.
“Is there anything that you saw that looks different today than it did to you at the time?” asked Neiman.
“What I didn’t see, and I guess what I would have looked for were underage girls,” said de Jongh. “And I didn’t — I didn’t see that. … I didn’t have an understanding about sex trafficking. You know, that somebody could be 30 years old and be sex trafficked. I didn’t — and maybe — maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but I didn’t understand that. And that, you know, if somebody is introduced as somebody’s girlfriend, I took it as face value that that’s their girlfriend,” she said.
Asked if any of the women she met with Epstein ever looked distressed, de Jongh said no, that they would fly in and out on their own and it appeared “that they were doing all of this under their free will.”
Had she suspected anybody was in distress she would have alerted her security detail, who was a female officer who was head of the sexual assault division at the police department, de Jongh said.
“But it was not something that, you know, that ever rang any bells, and I guess in my thoughts he was deemed a sexual offender, and so he needs to be monitored, you know, everything that he did. And I had a lecture by — we all did by Darren [Indyke] about, hey, Jeffrey can’t have — he said this, you know, Mr. Epstein can’t have any new emails. All his cars have to be registered. He can’t have any new addresses. So don’t anybody go set up any — any new — anything online for him. Don’t, you know — everything about his life is monitored, and that’s what we were told, that every single thing is monitored. Who he brings in, who he takes out, everything is monitored,” de Jongh testified.