A high-profile lawyer has parted ways with her client Jean-Luc Brunel, the French modeling scout arrested last week in Paris and who allegedly brought teenage girls to Jeffrey Epstein. The development comes as French police confirm they have recent rape accusations made against the Epstein friend that avoid any issue of a statute of limitations.
Over the weekend, French authorities ended the suspense and brought formal charges for rapes against minors, and haven’t ruled out sex trafficking charges against Brunel, 75, whose arrest was announced last Thursday.
It marked the second close Epstein associate to face charges of sex crimes, and comes amid new developments in U.S. efforts to prosecute Ghislaine Maxwell, the former Epstein muse awaiting trial in New York for alleged procurement of minors for sex.
In a sign of potential trouble for Brunel, his longtime lawyer’s law firm confirmed late Monday that Corinne Dreyfus-Schmidt was no longer representing the man who in the 1990s was at the center of the global modeling scene, and who continued to be an influential scout decades after rape accusations began surfacing.
Last year, Dreyfus-Schmidt told French media that Brunel was not a fugitive and was available to answer any question regarding the investigation opened by the French authorities after Epstein’s suicide. Dreyfus-Schmidt parted ways with her client following his attempt at leaving France last week.
Many of the rape accusations made by his former models date back to the early 1990s and are unlikely to be prosecuted there. But a top French law enforcement official, demanding anonymity in order to speak about an ongoing investigation, confirmed that Brunel is facing rape allegations that are in a time frame well within the statute of limitations.
“It’s a highly sensitive case. We would not have arrested him without more recent accusations,” insisted the official.
Three magistrates have been appointed to continue the investigation into Epstein’s network, the official added. Brunel is suspected to have “organized the transportation and hosting of young women on the behalf of Jeffrey Epstein,” according to the official indictment.
Even though Brunel has not been charged with sex trafficking, he was put under an intermediate status of “assisted witness.” That means he could still be indicted at a later point.
McClatchy, the Miami Herald and the French daily 20 Minutes have been working together for months on a joint investigation into Brunel. Speaking to 20 Minutes, the French law enforcement official denied rumors that Brunel had been stopped last Wednesday at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on behalf of the United States or a notice by Interpol, the international police agency.
Brunel was detained trying to leave France for Senegal, but the official said there was no indication he was fleeing or knew he’d be detained, and that he said he hadn’t traveled this year because of the threat of COVID-19. Authorities were concerned about his planned flight out of France because he had no fixed address in the country and moved between places owned by friends and family.
France generally does not extradite its citizens to face prosecution abroad, and even if he were to be charged in the United States the ally would prefer to try him at home for the multiple accusations there.
It seems quite unlikely that he would face any prosecution in the United States, where he founded the Miami Beach-based modeling agency MC2, and partnered earlier in the New York office of Karin Models. But he would still be a person of interest in a number of Epstein-related civil lawsuits and Maxwell’s criminal prosecution.
For example, his testimony could be sought in dueling defamation lawsuits brought by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a prominent Epstein accuser, and celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz. She claims Epstein forced her to have sex with prominent men such as Prince Andrew, Brunel and Dershowitz — all of whom steadfastly deny the accusation.
Maxwell and Brunel both became the subject of greater attention after the Miami Herald’s Perversion of Justice series in November 2018, which renewed attention on Epstein.
Brunel spent lots of time with both Epstein and Maxwell, and appears close to Maxwell in photos taken in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Little St. James island, owned by Epstein. The attorney general there, Denise George, has brought a civil racketeering case against Epstein’s estate and its co-executors, and given that Brunel was a somewhat regular visitor there may have interest in the modeling scout.
And U.S. prosecutors bringing a case this coming summer against Maxwell may have interest in talking to Brunel too, given both of them had longtime associations with Epstein and both have been accused of procuring girls for the late financier, who was arrested in July 2019 and apparently took his life in jail the following month.
Maxwell was in hiding after Epstein’s death. Some news reports placed her in Brazil with Brunel, though this was never confirmed.
Recent filings by Maxwell’s defense team and by federal prosecutors in New York’s Southern District shed new light on her mysterious life and finances in recent years.
The filings come as Maxwell renewed her requests to be released on bail following a COVID jail scare that forced her into quarantine. The most recent request included a fuller accounting of her finances, and a letter of support from numerous friends and family, including her reported husband, Boston technology executive Scott Borgerson.
Borgerson had previously remained in the shadows. While there were rumors that he and Maxwell had dated, the first public indication that Maxwell was married came in an off-hand remark by U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan in July when Maxwell was initially denied bail.
In the new request, Maxwell’s team proposed securing her bail with $28.5 million drawn from $22.5 million in shared assets between Maxwell and Borgerson and $6 million from other friends and family. Her lawyers argued that marriage and family ties in the United States would be reason for Maxwell, who also holds British and French citizenship, to stay put as she awaits trial.
But federal prosecutors argued that her proposal — and arguments for being released — weren’t largely different from her initial failed request for bail in July. They pointed out that Maxwell had told federal authorities she was in the process of divorcing Borgerson when she was first arrested in July and didn’t actually propose living with him while she awaits trial.
That would seem to undercut Maxwell’s claim that her marriage would make her less of a flight risk, prosecutors said. And they pointed to her finances, which they said showed she’d transferred many of her holdings to Borgerson “as a means to hide her true wealth.”
Maxwell’s financial records show that roughly half of her wealth is in four real-estate holdings, and includes a $7 million retainer for her attorneys, $4 million in unrestrained funds and $650,000 in jewelry that prosecutors argued she would likely be able to access if she were to flee.
The federal prosecutors also included a letter from the French Ministry of Justice from Dec. 11 confirming that France does not extradite French nationals facing criminal charges elsewhere. That would give her an incentive, they suggested, to flee to France to escape her U.S. prosecution.
EDITOR’S NOTE: McClatchy, the Miami Herald and the French national daily 20 Minutes have been collaborating on an investigation into Brunel and are reporting the story jointly.
This story was originally published December 22, 2020 8:00 AM.