STANLEY — It was the early 1990s when longtime Santa Fe real estate agent Pat French was trying to find property in the area suitable for a billionaire financier from New York named Jeffrey Epstein.
One day while Epstein was in Santa Fe, French was headed toward Colorado with her middle school-age daughter and one of her daughter’s friends. Before leaving town, she stopped at the tony Rancho Encantado resort, where Epstein was encamped.
“When I went to the door where he was staying, it was filled with teenage girls,” French recalled this month, adding the politically connected tycoon had at least three girls with him, all appearing to be just slightly older than her daughter.
“I just assumed they were his daughters,” she said. “I didn’t think much about it at the time.”
French wasn’t able to close a sale, but Epstein, who is not known to have children, did find a foothold in New Mexico, buying land in the tiny community of Stanley in southern Santa Fe County that has become some of the most talked-about property in the state this week: Zorro Ranch.
Epstein’s murky tracks in New Mexico have drawn new light in recent days after federal prosecutors with the Southern District of New York charged him last week with sex trafficking and conspiracy to traffic minors for sex between 2002 and 2005 in both New York and Florida. There are dozens of accusers who were underage at the time of their alleged abuse by Epstein, some as young as 14 when they say they were assaulted.
So far, none of those women has said Epstein sexually assaulted them in New Mexico. And both the Santa Fe County sheriff and New Mexico State Police have said they never investigated any criminal allegations against Epstein here.
At least two women, though, have claimed in civil lawsuits that sexual abuse took place at Zorro Ranch.
And last week, a spokesman for state Attorney General Hector Balderas said he’s talked with women who might have been sexually abused by Epstein in this state and will be sending evidence to federal prosecutors in New York.
Epstein, now 66, had faced federal charges in Florida more than a decade ago. Prosecutors agreed to a controversial secret nonprosecution deal in the case, however, in which he avoided a possible life sentence and the allegations against him were sealed. Rather than take Epstein to trial on child sex-crime charges, federal prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty in a Florida state court to two charges of soliciting sex, one involving a minor; he ended up serving only 13 months in jail, with a work-release stint during the day.
The deal drew new scrutiny earlier this year, when a federal judge in Florida ruled the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami had violated the accusers’ rights by failing to disclose the agreement to them. A federal appeals court in New York has ordered the unsealing of documents in the Florida case.
The ripple effects of the new charges against Epstein in New York have even rocked Washington, D.C.: Alex Acosta, who had crafted the secret deal in Florida in 2008 as a federal prosecutor there, resigned as President Donald Trump’s Department of Labor secretary Friday in the wake of heavy criticism of his handling of the case.
While criminal cases against Epstein have not yet cited allegations of abuse at Zorro Ranch, such accusations have emerged in civil suits.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who filed a defamation suit against Epstein attorney Alan Dershowitz, said she was abused by the lawyer as well as Epstein at the ranch when she was a teenager. Dershowitz has denied her allegations.
Earlier this year, Maria Farmer, a former Epstein employee, claimed Epstein and a female friend molested her sister at Zorro Ranch in 1996. Farmer’s sister was 15 at the time.
If you were looking for a remote place to build an opulent mansion away from the prying eye of neighbors, the two-lane state road known N.M. 41 between Galisteo and Stanley would be ideal. There are miles between roads leading to residences. And most of those roads, including what now is known as Zorro Ranch Road, have locked gates.
Epstein bought his 10,000-acre property from former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King in 1993. A couple of years later, Epstein gained permission from state and county authorities to construct a 26,700-square-foot hilltop mansion, which at the time was said to be twice the size of the largest home in Santa Fe County and possibly the largest house in the state.
Epstein bought the property under the name of the Zorro Trust. County records show that in 2016, however, for reasons that aren’t clear, he transferred the land to a U.S. Virgin Island corporation called Cypress Inc.
The plans submitted to Santa Fe County called for a main house similar to a Mexican hacienda, with an open-air entry into a courtyard with high-ceiling hallways, stone columns and a central fountain.
The living room, according to the plans, was 2,100 square feet — larger than the average house in Santa Fe County. The plans also called for an elevator, eight bathrooms, four fireplaces, three bedrooms, a pool cabana, a 30-tree fruit orchard and a 1-acre organic garden.
Epstein received a county permit to build a small airplane hangar and an airstrip on the ranch.
The property already had several existing buildings, including houses for the ranch manager and assistant manager’s house, a bunkhouse and staff quarters.
Epstein’s contractors promised the county they would not disturb several petroglyph sites on his property and guaranteed county commissioners the property would not be used as a commercial dude ranch or retreat.
A 1995 article in The New Mexican quoted Epstein associates who described the billionaire as “a yoga enthusiast and casual dresser who has shopped at Wild Oats natural food grocery in Santa Fe.” The story also noted Epstein “apparently is a private man who has sworn his ranch employees to secrecy.”
The article noted that Epstein did not return several phone calls for comment.
Former state Treasurer David King, the former governor’s nephew who has a ranch in the Stanley area, said in 1995 Epstein was “building what you want as a heavenly ranch. He wants to make it a real ranch. He’s doing a quality job.”
Sina Brush, an artist who lives a few miles north of Zorro Ranch, said last week that after Epstein built his house, she wrote to him to see if he’d be interested in buying any antique Mexican furniture and doors that she was selling. He never responded, Brush said. But about three months later, Epstein to wrote her, asking if she was interested in selling her property, she said; he offered to pay $25,000 for her 80 acres. She said she felt insulted.
Brush said it’s obvious when Epstein is in town because the lights at his house are on and visible for miles. That happens about every month and a half or two months, she said. The last time she saw the Zorro Ranch lights was about a month ago, she said.
Before he was in the headlines for alleged sex crimes, Epstein ran afoul of Santa Fe County tax officials.
In November 2000, he got a bill from the county, saying he owed $183,502 in property taxes. He filed a lawsuit in January 2001, claiming the county had valued his property at $33 million when the value actually was $30 million. He demanded a refund of more than $20,000 from the taxes he’d already paid.
A New Mexican article about that lawsuit prompted one local woman to write a letter to the editor, mocking the billionaire’s tax protest.
“What exactly is he doing for the ordinary people around Stanley? Or the state of New Mexico, second poorest in the nation?” the letter said. “People like him we don’t need. Thirty-three-million dollar extravaganzas we don’t need, either.”
Epstein’s Zorro Trust settled its case against the county in October 2001.
“Epstein is as mysterious today as he was when he began building his estate,” The New Mexican reported in 2001. “He apparently is a private man who has sworn his ranch employees to secrecy — making him an enigma to his 30 neighbors in the sleepy town of Stanley.”
Like many rich and famous people who move to the area, Epstein apparently saw Santa Fe County as a place to get away. Unlike his life in New York, he didn’t become known here for extravagant parties or hobnobbing with local socialites. He did not become a mainstay in the area’s charity events. And if anyone saw him at a yoga class or shopping at Wild Oats or any other local grocery store, nobody said anything.
But by the 21st century, there was one area of activity in which Epstein participated: political contributions.
In 2002, under the name Zorro Trust, he gave Bill Richardson’s first gubernatorial campaign $50,000.
When Richardson was seeking reelection in 2006, Epstein gave him another $50,000.
And Richardson wasn’t alone that year.
During the 2006 Democratic primary campaign, Epstein contributed $15,000 to Gary King’s first campaign for attorney general. King is the son of the former governor who sold Epstein the property for Zorro Ranch.
Epstein also gave $10,000 to Jim Baca, who ran in the Democratic primary for state land commissioner that year, and $2,000 to then-Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano, who won his second term that year.
In August 2006, Epstein contributions became toxic for politicians across the country.
That’s when Palm Beach, Fla., police Chief Michael Reiter went public with accusations that Epstein was recruiting girls for sex. The FBI began investigating, and according to the Miami Herald, later that year began “interviewing potential witnesses and victims from Florida, New York and New Mexico.”
Richardson’s campaign said it donated that year’s Epstein contribution to charity, as did most of the others.
Even after he pleaded guilty to soliciting sex in the controversial plea deal, Epstein was linked to political contributions in New Mexico.
In 2014, Gary King, who was the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate that year, received five contributions totaling $35,000 from five different companies in the U.S. Virgin Islands — all using the same address that Epstein employed when he bought his New Mexico property. King returned the contributions after they were revealed by The New Mexican.
Epstein’s New Mexico political connections emerged again in 2015 after Gawker, an online news site, released a version of his “little black book,” with all phone numbers redacted. The document had been stolen from the billionaire by one of his butlers and had become evidence in a court case against the butler. The documents show Epstein had many phone numbers of people in the area.
Among those listed are former Govs. Richardson and King; the real estate company of former state Rep. Rhonda King, Bruce King’s niece; John Kelly, who is listed as “attorney general” but served as U.S. attorney for New Mexico through most of the 1990s; and the Santa Fe Institute.
That document showed about 50 (blacked-out) phone numbers at Zorro Ranch.
But most noticeable was the listing of the first names of women or girls with names like Sabrina, Rachel, Dianna, Linda and Nicki — under the heading “Massage — New Mexico.”