The future of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s vast southern Santa Fe County ranch is up in the air following the financier’s apparent suicide in a New York City jail cell last weekend while he awaited trial on charges of sex trafficking young girls.
Local real estate professionals said Monday the highly publicized accusations against Epstein probably won’t have much effect on what the ranch and its massive mansion ultimately fetch for his estate, which also includes more than one opulent home, a Caribbean island and a private jet — all of which are being targeted by lawyers seeking compensation for women who have accused him of sex crimes.
While it could take years before Epstein’s Zorro Ranch is sold, more important factors affecting the price are likely to include the size and remote location of the property, which comprises more than 7,500 acres near Stanley with a 26,700-square-foot hilltop mansion, stables, a small airplane hangar, an airstrip and helicopter pad.
One local real estate appraiser said he expects ranch eventually to sell for “20 to 35 cents on the dollar” compared to what Epstein put into the property, which real estate website Property Shark lists as having a market value of nearly $15.3 million.
“This is what is known as a ‘vanity ranch,’ ” said Tim Connelly, an appraiser for Hippauf & Associates of Santa Fe. “It’s not big enough to be an actual working ranch. Nobody would build a house that big on land used for a cattle ranch. This was not an investment property.”
Connelly said it’s not uncommon to see people who have done well financially harbor romantic notions of living in a big house on a ranch with a few cattle and horses. According to documents recently released by the New Mexico State Land Office, Epstein, who was 66, had two state grazing permits. In 2011, when the permits were renewed, he had 39 cows and two bulls.
But before Epstein’s estate considers putting the ranch on the market, the property likely will be tied up in the courts for years.
Bloomberg News said it’s unclear whether Epstein, who wasn’t married and has no known children, left a will.
“What is known is that his wealth included a $77 million, 40-room mansion on New York’s Upper East Side, the island of Little St. James in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a ranch in New Mexico and homes in Paris and Palm Beach, Fla.,” the report said. “His business was registered in the Virgin Islands.”
Epstein’s known relatives include his brother, Mark, and a niece and nephew, who live in New York, the news service said.
Multiple news reports said lawyers for women who say they were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein when they were minors plan lawsuits against his estate. One lawyer said he expects “an avalanche of civil suits against [Epstein’s] estate.”
Los Angeles lawyer Lisa Bloom, who represents two of the women, told Reuters, “We intend to promptly file those civil claims.” Bloom said she held off suing while federal prosecutors pursued criminal charges against Epstein.
Federal prosecutors already were seeking criminal forfeiture of Epstein’s seven-story Manhattan mansion. But as an article in the Miami Herald said Monday, “His death poses a significant challenge in using asset forfeiture to provide restitution to the multimillionaire’s alleged victims.”
Quoting a former federal prosecutor, the newspaper said, “Under federal forfeiture laws, hard assets like homes can be sold and the proceeds put into a special fund within the Department of Justice. A judge determines what ultimately happens to the proceeds, but in cases with victims, restitution is generally a first consideration.”
Another former federal prosecutor told the Herald it’s likely the government will seek a civil forfeiture for Epstein’s properties.
“There is precedent for such a move,” the article said. “In 2007, the Department of Justice brought a civil forfeiture action against the estate of the founder of Enron Corporation, CEO Kenneth Lay, who died of a heart attack while facing charges of engineering a massive fraud.”
A spokesman for state Attorney General Hector Balderas on Monday noted that New Mexico repealed its civil asset forfeiture law four years ago, “and so the Office of the Attorney General must seek remedies and restitution for survivors in partnership with federal law enforcement officials.”
James Congdon of Santa Fe Properties, who has sold real estate in Santa Fe for 21 years, said Monday that selling a property such as the Zorro Ranch won’t be easy. He pointed to designer/filmmaker Tom Ford’s 20,662-acre Cerro Pelon Ranch near Galisteo, which has been on the market since 2016.
“He was asking $75 million,” Congdon said. But according to the website of Santa Fe real estate broker Kevin Bobolsky, Ford’s ranch now is listed at $48 million.
Congdon said the highest and best use for the property near Stanley could be some kind of school or a resort.
Even so, Connelly said, selling the Zorro Ranch will be a challenge because it’s so far off the beaten path. “It would be a lot easier to sell if it was close to Lamy,” he said. “It’s a long way from Santa Fe, a long way from an airport or train station.”
Another factor that could affect the price, said Connelly: “It depends on how quickly the seller needs to sell it.”