In the spring of 2006, politically connected convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was under investigation by the state of New Mexico for certain activities on land adjacent to his Zorro Ranch near Stanley.
But no, it was not for what you think.
According to a document that’s part of a 400-page trove that the State Land Office released last week to the state Attorney General’s Office, Epstein was facing a possible unauthorized-improvements rap.
A May 1, 2006, letter to Epstein from Leroy Ulibarri of the Land Office’s Surface Resources Division said, “While on other field evaluations on the Zorro Trust Ranch, the district resource manager noticed several unauthorized improvements. If you would like to have these unauthorized improvements added to your lease, please fill out the enclosed applications for approval. Please be aware that the applications for approval of unauthorized improvements does not necessarily guarantee that the improvements will be authorized or that the value allowed will be 100 percent of the value estimated by the State Land Office. Our district resource manager will investigate the situation on site and make a recommendation.”
Of course, Epstein at that point in time undoubtedly was more concerned with another investigation in another state.
According to the Epstein timeline published in the Miami Herald — as part of that paper’s coverage that led to New York prosecutors filing new charges related to sex trafficking of minors this month — Florida authorities had raided Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion in October 2005 looking for evidence of him preying on teenage girls. In May 2006, Florida police signed “a probable cause affidavit charging Epstein and two of his assistants with multiple counts of unlawful sex acts with a minor,” the Herald said.
(Eventually, Epstein and then-federal prosecutor Alex Acosta worked out a nice plea deal that allowed Epstein to plea to one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of solicitation of prostitution with a minor under the age of 18. His sentence was 18 months in jail, followed by a year of house arrest. Because of the better-late-than-never bad publicity over his role in the plea bargain, Acosta this month resigned from his latest job — President Donald Trump’s labor secretary.)
But getting back to those unauthorized improvements: I haven’t stumbled across any documents that indicate the outcome of the Land Office’s investigation. But somehow, I suspect that Epstein came out unscathed. After all, as Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said this week, Epstein’s shell company, Cypress Inc., still holds two grazing leases for state trust land totaling 1,244 acres. Both were renewed in 2016 and will expire in 2021.
I tend to doubt whether there’s anything in the Land Office documents that could turn out to be a smoking gun in the latest case against Epstein (in which he has pleaded not guilty). I’m not trained in the law or in Land Office arcana.
I had thought that nothing I could hear about Jeffrey Epstein would surprise me anymore. But I have to admit, I had no idea that he was actually using the Zorro Ranch as an actual ranch. The guy just doesn’t strike me as a cowpoke.
According to Land Office documents, in September 2006, he had 47 Angus-cross cows plus two bulls. By October 2011, the number of cows went down to 39, but he still had two bulls. In one piece of 2006 correspondence, a Land Official official said the livestock belonged to a ranch employee.
One little mystery the documents might have cleared up: When Epstein first applied to lease state trust land in early 1993, his lawyer was John J. Kelly of Albuquerque. Later that year, Kelly was confirmed as U.S. Attorney for New Mexico. This probably explains why Kelly’s name and (redacted) phone numbers appear in Epstein’s infamous ‘little black book,’ (incorrectly listed as “attorney general”) along with former Govs. Bruce King (who sold Epstein his land) and Bill Richardson and several women listed under the heading of “Massage.”
Whatever Epstein was doing at the Zorro Ranch, it looks pretty certain he won’t be returning there in the near future. On Thursday, the New York judge presiding in his case denied him bail.
“I doubt that any bail package can overcome danger to the community,” Judge Richard Berman said.
I just hope somebody feeds his cattle.