Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire financier and former friend of the Duke of York, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, has pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking.
Epstein, 66, is accused of paying dozens of girls as young as 14 to perform nude massages and then assaulting them, as well as paying some of the girls to recruit others.
Appearing in dark blue prison uniform at a Federal court in Manhattan on Monday, Epstein entered his not guilty plea before Judge Henry Pitman to one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy.
The charges carry a penalty of up to 45 years in prison, meaning he could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
The former hedge fund manager "intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18," the indictment against him stated.
According to the indictment, Epstein lured the girls to his luxury homes in New York and Florida where he would schedule appointments with them either himself or through his staff from at least 2002 to 2005.
"In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach," prosecutors said.
They said the evidence against Epstein included a "vast trove" of hundreds or even thousands of nude photographs of seemingly underage girls discovered in a locked safe during a search of his New York townhouse on Saturday.
The pictures included some on CDs with handwritten labels including "Misc nudes 1," "Girl pics nude" and the names of specific young women, according to court documents.
The latest allegations come more than a decade after Epstein avoided federal criminal charges under a plea deal which faced considerable criticism.
Under the 2007 plea agreement, he was allowed to plead guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under 18 for prostitution.
Epstein, who potentially faced a life sentence, was jailed for 13 months and registered as a sex offender. He was also required to compensate his victims.
The billionaire was arrested by FBI officers on Saturday night when his private jet landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey following a trip to Paris.
US attorney Geoffrey Berman said that the 2007 non-prosecution agreement did not prevent his office pursuing Epstein, saying the deal was only binding on federal prosecutors in Florida.
"The alleged behaviour shocks the conscience," he said at a press conference on Monday, adding that the alleged victims still "deserve their day in court".
Prosecutors have demanded that he be kept behind bars before his trial, arguing he poses an "extraordinary risk of flight" because of his "exorbitant" wealth. He will remain behind bars until at least Thursday, when the judge will rule on the request.
Epstein has said in earlier court filings that his encounters with alleged victims were consensual and that he believed they were 18 when they occurred.
Known for socialising with politicians and royalty, Epstein has counted high-profile figures such as Mr Trump, the current US president, former president Mr Clinton and Prince Andrew among his friends.
Mr Trump has previously publicly defended Epstein, telling New York Magazine in 2002: "I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
Mr Clinton – who was quoted in the same profile – took several trips on Epstein’s Boeing 727 in flight logs obtained by Fox News, but was quick to speak out against the financier.
His spokesman Angel Urena said the former president "knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York."
He added that in 2002 and 2003 Clinton took four trips on Epstein’s plane and that staff and his Secret Service detail traveled on every leg.
"He’s not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade, and has never been to Little St. James Island, Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico, or his residence in Florida," Urena added.
Prosecutors are attempting to seize Epstein’s three-storey, 21,000-square-foot Manhattan mansion valued at $77 million (£61.5 million) where they some of the alleged abuse occurred.
The new charges have thrown scrutiny on Alexander Acosta, who was the US attorney in Miami in 2007, when the office agreed a plea deal with Epstein.
Mr Acosta, who now serves in Mr Trump’s cabinet as labour secretary, has defended the agreement as appropriate, though the Department of Justice is looking into his handling of the case.
The non-prosecution agreement, examined in detail in a series of stories in the Miami Herald, is being challenged in court in Florida.
A judge ruled earlier this year that Epstein’s victims should have been consulted under the law about the agreement, and he is now weighing whether to invalidate it.
It is not clear whether that case and the new charges involved the same victims, since nearly all have remained anonymous.