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Financier buys Jeffrey Epstein's private islands, with plans to create a resort

Little Saint James, an island previously owned by the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, has been sold. The 71.6-acre property, seen here in an aerial view, includes a main compound and four guest villas.
Bespoke Real Estate
Little Saint James, an island previously owned by the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, has been sold. The 71.6-acre property, seen here in an aerial view, includes a main compound and four guest villas.

The private islands that were a nexus in Jeffrey Epstein's depraved abuse and trafficking of young women and underage girls will be turned into a resort destination by a U.S. billionaire. Great St. James and Little St. James have been in limbo since Epstein's death in 2019.

Financier Stephen Deckoff paid $60 million for Great St. James and Little St. James through his SD Investments firm, a spokesperson told NPR. Deckoff is the founder of Black Diamond Capital Management.

The purchase price reflects a steep discount from the $110 million for which the two properties were recently listed.

Little St. James spans around 71.6 acres and includes "a helipad, private dock, gas station, high-capacity water filtration, 2 pools, the main compound, 4 guest villas, 3 private beaches, gym, tiki hut," and other buildings, according to its real estate listing.

Little St. James includes private beaches and a number of buildings. The island sits close to St. Thomas.
/ Bespoke Real Estate
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Bespoke Real Estate
Little St. James includes private beaches and a number of buildings. The island sits close to St. Thomas.

The pair of islands initially went on the market in March of 2022, with a $125 million asking price. The listing figure was later reduced after no buyers materialized.

The two islands, which lie just off St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, figured prominently in the civil and criminal cases against Epstein and his accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell. That's especially true of Little St. James, where numerous young women have said in court papers that they were taken via private jet before being ordered to perform sexual acts with Epstein and other men.

Stephen Deckoff plans to create a resort on Great St. James and Little St. James, with an opening date projected in 2025.
/ Richard Flaskegaard
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Richard Flaskegaard
Stephen Deckoff plans to create a resort on Great St. James and Little St. James, with an opening date projected in 2025.

Epstein bought Little St. James in 1998, roughly 18 years before purchasing its larger neighbor, which measures around 161 acres.

Deckoff, who lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said he plans to build a "world-class destination" on the two islands. He pledged that the project will bring economic benefits to the region, while also respecting its local culture and natural beauty.

Deckoff said he is in the process of hiring architects and engineers to develop the resort, adding that it could open as early as 2025.

Great St. James, in foreground, and Little St. James, were sold for $55 million — far below their initial listing price. An investor wants to build a resort on the islands in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
/ Bespoke Real Estate
/
Bespoke Real Estate
Great St. James, in foreground, and Little St. James, were sold for $55 million — far below their initial listing price. An investor wants to build a resort on the islands in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The sale of the islands might herald a new chapter for the idyllic locale, but the transaction also has a link to Little St. James' recent dark history, as a place where vulnerable minors and young women endured nightmarish ordeals after being enticed by Epstein and Maxwell.

Under a $105 million settlement reached last December, the U.S. Virgin Islands government is due to receive half of the proceeds from the sale of Little St. James — and use the money to establish a trust to fund support services and counseling for victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking.

News of the sale comes less than a year after the islands were mentioned repeatedly by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York in a sentencing memo seeking decades of prison time for Ghislaine Maxwell; she was sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring to sexually abuse minors.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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