Fact-Checking the L&O SVU Episode Based on Jeffrey Epstein

Amidst the relentless coverage of the Jeffrey Epstein case, I had a nagging thought: “Didn’t Law and Order SVU do an episode based on Epstein like, ten years ago?”  Actually, let’s be honest: because I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Law and Order SVU, the thought, more precisely, was, “I am 100% positive Law and Order SVU did an episode based on Jeffrey Epstein.”  So, because I was recently exhausted with nothing better to do (that’s basically my default state these days), and because I felt like everyone else in media is getting eyeballs/money off the Epstein scandal, I should track it down and rewatch it and then blog insipidly about it.

The episode in question is from season 12, which aired in 2011 (Epstein pled guilty to soliciting prostitution in 2010, and was registered as a sex offender in New York in 2011, so it was very much RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES).  The season itself features excellent cameos from Skeet Ulrich (he’s an LA detective with the very detective-y name of Rex Winters), Taryn Manning (kiddie porn ring survivor), Rose McGowan as a beguiling but very facially immobile swinger, and Henry Ian Cusick as a guy who raped his sister when they were kids and then the sister, who he claimed had taken her own life, shows up and… doesn’t have a Scottish accent like Cusick does?  How hard can it be to find an actress to do an accent or just hire, like, a Scottish actress?  Mysteries abound!

Anyway, on to episode 15, titled “Flight”!

We open on a flight to Paris.  An American couple, the wife clearly sparring with Alexander Payne’s heroine in Paris, Je T’aime for worst tourist French ever (love ya, Carol)!  All of a sudden, a screech from across the aisle!  A young girl begins hitting the man in the seat next to her.  She yells something to the flight attendant, and a strapping young gentleman from a few rows back jumps up and slugs the seat mate.  “ZE KID SAID ZEES PAHRVERT TRIED TO RAPE HER!”  (I wanted to add pictures but apparently I’m too low tech to figure out how to screen shot while watching Amazon Prime; I shall do my best to get a little visual aid in here, though.)

Because the girl, whose name is Dominique, has already returned to Paris, Benson and Stabler have to interview her via Skype or whatever the police equivalent of that is.  On the call, Dominique describes going to New York for what she thought was a modeling job, but then being taken to a party hosted by a “billionaire” named Jordan (they didn’t bother to change the first initial; bold move)!  “We were just his presents,” Dominique tells them (a recent disturbing report says Epstein bragged to Virginia Roberts Giuffre that his model agent friend gifted him French triplets for his birthday; unclear whether that was common knowledge when this SVU episode was being workshopped).  At the mansion where the party was happening, Jordan said he wanted a massage and instructed Dominique to take off her clothes.  He rapes her, apparently brutally, as he has to call a doctor to examine her injuries.  When the detectives ask Dominique to return to New York to testify, she responds JAMAIS as she storms out of the gendarmerie (I’m only 10% sure that’s the right word for this).  And like, ok, fair enough, Dominique!


Cue the famous intro.

After everyone’s favorite theme song, we find Benson and Stabler giving some crucial background to Ice-T: the alleged rapist is Jordan Hayes, “a billionaire defense contractor [fictionalized: Epstein worked in money, somehow] and personal friend of just about everyone who has the power to take away our pensions.”  It’s kind of unclear what he’s saying here, but it is true Epstein had a lot of famous friends from a lot of different walks of life (Woody Allen, Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Katie Couric make bedfellows); it does not seem he was well connected within the NYPD, because despite getting a crazy sweetheart deal in 2010, mostly orchestrated in Florida, a New York judge did not allow him to drop from a level three sex offender to a level one.  Yay, New York!


Not the greatest likeness, but they claimed he wasn’t based on anyone!

A bit about Hayes’s birthday bash was published in the newspaper, so the squad, with their best suspicious expressions on, listens to Cragen read the guest list, which includes “a former President” (ahem, Bill Clinton).  Munch then goes to the newfangled giant computer television thing (does any NYPD precinct have as much money as these guys?) and instantly calls up a giant photo of Hayes.

“You know, he owns his own private plane,” Olivia says.

Soon enough, Benson and Stabler are off to Teterboro (where Epstein’s actual private plane flew from) to check the records to confirm Dominique arrived on Jordan’s plane.  The customs guy is super nice!  Honestly, is this not the nicest face you’ve ever seen?


He tells the detectives Hayes often flies over “royalty, dignitaries, celebrities, models” [true: Epstein flew lots of famous people on his plane].  They go through the photos the customs agent took of passengers, and there’s a whole other woman they hadn’t even heard of!  Enter Ghislaine Maxwell, who, in this episode, is not a British socialite but an American trust fund baby named Dahlia Jessup.  The customs guy describes her as Hayes’s “on-again, off-again girlfriend”: “I read Page Six.”

Benson and Stabler go to talk to the all-female flight crew (I could make a joke about feminism here but I won’t), and Benson says, “Something tells me that Hayes’s glass ceiling is the one over his bed.”  GOOD ONE, BENSON.

After getting stonewalled by the flight crew (one flight attendant looked like she was about to blab but the pilot put an end to that), the detectives head over to see Dahlia Jessup.  Jessup is a caricature of a spoiled New York socialite: she barely looks at them, rolling her eyes as she answers their questions, dashing around her atelier (“I just started a clothing line”) hacking with scissors at the hems of dresses that are too dowdy for her tastes.  Would a designer ever do that, even to a piece they hated?  I doubt it.   Anyway, the detectives trick her into the slipping the name of the doctor who treated Dominique the night of the party.  But, there’s a problem: the doctor named Ari in attendance that night was not the guy who treated the girl (“I certainly would have remembered doing a pelvic!)”  Apparently there are 52 doctors named Ari in New York City.  That’s it?  I would have expected more.


Dahlia Jessup is the Ghislaine Maxwell of this episode

In the squad room, they go over some details about Hayes’s life, including that he owns a private island (as we all know now, this is true) and is a big philanthropist (I guess it’s true, too, although he gave to a lot of causes that arguably didn’t need his money, like, uh, Harvard).  Benson reads on something Wikipedia-like that Hayes is a big hypochondriac (is this true?  No idea, but I would not be surprised) and always travels with his physician.  For some reason the ersatz Wiki actually lists the doctor’s name, but as the detectives are walking out to question him, Jordan Hayes exits the elevator followed by two men, one of whom is definitely the Alan Dershowitz stand-in.  It’s about to go down.

Personally I don’t feel that if the producers were really going for a Jeffrey Epstein vibe, Colm Feore was a good choice.  He definitely tries to be menacing, and he’s got the whole ugly-sweater look down, but he’s too cartoonishly evil.  Epstein was said to have been sort of reserved and charming, which allowed him to fly under the radar (well, that, and his fortune, no matter how exaggerated).  I don’t know, maybe I’m just reacting to Feore’s being bald, in contrast to Epstein’s full head of hair.


Anyway, Jordan Hayes shows up at the precinct with a rather bizarre defense: he claims that pubescent Moreau raped HIM.  The detectives have to feign sympathy even though they’re pretty sure he ain’t a victim.  As far as I know, this kind of thing never happened with the actual Epstein, but I wouldn’t put anything past that guy.  The Dershowitz stand-in is a little blustery, but they could have done a lot more with his character.  (Side bar: my mother-in-law once saw Alan Dershowitz playing naked volleyball on a public beach in Martha’s Vineyard about twenty-five years ago.)

So Hayes claims he went into his massage room (Epstein was indeed a massage freak) and thought he was being rubbed down by a gal pal of his (later revealed to be Jessup) but then opened his eyes and saw a stranger.  He couldn’t discern her age in the dark, but he still wanted her to stop.  Instead, she threatened him.  After Benson exits the room in disgust, Stabler thinks he’s pulled a gotcha by telling Hayes that Dominique couldn’t have threatened him, as she doesn’t speak English.  Then Hayes looks up at him with these piercing green eyes and says something in an exaggeratedly villainesque French.  It’s supposed to be an intense moment but comes off a bit corny.  Except that just before he leaves the office, Hayes turns to Stabler and says, “If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it either,” which is a pretty good parting line.

Munch and Fin go to the house of Dr. Ari Nathan, who looks like an overgrown Mouseketeer, but his assistant tries to avoid telling them where he is.  Turns out, he’s gone to minister to Dahlia Jessup, who’s “accidentally” overdosed on pills.  (Ghislaine Maxwell seems too cool a character to have gone Girl, Interrupted in the face of scrutiny, so I’m betting this is a fudge.)  Munch and Fin haul Ari Nathan down to the station because he’s under arrest for failure to comply with mandatory reporting laws.  While there, he claims that Jordan called him to tend to Dominique Moreau, but it turned out she didn’t have internal injuries, she just got her period.  Benson and Stabler are watching the questioning, realize––duh––that Dahlia Jessup might have actually procured the two French girls herself.  (In real life, Maxwell obviously served as a madam, but the French girls were allegedly gifted to Epstein by Jean-Luc Brunel, the agent.).

Benson and Stabler go to visit Jessup in the hospital.  She’s in scrubs, feeling weepy and vulnerable: the time is nigh!  But then Jordan shows up and stands in the threshold of the doorway like the creeper in a polo that he is.  She goes all gooey like a K-pop fan and says, “Jordy!”  He smiles sweetly and tells the detectives that he has nothing to hide, and she should answer any questions they have.

law & order SVU flight chris meloni mariska hargitay 5.jpg

Paris calls, and tells the detectives they have another witness, the other French girl from the party, Nicole.  She claims that Jordan’s account is correct: the two girls were exploring the house when they came upon Jordan asleep on his massage table, and Dominique went inside, telling her friend she was “going to get rich.”  As far as I know, Epstein never said anything like this happened, although of course people in his camp (ahem, Dershowitz) at times said certain accusers were in it for the money.

The music swells dramatically and the cops look at each other with pained expressions.  TURNING POINT!

This is getting long so I’m going to go into less detail from now on.  YOU’RE WELCOME.

In the next scene, Benson and Stabler are sitting in their car across from Hayes’s mansion.  “I read that Jordan paid $50 million for it,” Benson said [false! $56 million, even though also kind of nothing.]. They’re strategizing how to get to his employees when he knocks on the car window and invites them in.  He walks them through his entranceway, which features many a marble nude (Epstein’s decor was far, far stranger) before taking them to his massage room.  There’s a TV in the room, so Benson idly flicks it on, only to see that it plays… what is happening in the massage room at that moment.  (I’m not fact-checking that because honestly, I don’t want to know.)  Hayes says he needs to record his massages because he’s such an easy target, but alas, the camera wasn’t working the night he was “raped.”

Back to the squad room: the DA (forgettable redhead, not nearly my favorite DA from SVU’s illustrious run) and Cragen are talking about getting a warrant, with the DA being skeptical they can do so to go on a “fishing expedition.”  But my man Munch is up to some good stuff: he’s befriended Dominique Moreau online, and is encouraging her to blog about her rape.  The DA is moved to compassion, and beelines it for her favorite judge, where she asks for a search warrant.  The judge isn’t really buying it, though, and tells them to return when they have greater certainty that such a recording exists.


Back, back to the squad room: Olivia is pi-ssed and looking into the judge’s reelection donations, but Cragen tells her to go home and cool off.  Just as she’s getting ready to leave, a girl walks in, maybe thirteen or fourteen.  She tells the detectives she read Moreau’s blog.  “I’ve been in that massage room,” she says.  Cut to the morning: eight more girls come in to tell their stories after Moreau’s blog goes viral.  (Nothing like this ever seems to have happened.)  Then there’s a montage of these girls talking about what happened: they were approached by a woman (check) who told them they could make some fast cash by giving Hayes a massage (check, check), but they didn’t realize he’d be naked and ask them to undress (check and checkmate).  The last girl says the house manager saw her dressing after the assault (a number of Epstein’s former staffers admitted to seeing young girls in his homes; later in the show, the detectives bring in his house manager, who is British and who is named GILES––c’mon––but the real guy was named Alfredo and was a bit of a sleaze).  She also says she was paid $500.


So hooray, arrest time!  Benson and Stabler nab Hayes outside his manse, but he’s glib about the charges (“I have a massage appointment at 4, I don’t intend to miss it!”).  Best line in the show comes in the next scene, when Hayes is locked up in the squad cell with a frotteur, who says, “It has been a bleak life.”

Munch and Fin question Giles, who feigns ignorance, in true Remains of the Day-style.  Meanwhile, Benson’s working on Dahlia: she’s all, “Why do you even care about him?  You come from money, you don’t need his!”  (True: Ghislaine Maxwell’s father had a boatload of dough, until it was revealed that he, well, didn’t.)  Dahlia says she moved into the Hayes house when she was seventeen (Ghislaine and Epstein met when Maxwell was an adult, so false); Benson tries to convince her she was groomed, but she won’t accept it.


In the squad room, the tech is showing Stabler and Cragen video of the assaults (it does seem likely that Epstein took photographs, but there is no reason to believe he videotaped anything).  They all start making fun of Hayes’s tiny dick and he starts punching the effete subway masturbator until he’s bleeding out his nose.  Benson cuffs Dahlia Jessup, who is surprised to learn Jordan’s lawyers aren’t coming to her defense.  When Olivia starts escorting her to central booking, she bumps into Stabler, taking Hayes to the bathroom.  Just at that moment, his phalanx of lawyers marches in with Cragen, who informs them that the feds have made a deal with Jordan’s lawyers.  “We did all the work!” Olivia protests.  “It’s DONE!” Cragen says.  (Oh, we know aaaaaaall about that deal now.)  Dahlia freaks out and starts to run after Jordan, but he just turns around and coolly says, “You’re gonna be fine.  You’re a survivor, always have been.”  She starts freaking out, saying she’s on the tapes doing perverted things he told her to do (Epstein’s accusers have said Ghislaine Maxwell often joined in); Hayes walks over, cups her face in his hands, and then turns around and walks towards the elevator as she yelps and begs him to come back.

THE END.  And thus ends my informal audition to write the official book guide to Law and Order: SVU.  But for now, I’m out of the Epstein game: I’ve officially burned out on coverage of the case. Wake me when Ghislaine shows up at McDonald’s.


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