“I remember this place. It's really one of the nicest newsrooms I've ever seen.”
In the fall of 2019, former WPTV NewsChannel 5 anchor and investigative reporter Tim Malloy found himself walking the halls of his old newsroom, alongside WPTV's own Shannon Cake.
Malloy was visiting his former station, reminiscing about when it all began. The Jeffrey Epstein story.
"I was actually sitting at my desk and I had gotten a call from a kid who said he was at Royal Palm Beach High School. And he said there was an older guy that the young girls were going to give massages to,” said Malloy.
Years later, Malloy would team up with world-renowned author James Patterson and write Filthy Rich: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein. The book was a tell-all dedicated to unraveling Epstein's twisted secrets, and was also Patteron's first venture into non-fiction.
But at the time, Malloy remembers the caller and what they alleged: that teenage girls were traveling, often across a bridge to a mansion in Palm Beach, where they were being paid "big money" for their visits.
“He was pretty emphatic," Malloy said. "He said he would call back and he didn’t. I didn’t take his name because he was a kid. Then I started asking around on Palm Beach where I live, to a police officer friend, and he vaguely implied that there was something up over there. Eventually, I learned there was a high profile person they were looking at, and the implication was it was sexual."
'IT WAS SOMETHING BIGGER'
Malloy started talking to everyone he knew, and though he couldn't confirm it, he heard there was an active investigation into Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein was one of the most secretive and well-connected men on the planet.
“Somebody at the (Palm Beach) Post first got wind of an investigation and named him first," said Malloy. “I immediately kicked myself and said, why wasn’t it me? Because that’s what we do when we don’t get the story ahead of somebody else.”
But then the case took off in a different direction for Malloy, striking closer to home.
“I had seen him around, riding bikes with young girls around the Colony Hotel,” said Malloy, noting that fueled his interest in the story.
"You just knew it wasn't one or two victims, it was something bigger. Of course, it ended up being on an industrial scale. There was this tick-tock to it and we gotta stop him now," remembered Malloy. “It was like trying to grab someone before they go off a ledge."
Epstein, with homes not just on Palm Beach, but New York, New Mexico, and the Virgin Islands, faced an onslaught of serious charges. He was in town often, fending off the allegations.
Malloy wasn't the only one tracking the jet-setting billionaire.
“John Connolly was an investigative reporter for Vanity Fair, and a great one,” Malloy said. “I met him at the Palm Beach Grill. He called me because he knew I was following (Epstein). He wanted to write a Vanity Fair article about Epstein that kept getting kind of buried."
Malloy and Connolly found themselves sharing insights on the latest in Epstein's case.
"He was really into the forensics of this thing,” recalled Malloy. “He was a lawyer and a former New York City detective who became a writer. I ended up interviewing him a few times during this case and put him on our air here, Channel 5.”
'JEFFREY EPSTEIN WANTS TO SPEAK TO YOU'
It was September of 2007 in Palm Beach County, and Jeffrey Epstein had just returned with his high-powered lawyers, including Kenneth Starr and Alan Dershowitz.
Epstein landed his private plane at Palm Beach International Airport, arriving in town to try and cut a plea deal and avoid prison time.
Police were accusing Epstein of unlawful sexual activity with teenage girls, even molestation.
The local media swarmed the airport, including WPTV's own Tim Malloy. Malloy was tracking Epstein, determined to stay on the case.
"I lived there. I had seen him around town, riding bikes with young girls," recalled Malloy. The younger, the better. And anyone over 20, he wasn’t interested in. He was deeply interested in people on the very young side," said Malloy.
Malloy recalled the details of the case drove his tenacity to continue covering Epstein.
"I don’t even have kids, but I wanted to get a baseball bat and go kill him,” said Malloy.
So in September 2007, when Tim Malloy heard Epstein was returning to town, he was determined to get video of the mysterious Palm Beach financier.
"No one ever saw that son of a bitch," said Malloy, nothing that at the time there was no video of Jeffrey Epstein in court. “I had never seen any video of him."
WPTV had dispatched Chopper 5 to try and get video of the reclusive millionaire.
"We knew his tail number on his airplane," recalled Malloy. “We got him landing, we got him taxiing up, and he doesn't get out. So we're hovering with a live shot with this big lens, and he never got out."
But during a commercial break, Malloy got a message he remembers to this day.
A WPTV producer, speaking to Malloy through his earpiece, told him, "Jeffrey Epstein wants to speak to you."
"And I went, what? I said to him, what does he want?” Malloy asked. “He wants you to get your fucking helicopter away from his airplane,” Malloy recalled his producer saying.
Malloy was shocked by Epstein's demand.
"What struck me is, you've been charged with a crime. We're a news organization, we followed you. We're legit, obeyed all the rules, aviation rules. Screw you! We're not moving, and we didn’t," Malloy said.
Malloy got the shot he was looking for: Epstein departing his private plane and getting into a vehicle waiting for him on the tarmac.
"We were the ones who were gonna get a picture of him, and we did,” Malloy said. "What a story. It showed you how private, how arrogant, and how menacing this guy could be. It sent a little chill."
Despite the victory, Malloy was stunned by the outcome of Epstein's case: a plea deal resulting in no prison time and instead a short stint in the Palm Beach County Jail, which included work release almost every day to his home and even his West Palm Beach office.
After that, Epstein's accusers say he was back in business.
"What fed is he kept getting away with it, and he was arrogant about it," said Malloy. "I was like, you gotta stop this guy. I had to get him, had to catch him."
Although Tim Malloy left WPTV, the Epstein story never left him.
"I left Channel 5, great place, and went on to make documentaries and stuff," Malloy recalled. "Then one day, I had a conversation with James Patterson."
After leaving WPTV, Malloy went on to work on other projects, including documentaries alongside the number one bookseller in the world for 13 years running, fellow Palm Beach resident James Patterson.
The two met up at the Palm Beach Grill and started chatting about possible future projects.
"Tim brought up this Epstein case, which I was vaguely familiar with," Patterson told WPTV. “We started talking about this story, I said, my God, this is an insane story. 30, 40, 50, who knows how many girls. Police reports on most of them, and then this guy gets off. I said, this is unbelievable! It's almost like you couldn't believe it."
Patterson is a prolific writer known for works like the Women's Murder Club and conjuring up iconic characters like Alex Cross. But Patterson says Epstein was a character on a whole different level.
"I mean this character would be right up there with one of the worst characters I’ve ever created, and probably a little worse," said Patterson. "I think if I was writing about a character like this, I probably would tone it down because you would go, no, that’s not possible. Nobody would believe this. With fiction, it has to be that you can tone down your disbelief. I think if I wrote this character, people would go, you’ve gone over the top. There isn’t anybody like this character."
The combination of the age of the girls, the number of them involved, the fact that it was happening in Palm Beach, and the plea deal is what hooked Patterson on the story.
"It was amazing, it was shocking,” Patterson said.
One challenge with writing ‘Filthy Rich’ was that it was Patteron's first venture into non-fiction.
"What's hard for me is that I'm used to making stuff up, that's my strength," said Patterson. “That was a learning experience."
Malloy recalled that Patterson connected with it immediately because he’s really smart and he’s a true-crime writer.
“He suddenly was extremely interested immediately. There was no hesitation. This thing was off and running in hours,” said Malloy.
The two brought John Connolly of Vanity Fair into the mix and hit the ground running.
“THEY DIDN’T WANT THIS BOOK WRITTEN”
‘Filthy Rich’ was expected to hit bookshelves in the summer of 2016, right ahead of the election.
The disturbing details of Epstein's case, along with the power of the James Patterson name, would drive it to the New York Times bestseller list.
But not if Epstein's lawyers had their way.
"They would approach us pretty much every week, and I’m not afraid,” recalled Patterson. “I wasn’t afraid of Epstein, you know. I don’t care, so sue me. I’m never gonna run afraid of doing the right thing, of trying to tell the truth. I never had any issue with this story because it was true.
“I gotta hand it to Jim Patterson, he’s tough,” said Malloy. “I don’t think he was scared. I think I was more afraid than he was. We’re writing a book that they did not want us to write, and it wasn’t me, it was James Patterson writing this book, which means a lot of people are gonna look at it. And they did. They didn't want this book written.”
“CRAZY. SICK. INSANE.”
Malloy says writing the book was the first time he ever felt anxiety while working on a project.
"He was a menacing presence," said Malloy, adding that Epstein was unpredictable. "I thought he was capable of intimidation and maybe even violence."
In the spring of 2016, Malloy called WPTV's Shannon Cake and asked to have lunch and Cucina Palm Beach, a popular spot on the island.
Over lunch, Malloy asked Shannon for a favor.
“If something happens to me, you have to keep going on the story,” said Malloy. “I didn’t want him to get away with it."
Malloy wasn't just working on ‘Filthy Rich,’ but was also busy with a documentary and was getting ready to embed on a deployment to Afghanistan.
"I had an embed coming up, but it was more about Epstein," recalled Malloy. "There was a period where I felt somewhat threatened [because] I heard he was digging into people's past lives."
Epstein's lawyers were reaching out to Patterson's team regularly.
"They were basically saying, you don't know what you're involved with here, you should back off," said Patterson. "What Tim and I did, we sent a letter and said, look, we would love to talk to Epstein, we would love to hear his side."
Patterson says attorneys for Jeffrey Epstein never responded to his interview requests. He added that the end of the book includes a series of questions they wanted to ask Epstein if they could score an interview.
"The last question is, how do you sleep at night? And apparently, he didn't have any problems,” said Patterson.
Patterson had problems though with how his book was covered in the press after its release. He says the story was largely ignored.
"The only people that covered it all in any meaningful way was the Wall Street Journal," said Patterson. "It’s clearly one of the problems if you can’t see a story like this and go, oh my God.”
Patterson says now the Epstein saga ranks up near the top of the 'Me Too' movement.
"It's probably the worst of the ‘Me Too’ cases. It's worse than Weinstein, it's worse than Cosby. Those are bad stories, [but] this is worse,” said Patterson.
Reading the police interviews with the accusers, Patterson was stunned by the allegations.
"This is really crazy. Sick. Insane," said Patterson. “The only mini complaint about the book is that the interviews with the girls are devastating."
THE PLEA DEAL
Almost two years after ‘Filthy Rich’ detailed those victim interviews, Patterson says Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown picked up where the book left off. He credits the Herald's dogged journalism, but believes it was a link to President Donald Trump that fanned interest from the national press.
"I think the reason it got picked up nationally so big was because of Acosta,” said Patterson.
Trump's Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, was the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Acosta oversaw the controversial 2008 plea deal with Epstein.
“It was like, oh, we have a story because [of] Acosta [and] Trump," said Patterson. "Once again, who cares about the girls? But oh, we got Acosta, Secretary of Labor, we can pull Trump into this thing.”
Acosta found himself under the microscope, defending a plea deal over a decade old.
"We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail. He needed to go to jail," said Acosta while defending his actions at a news conference on July 10, 2019.
Acosta ultimately resigned from his position as Secretary of Labor due to the intense scrutiny.
Like others, both Patterson and Malloy have questions about Acosta and the plea deal, as well as former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, who ran the State Attorney's Office in Palm Beach County when the deal was brokered.
“‘Filthy Rich’ did a pretty good job of painting a picture of who this guy was," said Malloy. However, he noted it didn’t settle why Acosta or Krischer did or did not do what they should have done. “Whatever may have been the case, we raised it, [but] we didn’t answer it. Nobody [has] answered it. How did this happen locally? How did he only get 13 months? And get to go to his lawyer's office and get to go home? What the heck’s going on with that?"
Malloy says everybody still has questions about the case.
Patterson says some answers can be found when you look practically at the case and the fact that many of the victims had taken hush money.
“I understand why some of these women took the money and walked away," said Patterson. "I think we’ve all seen [it]. I want this to stop.”
Patterson also added that Epstein's legal team came from the big leagues.
“I think when Acosta came in, the locals said, this dream team, Dershowitz, they’re scary good, A,” said Patterson. “B, a lot of the girls had been bought off already. C, we’re not gonna be able to prove that some went to the house. D, the ones we do get in the courtroom, the dream team of lawyers is gonna rip them apart. So we’re really on shaky ground here. If we’re gonna go after Epstein on prostitution charges, we got him. But in terms of building a bigger case, this could be tricky and we could lose. I think that’s why Acosta took the deal.”
So practically, legally, Patterson says he can see the logic in the deal. But emotionally, Patterson believes it's a great injustice.
"It’s certainly right up there! It doesn’t get a lot worse than this," said Patterson. “I mean, if some crazy person out in West Palm was involved with 20 girls from the local high school, they would put him away forever, and everybody would cheer!"
THE FINAL CHAPTER
Tim Malloy tracked Epstein through his final days, following his case in New York and weighing in on air at his former station, WPTV NewsChannel 5.
Both Malloy and Patterson have moved on to other projects.
But Patterson says ‘Filthy Rich’ is one of the highlights of his writing career.
"This is a big deal what happened here. It's a major story," said Patterson, noting he’s much more into non-fiction than he was before.
Both Malloy and Patterson found it gratifying that when Epstein was arrested in New York, prosecutors credited the press and its role in Epstein's saga.
"I will say that we were assisted by some excellent investigative journalism," said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, after Epstein's arrest.
“That is really gratifying because, in a lot of ways, we’re criticized a lot by authorities and legal system and judges," reflected Malloy. "That was them saying, what I believe is that, if tenacious reporters, and I’m not saying it’s me, it’s a lot of people, no matter where police investigation takes you, journalists got him in the end. There is a real object lesson in the power of not giving up when you see something really dark happening."
"Tim and I took a lot of satisfaction out of that fact, that they did credit investigative journalism," said Patterson. “At least from our point of view, we were out there in 2016 with the story.”
If there's any good to come out of all this horror, Patterson think's it will be on a closer focus to crimes like human trafficking.
“I think we’re gonna pay a lot more attention to trafficking, and that’s massive,” Patterson said. “We’re not paying enough attention to it and I think we will."
Authorities say Epstein was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City on Aug. 10, 2019. A medical examiner ruled his death to be suicide by hanging.
While the outcome to Epstein's saga wasn't what Patterson wanted, he hopes Epstein's accusers can move on with some semblance of justice.
“I hope most or all of these women can walk away from this thing and feel they got some kind of closure,” said Patterson. “It may not be what they want. I’ve said it before, I took no joy out of the fact the guy killed himself. I would have liked to have seen him, [and] I’m not a capital punishment person. but I would have liked to have seen him in jail for the rest of his life. The end.”