NEW YORK -- A few cells away from drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at a New York City jail, jet-setting financier Jeffrey Epstein sits accused of running a different kind of criminal network.
There was the team of recruiters and enablers bringing Epstein dozens of underage girls to sexually abuse, federal prosecutors allege.
There was the assistant who scheduled those encounters, and the butler who cleaned up afterward and doled out cash and gifts to the girls, authorities contend in court records.
There were the mansions in New York and Florida, the sprawling ranch in New Mexico and the private island in the Caribbean that kept prying eyes at a distance, and the forms his employees had to sign swearing they wouldn't speak about him publicly.
All of it served to insulate Epstein with layer upon layer of secretiveness, investigators say, like a kingpin. And, as eventually happened to Guzman, all of it could be on the verge of collapsing inward on him.
The linchpin of the operation described in the federal indictment against Epstein were the recruiters -- some of them victims themselves -- who targeted girls as young as 13. Epstein deemed his team so essential that he attempted to shield several of them from federal charges under the same nonprosecution agreement that allowed him to avoid a lengthy federal prison sentence and plead guilty in 2008 to lesser state charges in Florida.
That unusual deal , initially filed in secret, went as far as to bar the federal government from charging "any potential co-conspirators of Epstein."
That agreement could be upended by the indictment unsealed in New York federal court this month that charges Epstein with conspiracy and sex trafficking, which could see the 66-year-old sentenced to up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, declined to say whether any of Epstein's associates will be charged. He also would not say whether they are cooperating with the investigation.
Epstein's lawyers did not respond to several messages seeking comment. In court last week, they attacked the federal indictment in New York as a collection of warmed-over allegations that should be moot based on Epstein's deal with the U.S. attorney's office in Miami.
Epstein has pleaded not guilty and is due in court today for a bail hearing.