New Mexico AG On His Push To Change The State's Sexual Misconduct Laws
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The well-connected financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein may have problems in a third state. In Florida, he has already served jail time for soliciting prostitution. In New York, he is charged with sexually trafficking and abusing girls. And now we turn to New Mexico. The state is considering changing its sexual misconduct laws because of Epstein. And investigators are interviewing people connected with a large ranch that he owns in the state. New Mexico's attorney general is Hector Balderas. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
HECTOR BALDERAS: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: So this property that Epstein owns is known as Zorro Ranch. It has been described as palatial. Explain why even after Epstein's guilty plea in Florida he was not required to register in New Mexico as a sex offender.
BALDERAS: Well, New Mexico has traditionally lagged behind those type of protections. And more importantly, the nature of the pleading of which Epstein was convicted with in Florida was not a crime in New Mexico that was required to be registered with the Department of Public Safety. In 2019, I began to ask the Legislature to tighten up those loopholes. I think it's simply appalling that someone who could be in the business of human trafficking wouldn't be required to be registered in New Mexico. And so we're really trying to change not only the laws but the expectations that these dangerous individuals are really predators and deserve to be supervised in our communities.
SHAPIRO: So the legislation you're pushing for would require anyone with a sex trafficking conviction to register as an offender in New Mexico. A similar bill recently failed in the state Legislature. Do you think that the Epstein case and the attention that it's getting will flip some votes? Do you think the bill is more likely to pass now?
BALDERAS: I think the Epstein case - if there is only one positive that comes from this matter, it's that there will be more awareness that human trafficking and child trafficking is everywhere in every community, and any community can be exploited. It's appalling that the Legislature did not give this bill one hearing last year, much less consider the reform. I think the Epstein case will bring considerable amount of awareness on this issue and the real need to better protect children.
SHAPIRO: Epstein has not faced charges in New Mexico, but I understand that your office is interviewing people about what took place on his ranch. What can you tell us about that?
BALDERAS: We do have an active investigation. We are meeting with survivors and victims involved in that matter. I'm very concerned that there definitely was a course of conduct here in New Mexico within our borders and that we don't leave any stone unturned. And we're also going to be forwarding any federal evidence to the federal authorities in New York.
We did not even have a human trafficking statute during the timeframe Epstein was alleged to have committed some of these acts in New Mexico. So as you can see, the system really across the board had not only failed in Florida, but there are many states that I encourage to get more involved and make sure that they have adequate oversight in combating human trafficking.
SHAPIRO: Do those state laws make the possibility of a New Mexico prosecution less likely than in a state like New York?
BALDERAS: The regret in New Mexico is that the Legislature did not pass a human trafficking statute till well after the Epstein allegations occurred. So we are still struggling right now with the state investigation, which is why it's so important for us to partner with New York and forward evidence that we uncover here in New Mexico to proper federal authorities. The federal authorities have more resources of which they can pursue a prosecution.
SHAPIRO: I understand that some of the young teenagers involved in these cases were taken from one state to another. If there were offenses uncovered in New Mexico, would you see that as supporting the case against Epstein in New York, or do you think there could be charges brought in yet a third state, New Mexico?
BALDERAS: You know, it's hard to comment at this point, but it's very important that we make sure that we do a complete inventory and assessment to make sure that we hear and contact every victim that was involved in this - these heinous acts, including from differing states. And so we're in the process right now of locating as many survivors and victims as we can.
SHAPIRO: That's Hector Balderas, attorney general for the state of New Mexico. Thank you for speaking with us.
BALDERAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.