The arrest of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged co-conspirator, Ghislaine Maxwell, has revived speculation that investigators will go after others who were complicit in his underage sex trafficking ring.

"We are very happy that the US Attorney's office has decided to move forward on this arrest, which is hopefully just the beginning," Spencer Kuvin, a lawyer representing six of Epstein's victims, said yesterday.

"We're hopeful that there will continue to be additional arrests with respect to other co-conspirators."

Multiple women who were abused by Epstein have alleged he and Maxwell forced them to have sex with other rich and powerful men.

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Virginia Guiffre claims she was "lent out to politicians and academics and to people that were royalty". She has publicly accused Prince Andrew and prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz, among others, of participating in the abuse.

All the men she has named deny her allegations.

One detail in the Maxwell investigation, revealed when prosecutors announced the charges against her yesterday, suggests Epstein's high-profile associates should be nervous.

Like the case against Epstein, which ended prematurely when the disgraced billionaire killed himself in prison, the Maxwell case is being run by the Southern District of New York's Public Corruption Unit.

That was unusual in the Epstein prosecution, and it is no less eyebrow-raising now.

On the US Department of Justice's website, there is a helpful summary of what, exactly, the Public Corruption Unit's job is.

"The Public Corruption Unit works, in close partnership with the FBI and other federal, state and city investigative agencies, to maintain and protect the integrity of all levels of government," it reads.

"The unit oversees the investigation and prosecution of corruption crimes committed by elected and appointed officials, government employees, and individuals and companies doing business with the city, state and federal government.

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"Corruption crimes investigated by the unit include bribery, embezzlement, and frauds."

This unit does not normally handle sex trafficking cases. As its name suggests, it exists to prosecute corruption involving government officials.

Its involvement here has not escaped the notice of legal experts in the United States.

Former prosecutor Elie Honig, who has worked on sex trafficking cases for the Southern District of New York in the past, noted that such cases only get run out of the Public Corruption Unit if there is a "potential angle against a public official".

"A case like this ordinarily would not be staffed out of Public Corruption. It would ordinarily be staffed out of what's now known as the Violent and Organised Crime Unit," Honig told Law & Crime.

"The fact that it is staffed out of Public Corruption tells me that a public official, past or present, is involved in at least some capacity.

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"Could mean a potential target, witness, or a potential co-conspirator. It could mean a lot of different things."

CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers, a former chief of the Southern District of New York's Organised Crime and General Crime units, suggested the unit might be handling Maxwell's case to investigate the "deal of a lifetime" Epstein got from prosecutors in Florida more than a decade ago.

Police in Palm Beach, aided by the FBI, had investigated Epstein and spoken to dozens of his victims. Prosecutors drew up a 53-page indictment which could have put him in prison for life.

"This was 50-something 'shes' and one 'he' – and the 'shes' all basically told the same story," retired police chief Michael Reiter told The Miami Herald in 2018.

But that indictment was never used. Instead, federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta – who went on to serve in Donald Trump's Cabinet – gave Epstein an extraordinarily lenient plea deal.

The deal required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges – scandalously minor, compared to the scale of his crimes – which got him a jail sentence of 13 months.

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In return, the government gave Epstein and "any potential co-conspirators" immunity from all federal criminal charges in the Southern District of Florida.

Acosta also agreed that knowledge of the non-prosecution agreement would be kept from Epstein's victims until it had been approved by a judge, or in other words, until it could no longer be stopped.

"The Public Corruption Unit was the unit that brought the original Epstein charges and thus these additional Maxwell charges, likely because of the involvement of public officials in Florida in giving Epstein the sweetheart plea deal," Rodgers told Law & Crime.

"My educated guess is that part of this investigation has involved whether any of those officials had done anything wrong, like accepting bribes, in connection with that matter.

"Whether we will see any public officials charged remains to be seen."

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of the FBI, reached a similar conclusion.

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"If I was Alexander Acosta today, I would be having a very lousy weekend," Figliuzzi told The Miami Herald.

"This case is not over. I've supervised these kinds of cases in big cities and I've never seen public corruption prosecutors involved, and they are still in it, there is a reason for it.

"Because of the lenient posture that Acosta took with Epstein, it begs the question as to why he chose to go lightly on Epstein, and that question – and at what level and for whom he was doing this for – is likely the subject matter of the investigation."

Acosta was forced to resign as Trump's Labour Secretary last year over public outrage at his role in the Epstein saga. He did not apologise, and maintains he did nothing wrong.

"We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail," Acosta said when he quit Trump's Cabinet.

"We believe that we proceeded appropriately.

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"We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight and we live in a very different world."

Of course, the anti-corruption unit might be handling the case for another reason.

Epstein moved in a powerful social circle, featuring figures as high-profile as President Trump and former president Bill Clinton.

As Honig said, if any current or former public official is entangled in the case – as a potential target for prosecution, or even as a witness – that could warrant the unit's involvement.

Donald Trump and his girlfriend (and future wife), former model Melania Knauss, financier (and future convicted sex offender) Jeffrey Epstein, and British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell pose together at the Mar-a-Lago club. Photo / Getty Images
Donald Trump and his girlfriend (and future wife), former model Melania Knauss, financier (and future convicted sex offender) Jeffrey Epstein, and British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell pose together at the Mar-a-Lago club. Photo / Getty Images

Maxwell's arrest, 11 months after Epstein died, is a significant development which could lead to further breakthroughs in the investigation.

She could take her chances in court, or attempt to reach a plea deal of her own with prosecutors, revealing the names of co-conspirators in exchange for a lighter sentence.

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"I'm sure that Ghislaine's attorneys will try everything. They will try to make a deal where, perhaps, she speaks out about a bigger name in order to get reduced charges for herself," said Lisa Bloom, the lawyer representing one of Epstein's victims.

Yet another reason for anyone who was involved in Epstein's crimes to be nervous.