PARIS (AP) - A modeling agent who was close to disgraced U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead Saturday in his French jail cell, where he was being held in an investigation into the rape of minors and trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.
Paris police are investigating Jean-Luc Brunel’s death at the historic La Sante prison in Paris, the prosecutor’s office said.
Victims of his alleged abuse described shock and dismay that the 75-year-old, a well-known model scout in the 1980s and 1990s who ran different agencies in Paris and New York, will never face trial. They called his death as a double blow after Epstein killed himself in 2019 in a Manhattan jail while awaiting sex-trafficking charges.
Brunel's lawyers suggested Saturday that he, too, killed himself. In a statement, they described his "distress" at his incarceration and his repeated requests for a provisional release from the prison.
"Jean-Luc Brunel never stopped declaring his innocence," they said. "His decision was not guided by guilt, but by a deep sentiment of injustice."
The lawyers would not further comment on what happened, and it was unclear whether the jail had suicide prevention measures in place.
Brunel was detained at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2020 as part of a broad French probe unleashed by the U.S. sex-trafficking charges against Epstein. A frequent companion of Epstein, Brunel was considered central to the French investigation into alleged sexual exploitation of women and girls by the U.S. financier and his circle. Epstein traveled often to France and had apartments in Paris.
One of Epstein’s main accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has alleged that Brunel procured women, some of them minors, for sex with Epstein and other people, luring them with promises of modeling work.
Multiple women who identified themselves as victims have spoken to police since the French probe was opened in 2019, and at times expressed frustration with the slow pace of the investigation.
One of them, Thysia Huisman, said Saturday that the news of Brunel’s death sent her into "shock."
"It makes me angry, because I’ve been fighting for years," Huisman, a Dutch former model who told police she was drugged and raped by Brunel as a teen, told The Associated Press. "For me, the end of this was to be in court. And now that whole ending — which would help form closure — is taken away from me."
A lawyer representing Huisman and other victims, Anne-Claire Le Jeune, said other women involved in the case feel the same.
"Great disappointment, great frustration that (the victims) won’t get justice," she told The AP.
She expressed doubt that the investigation would lead to a trial because Brunel was so central to the case. She also voiced concerns that Brunel's death means his accusers won’t get any official recognition of their status as victims.
"To rebuild yourself (after abuse), that is one of the essential steps," Huisman said.
She expressed hope that Brunel's death won't discourage women from continuing to speak out about abuse. The investigation, along with a growing reckoning about sexual misconduct in France, has "freed up women to talk about it," she said. "It’s a difficult step that requires a lot of courage and strength."
Brunel was named in U.S. court filings, too. The spokesperson for the prosecutors who charged Epstein in New York declined comment on Brunel's death.
For Giuffre and other victims, the news of Brunel's death was "devastating," according a statement from her lawyer, Sigrid McCawley.
Guiffre herself tweeted: "The suicide of Jean-Luc Brunel, who abused me and countless girls and young women, ends another chapter. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to face him in a final trial to hold him accountable, but gratified that I was able to testify in person last year to keep him in prison."
McCawley said Brunel's death did not end the search for justice.
"For the women who have stood up and called for accountability from law enforcement around the world, it is not how these men died, but how they lived, and the damage they caused to so many. The fight to seek truth and justice goes on," McCawley said.
Britain’s Prince Andrew recently agreed to settle a case in which Giuffre accused him of sexual abuse when she was 17. Guiffre says she was supplied to Andrew by Epstein, charges that Andrew denies. The settlement, in which Andrew agreed to make a substantial donation to Giuffre's charity, avoids a trial.