Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2004.
CNN  — 

The FBI’s “repeated and continued failures, delays and inaction” allowed Jeffrey Epstein to continue his sex trafficking operation for more than 20 years, 12 alleged victims claimed in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The suit, filed against the United States in the Southern District of New York, claims the FBI’s negligence resulted in the continued sexual abuse of the 12 alleged victims, who are not named in the lawsuit.

“For over two decades, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (hereinafter ‘FBI’) permitted Jeffrey Epstein to sex traffic and sexually abuse scores of children and young women by failing to do the job the American people expected of it and that the FBI’s own rules and regulations required: investigate the reports, tips, and evidence it had of rampant sexual abuse and sex trafficking by Epstein and protect the young women and children who fell victim to him,” the lawsuit reads.

The alleged victims are seeking unspecified damages in an amount to be determined at trial. The lawsuit also says they support the unredacted release of FBI documents regarding Epstein, claiming the files are still largely sealed.

“The filing of this lawsuit is the first step to getting to the bottom of what we have recently learned – that for years the FBI negligently failed to act on clear evidence that Jeffrey Epstein was operating a vast sex abuse operation and sex trafficking ring, as alleged,” Jennifer Plotkin and Nathan Werksman, attorneys for the Jane Does, said in a written statement. “That failure resulted in incalculable harm to our clients.”

Epstein, a convicted pedophile, died in jail before he could face trial on federal sex-trafficking charges.

When reached for comment, the FBI said it does not comment on litigation. CNN has reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.

FBI failed to investigate complaints and tips about Epstein, lawsuit claims

An individual told the FBI in 1996 that Epstein and his companion Ghislaine Maxwell had sexually abused her and there were other victims, according to the lawsuit. The FBI “hung up” on her and did not investigate the report, the lawsuit claims.

“Between 1996 and 2005, the FBI continued to receive direct reports, complaints and tips concerning the illegal sex trafficking of women and underage minors, sex abuse and human rights violations committed by Jeffrey Epstein and associates,” the lawsuit said. “In response, the FBI failed to act upon and investigate the complaints and tips and failed to comply with protocol and guidelines notwithstanding credible reports of solicitation of child prostitution and sex trafficking.”

The FBI also failed to investigate or conduct appropriate background checks when Epstein’s office worked to obtain travel documents for women and girls, the lawsuit claims.

In March 2005, the Palm Beach Police Department in Florida received a report that an underage girl was brought to Epstein’s residence for a sexual massage, according to the lawsuit. The police sent information to the FBI that same month, but the agency did not open a case until the summer of 2006, the lawsuit alleges.

“During the FBI investigation, the FBI was complicit in permitting Epstein and coconspirators to continue to victimize Jane Does 1-12 and other young women,” the lawsuit said. “The FBI had photographs, videos and interviews and hard evidence of child prostitution and failed to timely investigate and arrest Epstein in deviation from the FBI protocols.”

Between 2006 and 2008, JP Morgan Chase contacted the federal government on “numerous occasions” regarding Epstein’s transactions and concern about child prostitution, according to the lawsuit. The FBI was notified the bank handled more than $1.1 million in payments from Epstein to women or girls, the lawsuit claimed.

“The FBI was aware of the hard cash flowing out of Epstein’s accounts in transactions related to human trafficking yet concealed the reports and did not investigate the crimes until the recent lawsuit filed by the U.S. Virgin Islands against JP Morgan Chase,” the lawsuit said.

Last year, JP Morgan Chase reached a settlement in that case, which included “significant commitments” to curtail human trafficking and a $75 million payment to the US Virgin Islands.

JP Morgan said in a statement at the time it was not conceding any liability in the settlement, reiterating it “deeply regrets any association” with Epstein.

In 2008, Epstein was arrested and served 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to two state prostitution charges. He also registered as a sex offender and paid restitution to the victims identified by the FBI.

“The FBI delayed, procrastinated and waited three years to arrest Epstein for child prostitution all the while Epstein’s sex trafficking operation continued to operate as underage girls and young women were sexually abused such as the Plaintiffs herein,” the lawsuit said.

FBI records show the agency’s investigation was closed in September 2008, according to the lawsuit.

However, the FBI allegedly received additional tips and reports concerning sex abuse following the 2008 plea deal. The lawsuit claimed the agency was aware Epstein’s sex-trafficking ring continued to operate after he was a registered sex offender.

“From 2009 until 2019, the FBI was complicit in permitting the ongoing sex trafficking of minors, rape and sexual abuse of girls and young women which occurred between New York, Palm Beach and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and many other locations,” the lawsuit said.

In 2019, 11 years after the plea deal, Epstein was indicted on federal charges of operating a sex-trafficking ring in which he allegedly sexually abused dozens of underage girls. He died by suicide in jail while awaiting trial.