More than a decade ago, state and federal prosecutors decided to let financier Jeffrey Epstein escape any meaningful punishment for what they charged was sexual abuse of young girls. This week, federal prosecutors indicted Epstein for related conduct in what appears to be an effort to right a wrong.
Why wasn’t justice served the first time? Why did New York prosecutors seek an indictment for conduct that allegedly occurred more than 10 years in the past, and that originally was brought before federal authorities in Miami? The FBI and local law enforcement thoroughly investigated Epstein’s sex trafficking scheme spanning New York, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and reportedly saw him and his allies recruiting young women and girls for massages, sexual encounters, travel and money.
Law enforcement officers did their job and turned over the evidence to federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami. There reportedly was plenty of evidence to support charges of sex trafficking and child exploitation. The FBI had interviewed many victims who all told similar stories, and agents gathered corroborating evidence such as flight logs and passenger manifests. They sent the case to an assistant U.S. attorney, likely expecting that Epstein would face serious federal jail time for sexual abuse crimes against children.
Somewhere along the way to justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida went off the rails. Prosecutors negotiated an astounding non-prosecution agreement with Epstein’s attorneys in what surely must be deemed the sweetest sweetheart deal. Federal prosecutors agreed not to prosecute Epstein for anything at all, if he would plead guilty in state court to far less serious charges of prostitution. He would register as a sex offender and pay restitution to some victims. In return for this absurd plea, federal prosecutors also agreed not to prosecute anyone who reportedly aided Epstein.
In another mysterious development, state prosecutors agreed to a lenient sentence for Epstein. He basically was allowed to participate in a work-release agreement for 13 months, and was carted to and from jail by a chauffeur each morning and evening. There is no way that this represents justice.
Evidently forgotten by every state and federal prosecutor were Epstein’s many victims. They purposefully were shut out by federal prosecutors during negotiation of the non-prosecution agreement. As reported by the Miami Herald, documents filed by the victims in a subsequent lawsuit show that federal prosecutors knowingly kept the deal from victims, and even ensured that victims were not told Epstein would plead guilty in state court.
The conduct of federal prosecutors involved in this case defies explanation. Then-U.S. Attorney Alex AcostaRene (Alex) Alexander AcostaThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Acosta under fire over Epstein plea deal Trump defends Acosta amid Epstein scrutiny Warren: Acosta 'ethically compromised and unfit to serve' as Trump Labor secretary MORE, now Labor Secretary to President Trump, has said he thought they negotiated the best deal possible. This is laughable and demonstrably false. Prosecutors across the country routinely seek and obtain convictions on sex crimes with far less evidence. And they honor the victims by actually pursuing justice and consulting with them as investigations and prosecutions proceed.
It remains to be seen if the Department of Justice is correct that the non-prosecution agreement Acosta signed does not bar federal prosecution of Epstein in New York for what appears to be the same decade-old sex-trafficking scheme. Epstein reportedly remains a very wealthy man, and there is no doubt he will retain high-priced attorneys to argue he cannot be prosecuted in New York for the same conduct to which he admitted guilt — and for which he was assured he would not be prosecuted federally — in Florida state court.
Epstein’s criminally lenient sentence in Florida notwithstanding, the Justice Department should prepare to argue why they should be allowed more than one investigation and prosecution of the same individual for the same conduct.
While the legal wrangling in New York progresses, though, the utter failure to seek meaningful justice at the outset of this case must be addressed. There is no reasonable explanation for the special treatment that Epstein received from Acosta’s office and the state court. Everyone involved in the original Epstein non-prosecution agreement, and in the lenient sentencing in state court, should be fired for monumental dereliction of duty in the pursuit of justice.
And, there is no excuse for leaving Acosta in place in the president’s cabinet. If nothing else, this case proves he is unworthy of the trust of the American people. The victims deserved better then, and they deserve better now.