Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Feds failed us, victims’ suit claims

Billionair­e got a ‘sweetheart deal’ on sex charges

- By Paula McMahon Staff writer

Nearly eight years after billionair­e sex offender Jeffrey Epstein got a “sweetheart deal” from the criminal justice system, a judge is preparing to rule on a rare civil lawsuit against the federal government that alleges prosecutor­s violated two teen girls’ rights as crime victims.

Epstein, now 62, pleaded guilty to state charges in Palm Beach County in July 2008 and admitted he hired local underage girls for erotic massages and sex at his South Florida mansion. He was jailed for 13 months of an 18-month sentence and served a year of house arrest.

The leniency and unusual circumstan­ces of his treatment raised many eyebrows because other sex of-

fenders received much harsher punishment­s for comparable crimes. The maximum possible punishment for the offenses was 15 years.

Two adult women, who say Epstein sexually abused them when they were minors, filed a federal civil suit against the U.S. Department of Justice in July 2008, alleging federal prosecutor­s violated their rights as crime victims by not consulting with them before signing an agreement not to prosecute Epstein.

Lawyers for the women, referred to as Jane Doe1and Jane Doe 2, say they were either not informed or were misled into thinking Epstein could face federal prosecutio­n, after he pleaded guilty to two state charges of felony solicitati­on of prostituti­on and procuring a minor for prostituti­on.

After years of legal wrangling between prosecutor­s and the women’s lawyers, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra recently said he hopes the case will finally be decided within the next few months, possibly after a non-jury trial in federal court in West Palm Beach.

The civil lawsuit is so uncommon that the possible repercussi­ons are still unclear.

The judge could rule the U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Department of Justice either consulted with the women to the extent required by law or that the women were not entitled to the level of consultati­on or notificati­on their lawyers say they should have received.

Even if the judge rules that federal prosecutor­s did not adequately consult with the victims, legal experts say the women could not receive monetary damages from the government. And lawyers say there is no chance that Epstein’s sentence, which he already served, could be altered or that he could face more criminal charges related to these allegation­s.

Epstein is suspected of sexually abusing 30 or more young women, courts record show. Now a registered sex offender for life, he has reached confidenti­al financial settlement­s with many of his alleged victims.

Epstein made his fortune as a money manager and split his time between his Palm Beach mansion, his private Caribbean island Little Saint James, his upper East Side Manhattan home, and residences in Santa Fe, N.M., and Paris.

The case has spawned numerous lawsuits and feverish internatio­nal media coverage, especially after other young women alleged they were abused by Epstein, Britain’s Prince Andrew and well-known lawyer, Alan Dershowitz. Buckingham Palace issued a rare denial and Dershowitz has sued his accuser’s lawyers alleging he was defamed after they sued him for defamation.

Former President Bill Clinton and presidenti­al hopeful Donald Trump have also been criticized for socializin­g with Epstein, though neither was accused of any criminal activity.

The two women are represente­d by Fort Lauderdale lawyer Bradley Edwards and Paul Cassell, a law professor and former federal judge from Utah who is a nationally known victims’ rights advocate.

They want the judge to rule the women’s rights, under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act, were violated. Some of their proposed penalties include invalidati­ng the non-prosecutio­n agreement; forcing prosecutor­s to meet with them to discuss the case and possible prosecutio­n of Epstein; forcing prosecutor­s to apologize; and forcing prosecutor­s to pay financial sanctions and the victims’ legal fees. Victims are not entitled to be paid damages, according to court records.

“There is good reason to believe that if the prosecutor­s had exposed their dealings to scrutiny by Jane Doe #1 and Jane Doe #2, they would not have reached such a sweetheart deal,” Edwards wrote in court records.

Prosecutor­s “wanted the non-prosecutio­n agreement kept from public view because of the intense public criticism that would have resulted from allowing a politicall­y-connected billionair­e who had sexually abused more than 30 minor girls to escape from federal prosecutio­n with only a county jail sentence,” Edwards wrote in court filings.

Prosecutor­s filed court records revealing the federal investigat­ion of Epstein began in 2006 at the request of the Town of Palm Beach police. The non-prosecutio­n agreement was signed in September 2007, nine months before Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges. Among the reasons for the agreement, federal prosecutor­s wrote, were that Epstein was being prosecuted by the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office and the agreement preserved and protected the victims’ rights to get restitutio­n from Epstein.

Prosecutor­s wrote some victims were “hostile” to the prosecutio­n of Epstein and some did not want to be identified in trial.

A letter written in 2011 by former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, who headed the office from 2005 to 2009 when the decision was made, said the negotiatio­ns were like “a year-long assault” on prosecutor­s and labeled the defense launched by Epstein’s starstudde­d team of lawyers “more aggressive” than any Acosta and his prosecutor­s had encountere­d.

“Our judgment in this case, based on the evidence known at the time, was that it was better to have a billionair­e serve time in jail, register as a sex offender and pay his victims restitutio­n than risk a trial with a reduced likelihood of success,” Acosta wrote.

Acosta conceded in the letter that the “highly unusual treatment” Epstein received while in jail on the state charges “undermined the purpose of a jail sentence.” Convicts sentenced to more than a year are supposed to serve their time in state prison, not a local jail, and Epstein was allowed to leave the jail six days a week during the day to work at his West Palm Beach office for several hours on a workreleas­e program.

State prosecutor­s said they had concerns about some of the victims’ credibilit­y when they made their decision to charge Epstein.

At a recent court hearing, federal prosecutor­s said — for the first time — they think the two women may have been “complicit” in Epstein’s crimes, by receiving payments to recruit other girls for him.

“Your Honor, we believe there’s an issue about whether or not Jane Does 1 and 2 may have been complicit in the offenses, if you will … specifical­ly, that they themselves procured additional young women for Mr. Epstein and were paid commission­s or referral fees for it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee said, according to a recently filed transcript of the Nov. 23 hearing.

Lee told the judge that the law suggests “if someone was complicit in the actual offense that they are not entitled to be a victim and can invoke no rights under the Victim Rights Act.”

Jack Goldberger, a Palm Beach County lawyer who was one of several members of Epstein’s defense team, told the Sun Sentinel “reasonable prosecutor­s and reasonable defense lawyers reached an agreement to resolve the Jeffrey Epstein case in the manner it was resolved.” He declined to comment on the reasons for the terms of the agreement.

“If Judge Marra rules the U.S. government violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, it will have no effect on prosecutin­g Jeffrey Epstein. Due process and double jeopardy would require the agreement, that was reached by the state and federal government, be honored.”

Though victims have legal rights to consult with prosecutor­s, victims “have no right to dictate how the case is resolved” by prosecutor­s, Goldberger said: “Can he [Epstein] be prosecuted in the future? The answer is really clear — no, it simply can’t happen.”

 ??  ?? Palm Beach resident Jeffrey Epstein
Palm Beach resident Jeffrey Epstein

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States