Jeffrey Epstein, a politically connected multimillionaire who molested dozens of underage girls — and is suspected of trafficking countless other girls around the world — issued a public apology Tuesday. It was not to the victims whose lives were irrevocably changed by the abuse, but to one of their lawyers.
The apology came as a settlement was announced in Palm Beach County Court between Epstein, 65, and Fort Lauderdale attorney Bradley Edwards, who represents several of Epstein’s victims. Those victims, now in their late 20s and early 30s, had been scheduled to testify in the trial, which was about to get underway.
Michelle Licata, 30, one of the women molested by Epstein when she was underage, said Epstein’s apology to Edwards wasn’t enough.
“I’m still waiting for our apology for ruining our lives and taking away the innocence from every one of us,’’ she said.
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“The fact is he won’t apologize to us because he doesn’t think he did nothing wrong.’’
The case only indirectly involved the abuse inflicted on Epstein’s victims and instead focused on a battle between Epstein and Edwards.
The trial ended before it began, with a dramatic statement by Edwards’ attorney, Jack Scarola, that Epstein admitted now he’d used the civil justice system “as a tool for extortion” in order to intimidate Edwards into abandoning his quest for justice for Licata and Epstein’s other victims. Epstein was not in court when the settlement was announced in front of a horde of media. His apology was read by his attorney, Scott Link.
Epstein initially sued Edwards a decade ago, tying the lawyer to convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, who swindled hundreds of millions of dollars from investors who believed they would profit from the Rothstein firm’s legal settlements. Epstein claimed that Edwards, who briefly worked for Rothstein, was using his aggressive advocacy for Epstein’s victims as a vehicle to help perpetuate Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme. Rothstein denied that Edwards knew about the scam, however, and Edwards countersued Epstein for malicious prosecution.
On Tuesday, Epstein admitted in his written statement that his lawsuit was in fact a spiteful effort to damage Edwards’ reputation and pressure him to drop the girls as clients.
“While Mr. Edwards was representing clients against me, I filed a lawsuit against him in which I made allegations about him that the evidence conclusively proves were absolutely false,’’ Epstein said in the statement. “The lawsuit I filed was my unreasonable attempt to damage his business reputation and cause Mr. Edwards to stop pursuing cases against me.’’
There was also a monetary settlement, which was undisclosed.
At a news conference afterward, Edwards said he agreed to settle the case because it would have been pointless having the victims testify in this forum because the judge had limited the parameters of what he could introduce.
The opportunity to testify could come in a separate civil case pending in federal court in the Southern District of Florida that seeks to undo Epstein’s controversial plea bargain, called a non-prosecution agreement. It was negotiated in secret 10 years ago between the Palm Beach multimillionaire’s famous lawyers and the then-U.S. attorney for South Florida, Alexander Acosta.
Acosta, now President Donald Trump’s labor secretary, is facing a backlash by Democratic members of Congress who have called for an inspector general probe into his role in negotiating a deal that some consider the most lenient for a serial sex abuser in history.
Edwards has argued that the settlement Acosta signed off on a decade earlier was illegal because it was executed without telling Epstein’s victims, an apparent violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. That law entitles crime victims in federal cases to be informed of developments, including plea deals and court hearings.
In a Miami Herald investigation published over the past week, several of Epstein’s victims described how they felt intimidated and shamed into silence by both Epstein and the federal and state prosecutors who were supposed to hold Epstein accountable.
The women were deliberately kept in the dark, emails obtained by the Herald showed. The Palm Beach police chief, Michael Reiter, and the lead detective in the case, Joseph Recarey, told the Herald that they believed prosecutors effectively sabotaged their case in order to help Epstein, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and actors, academics and world leaders.
The Herald series outlined all the ways in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Acosta worked in concert with the Epstein defense team to hide the agreement from the press, the public and victims until after it was executed.
As part of the deal with Acosta, Epstein served slightly over a year in the Palm Beach County stockade.
Edwards vowed to continue to fight on behalf of the young women.
“I’m now getting calls from my clients who have been hidden, who were pushed into silence, scared to death, finally saying ... thank you for standing up to him and pushing him to the brink until he had to admit you win and he lost,” Edwards said.
One woman, who says she was abused by Epstein when she was 14, said she was pleased with the outcome.
“I just feel overwhelmed with joy,’’ Courtney Wild, 31, told the Herald. “I never felt this day would ever come that someone would finally hear us. It’s overwhelmingly meaningful because nobody has ever treated us like we were victims.’’
The underage girls were lured to Epstein’s waterfront mansion by recruiters who offered them $200 to give the hedge fund manager a massage. Those massages turned into sexual abuse by Epstein.
Edwards hoped to use the forum of the trial to allow sex abuse victims to tell their stories of exploitation at the hands of Epstein for the first time. But over the past several months, the judge had narrowed the scope of the case, prohibiting Edwards from producing evidence that Epstein had abused and trafficked hundreds of young girls between 1999 and 2006.
Discussing the settlement outside the West Palm Beach courthouse, Edwards and Scarola stood in front of stacks of boxes of evidence that they had prepared to present at trial.