How the Miami Herald investigated Jeffrey Epstein — and his many enablers
In October 2017, as the #MeToo movement spurred a national conversation about the sexual harassment and abuse of women, the Miami Herald had already begun examining the Jeffrey Epstein case.
After the nomination of former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta to President Trump’s Cabinet in February of that year, the Herald began to take a closer look at what role Acosta played in helping orchestrate a secret plea bargain that prosecutors struck with Epstein in 2007, and finalized in 2008.
In the 10 years since Epstein’s case was closed by the FBI, about two dozen civil court cases had been filed, often alleging that Epstein’s sex crimes with underage victims were far more serious than prosecutors led the public to believe. The vast trove of litigation included tens of thousands of pages of court pleadings, motions, appeals, depositions, hearing transcripts, judges’ decisions, witness and victim statements, as well as emails and letters between federal prosecutors and Epstein’s defense lawyers.
Besides sorting through volumes of court documents, the Herald also began the process of trying to locate Epstein’s victims — most of whom were labeled in court documents as Jane Does in order to protect their identities as minors. Reporter Julie K. Brown was able to identify about 80 possible victims, now in their late 20s and early 30s. She located about 60 of them who live around the country and abroad. Eight were willing to talk about the case — four of them on the record. Many of the women said they had never told anyone of the abuse because they were too ashamed and already felt that the criminal justice system had failed them.
The Herald then set about obtaining 10 years of public records connected to the Epstein criminal cases. These included the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office files, the Palm Beach police files, and records from the Florida Department of Corrections, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Not all the records had been preserved. The FBI began publishing the case file on its website in late 2017 — but most of the documents are heavily redacted. The files did, however, yield some fresh revelations.
Brown and visual journalist Emily Michot interviewed four of the women for a documentary, which featured key people involved in the case. Brown also reached out to former and current FBI agents, federal prosecutors, judges, state prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims’ attorneys and police for this story. Some of these sources spoke off the record. Others, such as the lead detective and the former Palm Beach police chief, agreed to be interviewed for the first time.
In February of this year, the Miami Herald filed a motion in federal court in the Southern District of New York, seeking access to documents that were kept secret in a civil case filed by victim Virginia Roberts in which she alleged that Epstein and an associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, operated an international sex trafficking operation. The case had been settled out of court in 2017, and the Herald is fighting to have some of the record unsealed.
The documents could cast light on the full scope of Epstein’s possible crimes and whether there was any undue influence that tainted the criminal investigation.
The motion was denied in August. The Herald is appealing.