Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown has received a prestigious George Polk Award for Perversion of Justice, a series of stories and videos examining the plea deal given to affluent Palm Beach sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein.
The series by Brown and visual journalist Emily Michot was honored in the Justice Reporting category, the same category in which Brown was honored in 2014 for stories on the brutal, sometimes fatal mistreatment of Florida prison inmates with mental illnesses.
Perversion of Justice included on-the-record interviews with some of Epstein’s previously unidentified victims, their accounts of serial sexual abuse in Epstein’s waterfront mansion a decade earlier and their reactions to a plea deal that saw Epstein do no prison time. The stories revealed behind-the-scenes communications between Epstein’s legal team and the South Florida U.S. attorney’s office, led at the time by Alexander Acosta, who is now President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor.
Emails and other communications showed a concerted effort to dispose of the case without alerting victims — or the public — until it was too late to object. The federal Crime Victims Rights Act stipulates that victims are entitled to be informed about plea negotiations and upcoming court hearings.
The Herald’s stories have led to a Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility investigation of the plea agreement, bi-partisan calls for legislation allowing a separate inspector general probe, demands for Acosta’s resignation from his Cabinet post, and an apology by Epstein to the lawyer for his victims — but not to the victims themselves.
Acosta, who had been a contender to succeed Jeff Sessions as attorney general, was eliminated from consideration immediately upon publication of Perversion of Justice.
“This award recognizes the dogged reporting of Julie Brown, whose work gave Jeffrey Epstein’s victims a voice and has forced a fresh review of the case by the public, Congress and the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General,” Miami Herald Managing Editor Rick Hirsch said. “The impact of the work is what really matters.”
This is the 70th year that Long Island University has given the Polk Awards, an honor that LIU says “focuses on the intrepid, bold, and influential work of the reporters themselves, placing a premium on investigative work that is original, resourceful, and thought-provoking.”
Perversion of Justice was one of two winners from Florida. The other was Heartbroken, by Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times, which won in the Local News category. Heartbroken revealed that 11 patients at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Fla., had died during or after heart surgery in an 18-month span, including three in one week.