Fabiola Santiago

Finally, the rich creep faces justice and his teen-aged victims get their day in court | Opinion

Julie K. Brown reports after Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest in New York City

Journalist Julie K. Brown reports on Jeffrey Epstein charges of conspiracy and sex trafficking underage girls in New York.
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Journalist Julie K. Brown reports on Jeffrey Epstein charges of conspiracy and sex trafficking underage girls in New York.

At long last, the now indicted rich creep Jeffrey Epstein will face real justice in New York — and his victims will get their day in court.

But this is one case from which we cannot afford to lift our eyes.

The multimillionaire financier has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking, still has friends in high places — and the money to pay the best of lawyers.

How connected is Epstein still?

Well, the highest-ranking lawman in the land — U.S. Attorney General William Barr — said on Monday that he had recused himself from overseeing the case because he worked for the law firm that has represented Epstein, Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

But a day later, Barr appeared to have changed his mind, raising concerns among legal experts, Justice Department sources told several media outlets.

Then, there’s the prosecutor who signed off on the sweetheart deal in Florida that denied his victims proper justice. He’s still a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet — Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta.

Sporting blinders 11 years after his mishandling of the case, Acosta doesn’t think he did anything wrong and has so far ignored calls for his resignation, despite the fact that part of his job now also entails the pursuit of human-trafficking cases.

Not surprisingly, President Trump, who has pending accusations of sexual assault against him, is standing by Acosta. Trump and former President Bill Clinton are among the long list of celebrities, moguls, Nobel-prize winners, and other influential men who partied with Epstein.

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None of them have been brought to account for the relationship. Did they too get “massages” from Epstein’s harem of under-aged girls forced to deliver services in the nude or semi-nude?

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One of the West Palm Beach girls Epstein cajoled into sexual servitude, Courtney Wild, was 14, wore braces, and was the captain of her middle school’s cheerleading team.

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Courtney Wild, one of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged victims, sued the government in 2008 for failing to inform her of the plea deal he received. Emily Michot emichot@MiamiHerald.com

But those kinds of telling details, which exemplify the depths of Epstein’s depravity, were lost to those responsible for bringing him to justice in the face of his wealth, globe-trotting, and connections to some of the most powerful men in this country.

On the strength of Courtney Wild’s case alone, Epstein should have gone to prison for a long time when he was prosecuted for multiple cases of sex trafficking under-aged girls in 2008.

But what passed for prosecution in the hands of Acosta and his Miami-based team amounted to 13 months of sleeping in jail in a secretive plea deal that allowed Epstein to work 12 hours a day, six days a week in an office and shielded him from federal prosecution.

You don’t see that kind of arrangement made for the low-income sex offenders who fill the pages of the sexual predator registries.

But Epstein — despite the white gloves with which he was treated — is just like them. Or worse.

If there was any doubt that he is unrepentant, the “collection” of lewd photographs of girls confiscated from a safe in his Manhattan mansion ought to tell you something. “At least hundreds” of explicit sexual photographs were found, according to a bail memo.

He’s a serial predator, an abuser, a pedophile.

Money and connections were his cover and camouflage.

They bought him the privilege of leniency and secrecy.

The only reason we’re closer to justice now is the tenacious investigative reporting of the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown, who saw the victims for what they were then — vulnerable girls duped by a savvy, sick, wealthy man. She gave voice to their stories after everyone else had looked away from this case.

The cloak of secrecy was ripped by Brown, one story and multiple revelations at a time — and someone with the power and means to do better than Acosta was finally paying attention.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman was reading and leading a new investigation — and the 66-year-old now stands charged with one count of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.

He could spend a maximum of 45 years in prison, where he belongs.

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Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, discusses the sex-trafficking charges against multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein on Monday, July 8, 2019. Emily Michot emichot@MiamiHerald.com

The case against Epstein involves three unidentified underage victims, one in New York and two in Florida — but Berman said at a news conference that he believes there are more who need to come forward.

He issued a plea to other victims to call a special hotline (1-800-CALLFBI).

He called this his office’s “Number one case.” Quite different from the way Acosta, who should be forced to resign, handled it.

Courtney Wild, now in her 30s, was in court Monday. So was Michelle Licata, also 14 when the unshaven man before them in a blue prison jumpsuit recruited, manipulated and abused her.

At long last, they were facing the predator in a court of justice.

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Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”