The story behind a Palm Beach sex offender’s remarkable deal
Lawyers for victims who were sexually abused as minors by multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein have formally demanded that the government vacate Epstein’s plea deal, void his federal immunity and reopen his sex trafficking investigation, the Miami Herald has learned.
Lawyers Brad Edwards and Paul Cassell, who represent two of Epstein’s victims, sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida making the request in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling last week that the plea deal negotiated with Epstein 11 years ago was illegal.
The judge, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra of Palm Beach, gave lawyers and federal prosecutors 15 days to confer on a remedy that would satisfy Epstein’s victims, who were never told about the secret non-prosecution agreement, and were misled by federal prosecutors in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
The deal, brokered by then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, called for Epstein to plead guilty to lesser charges in state court rather than face federal sex trafficking charges involving more than three dozen underage girls. The victims, now in their late 20s and early 30s, challenged the legality of the agreement in 2008, days after Epstein was sentenced, but federal prosecutors defended their actions, keeping the case tied up in court for more than a decade.
Now President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor, Acosta is facing mounting pressure to resign. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Florida’s former Republican governor, joined the growing chorus of lawmakers who want a thorough inquiry of the case.
“We need to find out all the facts. We need to know what happened,’’ Scott told The New York Times on Monday.
Other members of Florida’s congressional delegation went further, demanding that Acosta step down. The Hill reported that Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Lois Frankel were leading the effort, circulating a petition that called Acosta “unfit to serve.” They were joined in the initiative, the Hill said, by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, both Republicans, pressured the Department of Justice to open an inquiry into the case.
The DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) began a probe in January into whether federal prosecutors committed wrongdoing in the case. The action followed a Miami Herald three-part series, “Perversion of Justice,’’ which detailed how Acosta and his assistant prosecutors worked with Epstein’s lawyers to conceal the scope of Epstein’s crimes.
During the decade that the victims’ case was litigated, at least three complaints of prosecutorial misconduct were filed with OPR, court records show. The office declined to investigate those cases, in part because of the victims’ ongoing litigation, records show. The Miami Herald submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for one of those cases last year, but DOJ declined to produce them.
The Crime Victims’ Rights Act, passed by Congress in 2004, grants victims a series of rights, including to confer with prosecutors, to be informed about a plea deal and to be given an opportunity to appear at sentencing. Marra found that not only did prosecutors not abide by those rights, but they intentionally violated the law.
“Epstein’s counsel was aware that the [U.S. Attorney’s] Office was deliberately keeping the [non-prosecution agreement] secret from the victims and indeed had sought assurances to that effect,’’ Marra wrote. “...It was a deviation from the government’s standard practice to negotiate with defense counsel about the extent of crime victim notifications.’’
Marra issued an order Friday clarifying his earlier instructions ordering the two sides to confer on how they want to proceed with a remedy. Marra elaborated: “The court does not expect the parties to agree on a remedy.’’ If they are unable to come up with a settlement, Marra said, they can submit separate pleadings with the court.
The Crime Victims’ Rights Act does not automatically give victims the ability to throw out a plea bargain, even if it violates the act. Legal experts are divided over whether Epstein’s victims will be successful in vacating the agreement and reopening the case in an effort to send him to federal prison. However, if they are successful, it would set a legal precedent.
Epstein’s lawyer, Martin G. Weinberg, did not return the Herald’s phone call seeking comment on Tuesday.
“The government may have violated the law in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, but Epstein didn’t violate that law and he had no obligation to notify the victims of anything,’’ said Frank Quintero, a federal criminal defense lawyer in Miami. “It’s the government’s obligation under the law to notify victims.’’
Quintero said it would make more sense for the government to open a new probe in a jurisdiction not covered by the agreement negotiated with Epstein in Florida.
“What these victims should be doing is filing complaints in those other districts around the country where these crimes can be prosecuted,’’ he said.
But two women, Virginia Roberts and Sarah Ransome, did file civil complaints in federal court in the Southern District of New York three years ago, alleging that Epstein and others who worked for him operated an international sex trafficking operation. The cases were widely publicized, but there’s no evidence that New York state or federal prosecutors investigated their claims. Lawyers for those women have said that they couldn’t get any law enforcement agency interested in the case.