The story behind a Palm Beach sex offender’s remarkable deal
The lawyer for the 16-year-old girl who state prosecutors now say was the victim attached to the mysterious plea deal given to multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein says neither he nor his client was ever informed that it was her case that ended Epstein’s prosecution.
The victim, who is now 31, wasn’t among Epstein’s youngest victims, but she was among those who were more brutally sexually assaulted, repeatedly, by both Epstein and others, according to records reviewed by the Miami Herald.
“I was never told that any of my 16 victim clients were part of Epstein’s charges in state court,’’ Robert Josefsberg said. “I can tell you that when the judge asked the prosecutor whether the victims were informed, and she said that they were, that mine were not.’’
The revelation, which comes 11 years after the case was closed, raises more troubling questions about how federal and state prosecutors misled Epstein’s victims, the public and the judge who sentenced him in 2008.
On Monday, the case took another turn when Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg — who was not in office during Epstein’s case — divulged the birth date of the girl in the decade-old prostitution plea. The new detail was released and reported in response to a query by The Washington Post concerning Epstein’s current sex offender registration.
The choice of victim or victims included in the charging document — and particularly their ages — was significant, and another break for Epstein among a series of many concessions. Had prosecutors chosen someone younger, it could have led to more rigorous monitoring requirements as part of Epstein’s registered sex offender status, the Post reported.
The Herald, which discovered the identities of 80 women who claim they were victims of Epstein, was able to identify the girl through sealed records it obtained as part of its recent investigative series on the case, Perversion of Justice. Only one girl on the police list had that birth date.
Josefsberg said he was disturbed — not only to learn that his client was never told her case was part of Epstein’s plea deal, but that Aronberg’s office would release her full birth date after all this time. (The Miami Herald is not publishing her name or her date of birth to protect her anonymity as a rape victim.)
What’s more, the victim was far from the underage prostitute that federal and state prosecutors tried to paint her as.
In Florida, it is a crime to have sex with anyone under the age of 18, and consent is not a defense. Aronberg did not respond to requests for comment, nor did he respond to a public records request submitted by the Herald for documents or communications about the victim who was part of the deal.
For years, the facts behind the specific charges for which Epstein was sentenced were murky: Records showed he pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges — one a general solicitation charge and the other a single count of procuring someone under the age of 18 for prostitution. But there was no minor victim listed — no age, no circumstances — not even a probable cause affidavit submitted at his sentencing.
Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Deborah Dale Pucillo, who presided, was given virtually no details about the crimes that Epstein committed — and that was intentional.
At Epstein’s sentencing, the judge asked Assistant State Attorney Lanna Belohlavek whether there was more than one victim. “There’s several,’’ Belohlavek replied.
“Are all the victims in both these cases in agreement with the terms of this deal?’’ Pucillo asked. “Yes,’’ Belohlavek said.
But emails and letters show that Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafaña wanted state prosecutors to tell the judge as little as possible, telling Epstein’s lawyers “I would prefer not to highlight for the judge’’ how many victims were involved — which at the time was almost three dozen girls, ages 13 to 17.
Instead of being prosecuted for federal child sex trafficking crimes that could have sent him to prison for life, Epstein was inexplicably given federal immunity under an unusual agreement approved by then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta.
As part of the arrangement, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to charges in state court. His victims were never told about the plea deal until well after Epstein was quietly sentenced, serving 13 months in a private wing of the county jail — along with liberal work release privileges and a private valet who drove him to his office every day.
Bruce Green, a professor of legal ethics at Fordham University School of Law, said that if it is found that prosecutors lied to a judge, disciplinary charges can be brought by the Florida Bar.
“The lawyer could be sanctioned, suspended or disbarred. But that assumes the prosecutor deliberately lied to the judge — not that the prosecutor misremembered or didn’t understand the question,’’ he said. “It does seem like the lawyers for Epstein went to a lot of trouble to maintain as much confidentiality surrounding the deal and its resolution, so it could have been deliberately keeping the judge in the dark.’’
Belohlavek, the assistant state prosecutor at Epstein’s sentencing, is now a state prosecutor in Fort Myers. She declined to comment. Villafaña, who is a federal prosecutor in Palm Beach, has also declined to comment.
Acosta, meanwhile — now U.S. secretary of labor — received a vote of support on Tuesday from President Donald Trump, who said he had “complete confidence’’ in him, despite calls from some members of Congress for Acosta’s resignation.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that Acosta and other federal prosecutors involved in the case broke the law by failing to inform Epstein’s victims about the plea, in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. In January, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was conducting a review of the Epstein case to determine whether there was any prosecutorial misconduct involved in the secret negotiations that led to the pact.
Sex slave to pilot
Josefsberg’s client, who declined to comment for this story, was among a handful of girls who told Palm Beach police that she was pressured to have sex with Epstein and his self-proclaimed sex slave, a young Yugoslavian woman named Nadia Marcinkova.
Marcinkova, who is now an FAA-certified pilot, was also given federal immunity in the plea deal. Josefsberg’s client, labeled Jane Doe 1 for this story, told police what happened to her in a sworn statement in 2005, obtained by the Herald. In it, she said that sometime in 2004, when she was 16, she was approached by another girl, Jane Doe 2, who attended Royal Palm Beach High School in West Palm Beach.
Jane Doe 2 asked the girl whether she wanted to make some money by giving massages to a man named Jeffrey Epstein, who lived in a mansion on Palm Beach island. Jane Doe 1 had heard that a lot of girls at the high school were making money doing these massages, and she agreed to go, the report said.
She was taken there by Jane Doe 2 and introduced to Epstein and his scheduling secretary, Sarah Kellen. (Kellen also was given immunity.) Jane Doe No. 1’s description of what happened matched those of dozens of other girls: She was led up a back stairway to a master bedroom and bath where Epstein appeared in the room, clad only in a towel. She was instructed to strip down to her underwear and begin massaging his back.
Shortly thereafter, he flipped over, dropped his towel and began masturbating while fondling her with a vibrator. She and Jane Doe 2 were each paid $200.
Jane Doe 1 said she went to Epstein’s house about 15 times, and each time, the encounters became more sexual, and eventually led to full intercourse with Epstein and Marcinkova, according to the statement that Jane Doe 1 told Palm Beach Detective Joe Recarey, who died last year. She also told Recarey that she brought two other girls to Epstein’s house, and was paid $200 for each girl.
She was among three dozen underage girls listed by the U.S. Attorney as victims of Epstein. Sixteen of those victims were represented by Josefsberg, who was designated to assist them in receiving civil restitution from Epstein as part of the plea agreement.
After Jane Doe 1 was interviewed by police, other witnesses, including two of Epstein’s butlers, confirmed that they had seen several of the girls, among them Jane Doe 2, coming and going from Epstein’s house at all hours of the day and night.
Police had corroborating evidence, including phone records and messages with the girls’ names, phone numbers and appointment times.
Green, the Fordham law professor, called the Epstein criminal case “a slam dunk.’’ “How hard was it to prove this case? I would have liked nothing better than to go after this case. Who is going to disbelieve 20 or more girls who tell the same story?’’
Josefsberg said that his clients were “scared to death’’ of Epstein and many have suffered lifelong trauma as a result of the experiences. Many of them did not want to testify. But others did, including Courtney Wild, who sued the government in 2008 for failing to inform her about the plea deal.
That deal is now being revisited with the recent ruling. Wild and other victims are hoping that it is thrown out and Epstein will be prosecuted.
Epstein’s attorneys have not responded to the Herald’s repeated requests for comment. But in a recent letter to The New York Times they insisted that the number of victims involved has been exaggerated and that his plea deal was fair, given a lack of evidence to prove that he committed any federal crimes.
Editor’s note: A federal appeals court in New York is expected to release more sealed documents in a civil case involving Epstein’s partner, Ghislaine Maxwell. Maxwell, a British socialite, is fighting their release, but the court may make a final decision this week. The Miami Herald filed the motion to have the case unsealed.