Michelle Licata was 16 when Jeffrey Epstein allegedly forced her to undress and touched her while he masturbated inside his Palm Beach mansion.
For years, Epstein — the multimillionaire hedge fund manager arrested Saturday on sex trafficking charges — assembled a cult-like network of young girls and lured teenagers to his mansion, where he coerced them into sexual acts, police in Palm Beach found.
Licata was the first Epstein victim interviewed by Miami Herald journalist Julie K. Brown. The interview occurred in her family’s restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, on Dec. 11, 2017. At that time, Licata’s mother, Lisa Moreland, also spoke to Brown on camera about the first time she learned what her daughter had experienced.
In the course of researching its Perversion of Justice series, published in 2018, the Herald identified more than 80 women who said they were victimized by Epstein.
U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned Friday amid intense criticism of his non-prosecution deal with Epstein’s lawyers negotiated in 2007 and 2008, which provided Epstein immunity from federal charges if he pleaded guilty to two minor state prostitution charges.
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Local Reporting Makes a Difference
In her year-long investigation of Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown tracked down more than 60 women who said they were victims of abuse and revealed the full story behind the sweetheart deal cut by Epstein’s powerhouse legal team.
Since the Herald published ‘Perversion of Justice’ in November 2018, a federal judge ruled the non-prosecution agreement brokered by then South Florida U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta was illegal, Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges in New York state, Acosta resigned as U.S. Secretary of Labor, and Epstein killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell.
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Serving as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida at the time, Acosta went along with a demand by Epstein’s lawyers that the plea deal be kept from the victims in the case. A federal judge in February ruled that federal prosecutors broke the law by concealing the agreement from the more than 30 underage victims.
During the 2017 interview, Licata said she was nervous to tell her mother about the alleged incident — and only did so when she learned she would have to be deposed as part of litigation in the wake of the plea deal.
“I remember telling her, ‘I don’t want you to think of me as not your little girl anymore,’ ” Licata said. “I was like, ‘Don’t think anything other than what you already know of me.’ ”
Moreland described Licata’s recounting of the assault.
“The only thing you said is, ‘I took my top off, he told me to take my top off,’ ” Moreland said. “You said he started masturbating ... in front of you.”
Moreland said the things her daughter told her explained why Michelle had seemed depressed during the months after the incident. Licata kicked a wall, breaking the drywall, and placed locks “all over the place,” Moreland said.
“I really felt helpless, it was like, ‘What can you do?’ ” Moreland said. “I wasn’t there. This was a year ago. Now everything is making sense as to how you’ve been acting up.”
Moreland said she did not realize at the time how many victims had come forward to accuse Epstein of abusing them.
“She was a little fish in a big, big ocean,” Moreland said.