The story behind a Palm Beach sex offender’s remarkable deal
More than a decade after federal prosecutors gave a secret plea deal to a suspected child sex trafficker, the government finally wants to hear from his victims, indicating on Friday that they wish to interview an unspecified number of women who were molested by Jeffrey Epstein when they were teenagers.
U.S. Attorney Byung “B.J.” Pak of the Northern District of Georgia is asking a federal judge for a 60-day period to consult with Epstein’s victims, followed by a lengthy briefing schedule that, according to lawyers for two of the victims, could delay justice for months if not longer.
The moves come in a civil lawsuit that seeks to undo the plea bargain in the criminal case against Epstein based on the fact that the victims were not consulted.
If Pak is successful in obtaining a delay, lawyers for the victims have proposed to use that time deposing critical stakeholders, including former Miami federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta, who helped negotiate Epstein’s controversial plea deal, called a non-prosecution agreement, in 2008.
While the victims’ lawyers do not oppose giving Epstein’s victims a voice, they say Pak’s proposal is so open-ended and vague that it obscures the fact that the government continues to propose solutions that will benefit Epstein, not his victims.
“There is no basis for continuing to delay the rights that federal law affords to Jane Doe No. 1 and and Jane Doe No. 2 because the government now wants to talk to two other victims, or 10 other victims or 80 other victims,’’ said Jack Scarola, of the legal team that represents Jane Does 1 and 2 and which brought the court challenge. “Every victim’s right exists independent of the interests of other victims. And there’s no way 80 young women are going to agree on what they want under the existing circumstances.’’
Scarola said the government first needs to void Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement, which a federal judge in February engineered illegally.
Epstein, a 66-year-old multimillionaire hedge fund manager, sexually assaulted countless underage girls at his Palm Beach mansion in the 2000s. Instead of being federally prosecuted on sex trafficking charges and sent to prison, Epstein was allowed to quietly plead guilty in state court to minor prostitution charges. He served 13 months in the Palm Beach County jail and was given liberal work release that allowed him to come and go from the jail almost daily. He was freed in 2009.
While he lists his permanent residence as his private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he still spends a great deal of time at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, and recently purchased another larger island that he is developing in the Caribbean.
In February, after more than a decade of civil litigation over the plea deal, a federal judge ruled that the government, led by Acosta, violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by giving Epstein and an unspecified number of unidentified co-conspirators immunity without informing his victims about the deal.
Acosta, who is now President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor, has come under scrutiny by Congress and the Justice Department after the Miami Herald in November published a series, “Perversion of Justice,” that detailed how Acosta and other prosecutors worked to conceal the plea agreement and the scope of Epstein’s crimes to avoid public scrutiny, and to prevent his victims from opposing the deal. The Herald’s investigation identified 80 women who were possible victims of Epstein, located around the country and the world.
At the time the government disposed of the case in 2008, the FBI had identified three dozen girls, most of whom were 13 to 16 years old when they were recruited by Epstein and others to give him massages that turned into sex acts. The recruitment resembled a pyramid scheme.
Judge Kenneth A. Marra in February instructed federal prosecutors and attorneys representing the two victims who sued the government to confer and come up with a possible resolution to the decade-old civil case. If they are unable to agree, the judge has indicated he will hear arguments and rule on the case.
After his order, the case was transferred from the Southern District of Florida, where it was originally investigated, to Georgia. Pak, a Republican who inherited the case, was nominated as U.S. Attorney by President Trump in 2017 after serving as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives.
Thus far, it appears the two sides are still far from agreeing on anything.
Noting that the civil case involved only two of Epstein’s victims, Pak said it would be incumbent upon the government to try to speak to as many other women as possible to determine the best resolution to the matter.
“The victims’ views and concerns are critical to inform the government’s recommendation of an appropriate remedy, particularly given the sensitive nature of the crime at issue,’’ Pak wrote, later noting that “any rescission of the agreement and subsequent investigation may trigger unintended consequences for victims who have attempted to readjust their lives a decade after Epstein’s conviction for a state offense.’’
Pak suggested that some victims may not want the case reopened at all, given the trauma that could occur as a result of revisiting the case.
“Providing a reasonable period for the government to speak with victims is also important because both petitioners and the government lack clarity about what victims want and how they may be affected by this matter,’’ he wrote.
But in a separate filing, lawyers for the victims have accused the government of further delaying justice for the victims. For example, Pak is demanding that the victims’ lawyers go first — in other words, they want the victims’ attorneys to first tell the government what resolution they want.
But court records show that the victims’ lawyers did this in court pleadings in 2011, and most recently, in a pleading the lawyers filed in March.
“After more than 10 years of litigation, the government’s suggestion that it should postpone explaining its proposed remedy is a transparent effort to do nothing but cause further delay,’’ wrote lawyers Bradley Edwards, Paul Cassell and Scarola, in a response filed Friday.
Scarola said the government has yet to identify which victims they intend to interview, what they plan to ask them and, more important, what they plan to tell the victims.
“They know that different victims have very different interests. There is going to be large group who will respond by saying ‘I have buried these experiences deep in the past and I don’t want to do anything at all to unearth all the hurt and pain it has taken me this long to process.’
“And there are victims who are going to say ‘I am outraged and I am prepared today to do what’s necessary so that he be held criminally responsible.’ Remember these victims were 13, 14, and 15 — and were not prepared to confront their abuser. But now at age 30, they may be more than anxious to step forward,’’ Scarola said.
Some of those new victims may decide that they are entitled to civil compensation — only a fraction of them received compensation under the non-prosecution agreement, he explained.
Under the plea deal, 34 women were listed as victims and designated to receive civil settlements from Epstein of about $150,000 each. Several of the victims, however, elected to disregard the settlements offered in the agreement, and hired their own lawyers. Many of them received far greater settlements, a few of them in the millions.
Epstein was not part of the civil lawsuit, but he is listed as an intervenor to the case. His attorneys have previously said it would be unjust to subject Epstein to a new investigation or trial since he complied with all aspects of his plea agreement.
Acosta, who has been questioned by Congress about the deal in recent weeks, has maintained that the deal was not only fair but aggressively negotiated by his team, resulting in Epstein having to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. There is no evidence, however, that any agency officially is assigned to monitor whether he is complying with his registration.