New York prosecutors have more than one million pages of documents that constitute evidence in their case against accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Epstein’s lawyers said in open court Wednesday.
Epstein attorney Martin G. Weinberg pointed to the voluminous amount of discovery material the government has collected to argue that he needs at least 13 months to prepare for trial, but U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Berman sided with prosecutors, who asked for a June 2020 court date.
Berman set the next oral arguments in the case for October 28, at which time the trial date could be revisited, he said.
It was Epstein’s first public appearance since he was found semi-conscious in his jail cell last week with bruise marks on his neck, and his attorneys did not address their client’s injuries or mention the episode in open court.
The 66-year-old multimillionaire part-time Palm Beach resident sat subdued with his lawyers, clad in dark blue jail scrubs and wearing glasses.
Afterward, Weinberg declined to reveal any details about the July 22 incident at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where his client is reportedly on suicide watch. It is not clear whether he tried to commit suicide or whether he was attacked by another inmate. He is being held until his trial without bail because he was deemed a flight risk.
Wednesday’s hearing in New York City lasted just 15 minutes, but provided a small window into Epstein’s defense strategy.
“This case is not your ordinary [sex trafficking] case,’’ Weinberg said, after noting that the defense team intends to litigate the federal non-prosecution agreement that Epstein received as part of a plea deal he was granted in Florida in 2008.
Epstein’s lawyers intend to argue that the plea bargain, signed and sealed in the Southern District of Florida, represented a global agreement that would prevent New York from prosecuting Epstein for similar crimes. Weinberg in the past has called New York’s case a “do-over’’ that won’t hold up because of possible issues involving double jeopardy.
In February, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the 2008 plea deal violated federal law, and the judge is now considering a request by Epstein’s victims to vacate the agreement altogether. Should that happen, it could weaken Epstein’s position, said Jack Scarola, one of the lawyers representing the victims.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
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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“All the legal briefs have been filed and we are waiting for the judge to decide what else will be done,’’ Scarola said Wednesday. “The judge is sensitive to the fact Epstein is asserting that the non-prosecution agreement applies to any crimes he committed in other jurisdictions, including New York. So a decision to void the non-prosecution agreement can have an effect on the New York prosecution.’’
Scarola said the 2008 agreement does not mention any crimes other than those committed in Florida that authorities knew about at the time, and double jeopardy doesn’t apply because Epstein pleaded guilty in state court — not federal court.
Epstein’s defense team is also bracing for the release of some 2,000 pages of court documents in a 2017 civil case involving Epstein’s alleged madam, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. A federal appeals court has ruled that the previously sealed documents, said to contain more evidence of Epstein’s sex trafficking, must be made public and they could be released at any time.
Epstein, a money manager for the super rich who owns a vast mansion in New York, was arrested July 6, nearly eight months after the Miami Herald published Perversion of Justice, a two-year investigation of the secret plea deal that spared Epstein a sweeping federal sex trafficking indictment despite allegations of sexual abuse by nearly three dozen underage girls.
He had just arrived from France at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport on his private jet when authorities met him and took him into custody. They searched his New York mansion and discovered what appeared to be nude and semi-nude photographs of young girls in a safe, as well as a fake passport. On Wednesday, prosecutors also mentioned that “there are materials from devices’’ seized in the raid that the FBI is analyzing. It wasn’t clear what those devices are.
During the early- and mid-2000s, Epstein allegedly ran what amounted to a sexual pyramid scheme, using recruiters to lure girls as young as 14 to his lavish Palm Beach and Manhattan mansions with the promise that they would receive $200 to $300 to give a man a massage. The girls have alleged that they were molested and coerced into engaging in sex acts with him and others.
The girls were paid additional money if they would recruit other girls, police and court records allege. Epstein had assistants schedule as many as three girls a day.
Rather than face federal charges that could have put him away for life, Epstein pleaded guilty in state court to minor prostitution charges and served just a year in the county stockade — which permitted him to leave the lockup for his luxurious downtown West Palm Beach office for 12 hours a day, six days a week. This “work release” arrangement, highly unusual for a sex offender, is now under criminal investigation by the Palm Beach sheriff, Ric Bradshaw, who oversees the stockade and approved the work release.
Although Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said it is important to move swiftly ahead with the court case, Epstein’s defense team said sufficient time is needed in light of the approximately one million pages of documents that make up the evidence collected by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, led by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who is not related to the judge.
In its series of articles, the Herald highlighted the role of Alexander Acosta, then-U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in approving the immunity agreement, including a controversial stipulation that Epstein’s accusers not be told of the plea deal. Facing fierce criticism after Epstein’s arrest, Acosta resigned his post as President Trump’s labor secretary in July.