Editorials

Judge in Acosta/Epstein case gets it right. Now what?

The story behind a Palm Beach sex offender’s remarkable deal

Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein is a free man, despite sexually abusing dozens of underage girls according to police and prosecutors. His victims have never had a voice, until now.
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Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein is a free man, despite sexually abusing dozens of underage girls according to police and prosecutors. His victims have never had a voice, until now.

A federal judge ruled that what the Miami Herald rightly labeled a “perversion of justice,” was, for a sexual molester’s young victims, a betrayal of justice, too. Thursday, U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra went so far as to say that former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta and his underling prosecutors actually “broke the law” when they hid a lenient plea agreement from more than 30 underage victims of the Palm Beach hedge fund manager, accused of sexually abusing them.

In his 33-page order, the judge wrote that “particularly problematic was the government’s decision to conceal the existence of the [agreement] and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility.”

“When the government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims.”

Federal prosecutors now have 15 days to negotiate with Epstein’s victims to come up with a settlement. The victims did not seek money or damages as part of the suit.

Marra’s ruling puts an official stamp on what has been plainly obvious to all but, seemingly, those attorneys who were involved in giving the reprehensible Epstein the plea deal of a lifetime.

Marra also said that instead of prosecuting Epstein under federal sex-trafficking laws, Acosta helped negotiate a non-prosecution agreement that gave Epstein immunity from federal prosecution. Epstein, who lived in a Palm Beach mansion, was allowed to quietly plead guilty in state court to two prostitution charges. He served just 13 months in the county jail where he could come and go and conduct business as usual.

Acosta signed off on sealing the deal, which meant that none of Epstein’s victims, who were mostly young teens at the time of the abuse, were told about it until it was too late for them to appear at his sentencing and possibly scuttle the unholy deal.

Two filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida in 2008, claiming that prosecutors violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. That grants victims of federal crimes the ability, among other things, to confer with prosecutors about a possible plea deal.

This even though the evidence Acosta and his staff reviewed showed that Jeffrey Epstein had been operating an international sex operation in which he and others were also recruiting underage girls from overseas in violation of federal law.

Marra’s ruling is gratifying, but now what?

One of the more important questions of this whole sordid case has been whether the rights and interests of the victims were protected. Marra’s ruling makes clear that they were not. But victims’ attorney David Boies has wisely suggested that Epstein should face charges — real charges — in another jurisdiction, New York, for instance, where some women say they were trafficked.

Marra’s ruling also should compel the House Judiciary Committee to open an investigation, if only to ensure that someone like Epstein never again is allowed to circumvent the rights of victims.

Enough of the victims have gone public and might be willing to testify before the committee. Also, it would allow Acosta, now U.S. labor secretary, to publicly defend his actions at the time. Who knows? Maybe they were justified. However, there should be nothing to hide. Due process, even when not in a legal proceeding is important. And it would be far more due process than the victims originally received.


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