WASHINGTON — Recent revelations about billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s sweetheart deal with government prosecutors — thanks to a cadre of all-star defense attorneys who basically treated underage accusers like throwaways — are the tip of the iceberg in a scandal of money, power, sex, corruption and boys’ club criminality.
The story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster but for the sexual abuse of girls as young as 14 — and a decade-long process in which lawyers allegedly violated the victims’ rights under federal law.
It all begins in 2005 when Epstein was accused of sexually assaulting a teenaged girl at his Palm Beach home. Law enforcement expanded the investigation to other alleged assaults, including at his private isle in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which, as has been exhaustively reported, was frequented by celebrities.
Epstein’s attorneys, including Alan Dershowitz and former Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr, negotiated a non-prosecution agreement that ultimately afforded Epstein an absurdly lenient sentence: Just over a year in the county jail, sort of. Epstein was allowed to stay in a vacant wing of the jail and spend up to 12 hours a day in his office, six days a week. The agreement called for him to plead guilty to two state charges of soliciting prostitution, to pay restitution to some of the alleged victims, and to register as a sex offender.
To say the least, this coup of disgrace was shamefully misleading, since under Florida law, someone under 18 can’t consent to sex and, therefore, can’t technically be a prostitute. It is otherwise ridiculous given the credible allegations in a 53-page, federal draft indictment, effectively dropped, which could have put him away for life.
When the Miami Herald re-examined the case and published its deeply investigative story last month, the focus was largely on the role played by then-U.S. attorney and current U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. Many have called for Acosta’s resignation, and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has requested a Justice Department probe into the case’s “epic miscarriage of justice.”
Epstein’s attorneys and their investigators conducted in-depth, intimate interviews with some of the girls — doubtlessly aimed at discrediting the girls. Police reports reviewed by the Miami Herald show that the private investigators tried posing as police officers to conduct interviews — and picked through the Palm Beach police chief’s trash as U.S. Attorney Barry Krischer was trying to convince him to reduce the charges against Epstein to a misdemeanor.
Ten years ago, many of the alleged victims were children and likely unaware of their rights. Now fully informed adults, many of the women — perhaps energized by the #MeToo movement — are seeking to set aside the non-prosecution agreement so that their voices can be heard.
There’s no doubt that Epstein’s accusers were denied their rights under the 2004 federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act. Among other things, the law asserts that accusers are to be notified of any legal proceedings, including plea deals; and they or their attorneys are to be present at such proceedings, if so desired.
None of this happened.
Indeed, one of Epstein’s lawyers wrote a letter to Acosta on Oct. 23, 2007, that read in part: “I also want to thank you for the commitment you made to me during our October 12 meeting in which you … assured me that your Office would not … contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses, or potential civil claimants and their respective counsel in this matter.”
For his part, Acosta has said that his judgment at the time was that a jury trial might not be the best route and a plea deal guaranteed jail time.
Whether this is a valid perspective can be argued, but it seems in the context of victims’ legal rights a quite-charitable view.
The sealed, non-prosecution agreement not only granted federal immunity to Epstein and four named accomplices but also to “any [unnamed] potential co-conspirators.” Wouldn’t we like to know those names?
Some accusers have named other men with whom they allegedly had sex, but in the absence of evidence or an indictment, the accusations remain just that.
Rest assured, the case is far from over. While Epstein is the locus of what’s being told primarily as a political tale via Acosta, the more-important story is about how power and money colluded to let a sex-obsessed monster get away with serial rape, underage sex trafficking, and conspiracy to violate federal law — and the big-league lawyers who allegedly helped him do it.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker @washpost.com.