- Last year, the Miami Herald published a report giving insight into how federal prosecutors worked with billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s legal team to downplay some of his serious sex crimes.
- The documents obtained by the Herald show that a cushy plea deal was cut after then-US Attorney Alexander Acosta (now President Donald Trump’s labour secretary) met with one of his lawyers, a former colleague.
- Though investigators had found dozens of underage victims, Epstein only pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges and spent just 13 months in a county jail.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On Monday, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was charged with sex trafficking in a case that has spanned more than a decade.
Last year, the Miami Herald published a report giving stunning details about how President Donald Trump’s labour secretary went to great lengths to help downplay billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s sex crimes when he was the US attorney for Southern Florida.
According to the report, local and federal investigators had gathered enough evidence to put Epstein away for life in 2007 when then-US Attorney Alexander Acosta met with one of Epstein’s lawyers, Jay Lefkowitz.
Acosta and Lefkowitz were former colleagues from their time at top-ranked law firm Kirkland & Ellis. At the meeting, the two reportedly hammered out a deal that would see Epstein serve just 13 months, in a private cell block at a county jail, instead of federal prison.
Long before #MeToo became the catalyst for a women's movement about sexual assault — and a decade before the fall of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and U.S. Olympic gymnastic doctor Larry Nassar — there was Jeffrey Edward Epstein. #PerversionofJustice pic.twitter.com/z3rIvzQWE9
— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) November 28, 2018
Government documents obtained by the Herald show that in exchange for a lowered sentence, Epstein provided unspecified information on federal investigations.
It’s unclear what kind of information Epstein provided to the feds, but his case came to light during the 2008 global financial collapse.
He went on to be a key witness in the criminal prosecution of two prominent executives with Bear Stearns who were accused of corporate securities fraud. Epstein was one of the largest investors in the hedge fund the two executives managed.
The two executives were later acquitted. It’s unclear if Epstein’s role testifying against the two executives was part of his plea deal.
While Epstein had to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to the dozens of victims that investigators identified, he only agreed to plead guilty to two prostitution charges.
The deal also kept the full extent of Epstein’s crimes largely secret from the public. And emails obtained by the Herald show that prosecutors worked with his defence team to push the case through Miami court, so the victims, who were mostly located in Palm Beach, wouldn’t know about his sentencing and try and get the agreement thrown out.
‘It showed that someone with money can buy his way out of anything’
Lawyers for the victims and investigators said they were left gobsmacked by the deal.
The victims didn’t learn about the sentencing until after it happened, and most were still unaware that the deal effectively shut down the FBI probe into Epstein’s crimes.
“The conspiracy between the government and Epstein was really ‘let’s figure out a way to make the whole thing go away as quietly as possible,'” Bradley Edwards, a former state prosecutor who represents some of Epstein’s victims, told the Herald. “In never consulting with the victims, and keeping it secret, it showed that someone with money can buy his way out of anything.”
One of the alleged victims, 31-year-old Courtney Wild, said that as soon as the deal was signed “they silenced my voice and the voice of all of Jeffrey Epstein’s other victims.” Wild was 14 when she says she first met Epstein.
One of the most striking elements of the agreement was that it protected four of Epstein’s accomplices from facing federal prosecution and granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators,” according to the Herald.
That line caused speculation that possibly high-profile people also had sex with Epstein’s victims, according to the Herald. Epstein was well-connected at the time, counting friends such as former President Bill Clinton, Trump and Britain’s Prince Andrew.
In a pending lawsuit, some of the victims have asserted that the government broke federal law in not notifying them that Epstein had struck a deal and was about to be sentenced.
The lead federal prosecutor, A. Marie Villafana, said in court papers the Herald reviewed that her team tried their “best efforts” to comply with the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. But she said they exercised their “prosecutorial discretion” in choosing not to tell the victims about the deal.
She reportedly explained that the deal included a clause ordering Epstein to pay restitution to the victims, which complicated the case if the deal fell through. If that happened, she said that Epstein’s lawyers could have accused the victims of exaggerating the claims to try to milk Epstein’s considerable fortune.
‘A plea that guarantees someone goes to jail … is a good thing’
Acosta has never provided an explanation for why he and prosecutors kept the case secret from the victims and their parents. When Trump nominated him to join his Cabinet in 2017, senators asked Acosta about the case during his confirmation hearings.
“At the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within a prosecutor’s office decided that a plea that guarantees someone goes to jail, that guarantees he register [as a sex offender] generally, and guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing,” Acosta told them.
The deal was so cushy for Epstein that the government was eventually forced to answer questions about its handling of the case.
Court filings the Herald reviewed show that the government admitted in 2013 that federal prosecutors had bowed under pressure to the demands set forth by Epstein’s legal team, which included such high-powered attorneys as Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr (who investigated Clinton).
“The government admits that, at least in part as a result of objections lodged by Epstein’s lawyers to victim notifications, the [United States Attorney’s Office] reevaluated its obligations to provide notification to victims and Jane Doe #1 was thus not told that the USAO had entered into a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein until after it was signed,” Assistant US Attorney Dexter Lee wrote in the filings.
The Miami Herald says Epstein did not respond to their repeated requests for comment.
A US Labour Department spokesman told INSIDER in a statement last year that “this matter has been publicly addressed previously.”
“The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida has defended the actions in this case across three administrations, and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida is the appropriate office for your inquiry,” the spokesman for Acosta said.