We live in a country where justice is supposed to be blind. Citizens expect that people who bad things will be caught and arrested and spend an appropriate period behind bars. Not so if you are an uber-wealthy guy named Jeffrey Epstein.
He got away with a lot. Until now.
Epstein is a suspected serial pedophile who was allowed to dodge allegations that he sexually abused some 40 girls (from mostly troubled or low-income families) with only minimal punishment. An award-winning Miami Herald series puts the number of Epstein’s victims at 80.
Only now, 14 years after law enforcement first learned of Epstein’s obsession with young girls, the chickens are coming home to roost. Federal prosecutors in New York have indicted him on sex trafficking charges that carry a possible prison term of up to 45 years.
In March 2005, a 14-year-old girl went to Palm Beach, Florida, police and reported she had been molested by a man who offered her several hundred dollars to give him a massage inside his waterfront mansion. The man was Epstein, a top hedge fund manager who owned two private jets and luxurious homes in Florida, New York, New Mexico and the Caribbean.
Palm Beach PD found evidence corroborating the girl’s account, including her name and phone number on a discarded paper in Epstein’s trash. Detectives soon discovered dozens more girls from underprivileged homes had been similarly duped. Each girl reported that once inside the mansion, Epstein demanded sex acts along with a nude massage. They reported that Epstein offered them money if they recruited their underage friends. Some reported they had traveled outside the state with Epstein, which seems a surefire violation of the federal Mann Act prohibiting the transport of minors across state lines for immoral purposes.
A Palm Beach grand jury found indictable criminal offenses, but state prosecutors refused to file a case against Epstein, who counted among his high-powered friends former President Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prince Andrew, legal beagle Alan Dershowitz and then-real estate bigwig Donald Trump.
As author James Patterson wrote in his book about Epstein, titled “Filthy Rich,” the local police chief, Michael Reiter, became so frustrated that in July 2016, he contacted the FBI to share his evidence against Epstein. A 54-page federal indictment was ultimately readied, but then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta from Miami entered the picture.
In 2008, Acosta met with Epstein’s lawyers and signed off on a deal that took a possible life sentence off the table. In February 2019, a federal judge ruled the Acosta deal was illegal, because it was reached in secret without input from the sexually abused girls.
Acosta admits he orchestrated a plan to allow Epstein to plead guilty to only two state charges of soliciting prostitution. (Note the deal referred to the underage girls as “prostitutes,” not victims.) Epstein was sentenced to a paltry 18 months in a secluded wing of the local jail. He got out five months early and — get this — only had to sleep in his cell at night. During the day, he was allowed to go to his office. Epstein did have to register as a sex offender, but that hardly slowed his predatory nature.
During a news conference last week, Acosta, the U.S. secretary of labor, defended his actions. He said, in effect, that he was the only reason Epstein, now 66, was made to register as a sexual predator and that he forced the state to file charges in 2005. This is baloney and wildly beside the point. He resigned as labor secretary on Friday, and that was the right thing to do.
Acosta was the top federal prosecutor in Florida when he decided to sit down with a deviant’s lawyer and hammer out a slap on the wrist for punishment. Acosta had a 54-count federal indictment in his pocket, which he could have pursued if he wanted. He knew that Epstein’s henchmen had been investigating Palm Beach detectives working on the case. It’s reported that the girls and their families were also targets of Epstein’s intimidation. Acosta was a patsy, not a hero.
It could be said that the justice system worked. But I think it’s best recognized as a massive stain on the system. If it weren’t for the determination of Chief Michael Reiter and his detectives, Jeffrey Epstein, now jailed without bail, would probably spend today arranging for more massages from underage girls.
Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist and television reporter of high-profile court cases.