Feds deceived us about billionaire sex offender’s ‘sweetheart deal,’ teen victims say
As federal prosecutors painstakingly consulted a billionaire sex offender’s defense team about every detail of the “sweetheart deal” he received, they also took extraordinary measures to hide what they were doing from Jeffrey Epstein’s underage victims, their lawyers alleged in court records filed Wednesday.
Two women, identified only as Jane Doe 1 and 2, filed a rare civil lawsuit against the U.S. government in 2008 after Epstein received what their lawyers called “one of the most extraordinarily lenient plea arrangements in American history.”
The women, designated victims by the government, say they were sexually abused by the wealthy financier Epstein when they were teenagers. Much of the abuse is alleged to have happened at Epstein’s mansion in Palm Beach.
The civil lawsuit, which accuses federal prosecutors of violating the women’s rights as crime victims, has been slowly winding its way through the system for close to eight years. The court filing Wednesday is intended to try to persuade U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, in West Palm Beach, that the women’s case is so clear cut that he should rule in their favor without requiring a trial.
Epstein, now 63 and a registered sex offender for life, pleaded guilty to state charges in Palm Beach County in July 2008. He admitted he hired local underage girls to provide sex and erotic massages at his home.
Epstein served about 13 months of his 18-month sentence, followed by a year of house arrest. Experts said it was an unusually lenient punishment and his “highly unusual treatment” included serving his sentence in a local jail, not prison. He also was allowed to leave the jail six days a week on a work-release program to work at his office in West Palm Beach.
The women alleged in their federal suit against the U.S. that federal prosecutors violated their rights as victims by not consulting with them before signing a legal agreement not to prosecute Epstein and some of his associates.
“The victims fully understand that … prosecutors could possibly have ultimately reached the same kind of agreement. But there is good reason to believe that if the prosecutors had exposed their dealings to scrutiny by … [the] victims, they would not have reached such a sweetheart plea deal,” wrote the women’s lawyers, Bradley Edwards, of Fort Lauderdale, and Paul Cassell, a former federal judge and law professor from Utah who is a nationally known victims’ rights advocate.
“Despite the fact that this case has been in litigation for more than seven years … the government does not write even a single sentence explaining why it entered into [a non-prosecution agreement] with a sex offender who had committed hundreds of federal sex offenses against young girls,” the lawyers wrote.
The women were either not informed or were misled into thinking Epstein could still face federal prosecution, after he pleaded guilty to two state charges of felony solicitation of prostitution and procuring a minor for prostitution, the lawyers wrote.
The civil lawsuit deals with a rarely disputed statute that says crime victims are entitled to be informed of developments during the investigation and prosecution.
Wednesday’s court filing by the women’s lawyers includes close to 1,000 pages of legal arguments and emails and other records.
The filing alleges that federal prosecutors:
• Secretly discussed with Epstein’s defense lawyers how to file charges that would help them avoid notifying victims.
• Secretly discussed with Epstein’s lawyers arranging a guilty plea in Miami “which will hopefully cut the press coverage significantly” and make it hard for the victims to find out what was happening.
• Secretly reached an agreement in the case that would make it hard for a judge to see what was going on.
• Negotiated with defense lawyers about concealing the agreement and arranging to have agents and prosecutors attend Epstein’s state sentencing “incognito” without telling the victims.
• Sent FBI agents to meet with victims, while hiding that Epstein was negotiating or had negotiated an agreement that he could not face federal charges.
• Sent deceptive letters to victim, stating the case was still “under investigation.”
And in a Sept. 21, 2007, email from then-Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer, whose office prosecuted Epstein, wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafana, who was the prosecutor handling the federal matter: “Glad we could get this worked out for reasons I won’t put in writing. After this is resolved I would love to buy you a cup at Starbucks and have a conversation.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida has several weeks to file its formal response to the detailed allegations. Prosecutors have declined to comment on the case because of the pending litigation, which deals with the period when Alex Acosta headed the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The current U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer and his staff are defending the office in the lawsuit.
Epstein has been accused of sexually abusing more than 30 young women, court records show. Now a registered sex offender for life, he has reached confidential financial settlements with many of the alleged victims, according to court records.
He made his fortune as a money manager and splits his time between his mansion in Palm Beach, his private Caribbean island Little Saint James, his upper East Side Manhattan home, and residences in Santa Fe, N.M., and Paris.
“The government took all of these actions, it should be noted, with the knowledge of — and, indeed, at the insistence of — Epstein, the criminal who had sexually abused the victims,” the women’s lawyers wrote.
“Victims of crime are not treated fairly if prosecutors are deceiving them about what is going on with regard to prosecuting their abusers. Whatever else “fairness” might mean, it has to at least mean that the government keep the victims properly informed and otherwise try to insure that their interests are respected in the criminal justice process,” the women’s lawyers continued.
The civil lawsuit is so rare that it remains unclear what outcomes could result.
If the judge rules in favor of the women, legal experts say they cannot receive monetary damages from the government.
And criminal defense lawyers say there is zero chance that Epstein’s sentence, which he already served, could be changed or that he could face more criminal charges related to these allegations. They say alleged victims can never force prosecutors to file a criminal case because that decision-making power lies with prosecutors who must evaluate the pros and cons of a case and the likelihood of a conviction.
The case generated numerous lawsuits and breathless international media coverage, after some of the young women alleged they were abused by Epstein, Britain’s Prince Andrew and well-known lawyer, Alan Dershowitz. Buckingham Palace denied the allegations and Dershowitz is suing his accuser’s lawyers alleging he was defamed after they sued him for defamation. Epstein also socialized with former President Bill Clinton, making the case a topic of discussion in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.