As anyone who has ever watched Law & Order knows, in the criminal justice system, prosecutors enter into plea agreements with defendants for any number of reasons: to spare the victim the pain of testifying, to expedite punishment, to reduce the risk that a guilty person be acquitted, etc. Better to secure a plea and some form of penalty than take the chance that the perp goes free and faces no repercussions at all.
That’s exactly what happened more than a decade ago when now-Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta was the U.S. Attorney in Miami, and his office reached a deal with billionaire sex predator Jeffrey Epstein.
As anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows, Epstein is a repulsive man with a fetish for teenage girls. The case against him originated in 2005 when local police were tipped off that Epstein was paying girls from West Palm Beach for sexual acts.
Police brought the case to the local prosecutor, Barry Krischer, an elected Democratic official. But Krischer wasn’t interested in pursuing felony charges against Epstein, a well-known donor to political candidates (mostly Democrats).
According to a 2006 article in the New York Times, Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter accused Krischer of giving Epstein special treatment and called for Krischer to recuse himself. When Krischer refused, Reiter took the case to federal law enforcement.
Federal prosecutors, it is important to note, generally have no jurisdiction over sex crimes. But they agreed to investigate whether Epstein violated federal law by, among other things, using the facilities of interstate commerce to induce young girls into prostitution.
After a thorough investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office determined that federal charges against Epstein might not stick. But they were able to leverage their investigation to extract a plea.
Under the proposed deal, Epstein would plead guilty to two state prostitution charges, serve 18 months in jail, and register as a sex offender. In exchange, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami would not bring federal charges.
Much has been made of the fact that Epstein was released five months early and that, during his confinement, he was allowed to leave jail to work during the day, returning to his cell only in the evenings. But state authorities made no objection to these cushy accommodations and were not part of the plea deal agreed to by Acosta.
While the punishment was inadequate to the crime, from all reports, the experienced, career prosecutors reporting to Acosta felt it was better than any alternative. The deal put Epstein behind bars, allowed his victims to seek restitution, and put the public on notice that Epstein is a sexual predator. Notably, it also allowed the FBI to continue its investigation.
Earlier this week, federal authorities in New York indicted Epstein on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy for abusing dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach between 2002 and 2005.
And yet, the vultures are now circling — not Epstein, but Acosta, claiming the former U.S. attorney acted improperly by not bringing federal charges long ago.
Should the Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office have taken its chance on a federal prosecution of Epstein? Perhaps. But the fact that it took federal authorities almost 15 years to build a prosecutable case against Epstein would seem to support Acosta’s assertion that, in 2008, the case was not winnable. To put it another way: If the case could have been pursued earlier, why didn’t the Obama Department of Justice bring charges?
We should thank Acosta for securing a conviction of this vile man and ensuring that he registered as a sex offender over a decade ago. It was the actions of the Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office that led to the filing of civil lawsuits and prompted additional victims to come forward.
This week, the Trump administration did file federal charges against Epstein. So why aren’t the Democrats praising the administration for doing so? In the end, it all boils down to election year politics. Rather than give the administration credit, they find a way to place blame. Even more hypocritically, they ignore the fact that New York’s Democratic District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. inexplicably tried to have Epstein’s sex offender status overturned in 2011.
Sadly, Republican politicians haven’t behaved much better. So afraid are they of being branded “soft” on sex crimes that they won’t stand up for a good man who did what he could to protect the public from the likes of Jeffrey Epstein.
Shame on them.