Federal prosecutors' secret plea deal with politically connected sex abuser broke law, judge says

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Federal prosecutors violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act when they failed to notify a sex offender’s underage victims about a secret plea deal, a federal judge in Florida has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled Thursday on the conduct of prosecutors in the office of then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta of the Southern District of Florida. The defendant, Jeffrey Epstein, was a wealthy and politically connected money manager. Acosta is currently the U.S. labor secretary.

Marra said prosecutors never conferred with victims about a nonprosecution agreement and misled them in a letter requesting their patience with the investigation even as they were negotiating the deal. Nor did prosecutors disclose that the federal case would be dropped if Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges, Marra said.

Epstein sexually abused more than 30 minor girls at his Palm Beach, Florida, mansion between about 1999 and 2007, Marra said. Because he traveled in interstate commerce to abuse the girls, he committed federal crimes, according to the judge.

Marra ruled in a 2008 suit filed by two of Epstein’s victims. Epstein’s friends included former President Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump. The Miami Herald, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Courthouse News Service and the Daily Business Review covered the decision. The Miami Herald had investigated Epstein’s case last year.

Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to two prostitution charges in state court and served 13 months in jail.

Jeffrey_Epstein_mug_shotJeffrey Epstein in 2006. Photo from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office via Wikimedia Commons.

Acosta issued this statement: “For more than a decade, the actions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida in this case have been defended by the Department of Justice in litigation across three administrations and several attorneys general. The office’s decisions were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures. This matter remains in litigation and, thus, for any further comment we refer you to the Department of Justice.”

The remedy for the victims is unclear because the Crime Victims’ Rights Act doesn’t establish the punishment for a violation, according to former federal prosecutor Francey Hakes, who spoke with the Miami Herald. One issue is whether the plea agreement can be overturned.

“Epstein will surely argue he complied with the agreement, relied upon it, and pled guilty under it so it can’t be overturned in fairness to him,’’ she said. “Ultimately, it is simply shocking the government went to the lengths they did to keep the victims in the dark in order to make a serious predator’s high-priced defense team happy. Justice should not, and does not, look like this.”

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