After years of court fights and controversy, a judge agreed for the first time on Thursday that a deal between multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and federal prosecutors failed the dozens of girls he abused and trafficked.
Between 1999 and 2007, Epstein, who made his fortune managing others' wealth, sexually abused more than 30 girls at his Palm Beach, Florida, mansion, around the US, and overseas. He paid assistants to bring him more victims, and he also provided the girls for others to abuse.
Those are the facts as summarized by US District Court Judge Kenneth Marra, based on depositions, affidavits, and other evidence. But instead of charging Epstein with international sex trafficking, which could have earned him a lifetime in prison, federal prosecutors agreed in 2007 to grant him and conspirators immunity, and he was ultimately convicted of one count of solicitation of prostitution. He served 14 months in a county jail.
On Thursday, Marra said that deal robbed Epstein's victims of their rights, and the prosecutors who designed it broke the law. One of them, Alex Acosta, is now serving as President Trump's labor secretary. The immunity deal, and Acosta's role in brokering it, received new scrutiny last year in a Miami Herald investigation, titled "Perversion of Justice."
In his opinion on Thursday, Marra did not take a position on whether Epstein's immunity deal was wrong. But he told the victims, their attorneys, and prosecutors to get back to him within 15 days about how they'd like to proceed given that prosecutors violated the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act.
Victims' voices were previously squashed because prosecutors failed to inform them about the development of a deal with Epstein, Marra said. And as prosecutors negotiated the terms, they also misled the victims about whether Epstein would face charges, the judge added.
"When the government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading," he said. "While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [non-prosecution agreement] with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims. Instead, the victims were told to be 'patient' while the investigation proceeded."
Some of Epstein's victims were as young as 14. According to court documents, he would pay other young women to recruit the girls to come to his home and give him massages — a pretext for sexual assault and statutory rape.
Some of the girls were abused hundreds of times, and Epstein also arranged for them to be abused by other men, the judge said. The multimillionaire was known for his private jet, private island, and circle of famous friends, who ranged from Trump to Bill Clinton and the UK's Prince Andrew.
In 2007, as several victims were seeking justice, the judge noted that federal prosecutors met with Epstein's lawyers — a high-profile group with connections to multiple presidential administrations — to discuss keeping the women in the dark.
Acosta met Epstein's lawyer, Jay Lefkowitz, for breakfast on Oct. 12, 2007. Afterward, Lefkowitz thanked him in a letter for agreeing to not contact any victims or their lawyers about the deal, according to court documents.
Meanwhile, victims believed Epstein could still face federal charges. One victim met with FBI agents and a prosecutor in January 2008 to provide more details about the abuse she faced. But Marra said the prosecutor did not tell her an immunity deal had already been reached.
Eleven years later, victims are looking forward to having their voices heard, said Brad Edwards, an attorney who represents some of them. But, he pointed out that they've waited for years.
"Today’s order represents long-overdue vindication for all of the victims of Mr. Epstein and his co-conspirators," he said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "I wish the government had acknowledged the violating the victims’ rights when we first filed the case. It would have saved the victims a lot of time and suffering. The victims I have spoken with are elated and looking forward to the next phase."