The story behind a Palm Beach sex offender’s remarkable deal
Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, already under federal investigation for a secret immunity deal he gave to a suspected sex trafficker of underage girls, may have to face some of those victims — who are now adult women — in a federal courtroom.
In a new court filing, two victims, molested as teenagers a decade ago, are asking a federal judge to hold a hearing for all the women who were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein, a multimillionaire financier who received a non-prosecution agreement from Acosta when Acosta was a federal prosecutor in Miami in 2007.
The request for a hearing is one of a litany of possible remedies proffered by the victims, who have been waging a decade-long legal battle to put Epstein in prison for his crimes and to hold prosecutors — mainly Acosta — accountable for violating their rights.
The controversial agreement negotiated by Acosta allowed Epstein to escape federal sex trafficking charges, even though evidence showed that Epstein had molested more than three dozen girls at his Palm Beach mansion in the 1990s and early 2000s. The victims were never told about the deal, which Acosta then sealed — thereby making it impossible for anyone, including his victims, to find out what crimes Epstein had committed and whether there were any other victims or accomplices involved.
In February, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra declared that the non-prosecution agreement was illegal because it violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, designed by Congress to prevent crime victims from being ignored in the criminal justice process. In this case, the judge ruled, federal prosecutors deliberately hid the agreement from Epstein’s victims in violation of the law.
Marra stopped short of voiding the agreement, which had allowed Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court in 2008. Epstein served 13 months in the Palm Beach County jail and was released in 2009.
Rather than undo the deal at the time of his ruling, Marra instead asked Epstein’s victims to file a court brief outlining some proposed remedies to resolve the court challenge, which dates back to 2008.
The victims, labeled in the case as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2, ultimately want the deal thrown out and Epstein prosecuted for sex trafficking. But their brief also details a range of possible options, from a public apology delivered by Acosta and Epstein to financial restitution and sanctions.
It’s clear that the victims want to know what Acosta knew, when he knew it and why he worked with Epstein’s lawyers to conceal the deal from them.
“We’ve been trying for over a decade to get answers, and we are not voluntarily going to abandon that effort,’’ said lawyer Jack Scarola, who represents three of Epstein’s victims.
The actions of Acosta, who has declined to comment on the case, are the subject of an inquiry by the Department of Justice
The victims’ lawyers have also asked the judge to force the Justice Department to release the entire FBI file on the Epstein matter, including evidence that was in front of a grand jury. They argue that there is legal precedent for releasing grand jury material based on “exceptional circumstances’’ in this case.
“It is [an] extraordinary circumstance [for] the government to negotiate with a sex abuser about the extent to which his victims would be told about the disposition of a criminal charges involving them...and the fact that the government and a defendant agreed to ‘conceal the existence of the non-prosecution agreement and mislead the victims’...is truly extraordinary.’’
Federal prosecutors and Epstein (as an intervenor in the case) now have 30 days to respond. In the meantime, prosecutors have already started to contact Epstein’s victims as part of an effort to finally “confer’’ with them, which they were supposed to do 11 years ago under the CVRA.
Attorney Spencer Kuvin, who represents three victims, confirmed that prosecutors interviewed one of his clients within the past few weeks.
“Basically, they are finally doing what they should have done 10 years ago,’’ Kuvin said.
They spoke to his client over the phone, Kuvin said, but he declined to discuss the conversation. He did say that among the options being considered is whether prosecutors will consider voiding the immunity deal, which was granted not only to Epstein, but to his alleged co-conspirators, including Sarah Kellen and Nadia Marcinkova, women who helped him recruit underage girls to abuse. There is also wording in the agreement that gives immunity to an undeclared number of other conspirators who have never been named.
“Why did prosecutors treat this case any different than any other organized crime endeavor that the FBI and the government investigates?’’ Kuvin asked. “In any other case you start from the ground and work your way up — asking ‘who recruited you?’ — and you bring that person in and that person turns around and tells you the story. And you tell that person ‘if you don’t flip on your boss, we are going to go after you.’
“In this case, they went straight to the top... It’s like going to John Gotti and saying we don’t have enough evidence so we are just going to give up on the mob and get him to agree to a deal, and give Gotti a year in jail and immunity to all his capos. It’s absurd.’’
Sigrid McCawley, a partner in the firm Boies and Schiller who represents victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre, said the Justice Department, which has been fighting the case for years, should now do the right thing.
“Now the government has the opportunity to say ‘we did something wrong and we have the opportunity to do something right,’’’ she said.
Acosta came under federal scrutiny after the Miami Herald in November published a series, “Perversion of Justice,” that detailed how Acosta and other prosecutors worked to conceal the plea agreement and the scope of Epstein’s crimes to avoid public scrutiny, and to prevent his victims from opposing the deal. The Herald’s investigation found the names of 80 women who were possible victims of Epstein, located around the world.
At the time the government disposed of the case in 2008, the FBI had identified three dozen girls, most of whom were 13 to 16 years old when they were recruited by Epstein and others to give him massages that turned into sex acts. The recruitment resembled a pyramid scheme.
U.S. Attorney Byung “B.J.” Pak of the Northern District of Georgia took over the case in March after Miami and Palm Beach prosecutors recused themselves. Among those handling the original case besides Acosta: prosecutors Jeff Sloman and Marie Villafaña.
Both Acosta and Sloman have defended their decision not to prosecute the case federally, arguing that the deal was not only fair but in line with the limited evidence and cooperation they had from the victims at the time. They pointed out that it forced Epstein to spend some time in jail and resulted in him having to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Epstein was not part of the civil lawsuit, but as an intervenor to the case he is represented by noted criminal defense attorney Roy Black. Reached by the Herald, Black declined to comment but said a response would be filed soon.
In the past, Epstein’s attorneys have said it would be unjust to subject Epstein to a new investigation or trial since he complied with all aspects of his plea agreement.
Legal experts are divided over how the case should be resolved, since there is no legal precedent for such an unusual case.
Frank Quintero, a criminal defense attorney, said that the government is bound by the agreement whether it complied with the law or not.
“Clearly, the [U.S. Attorney’s] Office was keeping the NPA secret from the victims and while Epstein’s counsel was seeking assurances to that effect, neither Epstein nor his counsel were under any legal duty to inform the victims of anything under the CVRA or the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,’’ Quintero said.
Meg Garvin, executive director of the National Crime Victims Law Institute at Lewis & Clark Law School, said the case is a critical one for crime victims.
“This is really a case that’s going to help us all understand victims’ rights. We finally have a court that says victims’ rights have to mean something,’’ she said.
“The non-prosecution agreement should be disposed of, whether or not prosecutors choose to then prosecute him is up to them. But the victims should have the opportunity to say to the court what these prosecutors did was not in the interest of justice.’’