When Jeffrey Epstein was finally held to account in 2008 for sexually abusing numerous underage girls over a period of years, the powerful and well-connected millionaire was gifted a plea agreement and uncharacteristically light sentence, which has outraged victim advocates for the past decade.
But a new report reveals that federal and state prosecutors handling Epstein’s case worked alongside his defense attorneys to ensure that his victims would not be present for his sentencing or aware of the plea agreement details until the case was resolved.
Jeffrey Edward Epstein appeared at his sentencing dressed comfortably in a blue blazer, blue shirt, jeans and gray sneakers. His attorney, Jack Goldberger, was at his side.
At the end of the 68-minute hearing, the 55-year-old silver-haired financier — accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls — was fingerprinted and handcuffed, just like any other criminal sentenced in Florida.
But inmate No. W35755 would not be treated like other convicted sex offenders in the state of Florida, which has some of the strictest sex offender laws in the nation.
Ten years before the #MeToo movement raised awareness about the kid-glove handling of powerful men accused of sexual abuse, Epstein’s lenient sentence and his extraordinary treatment while in custody are still the source of consternation for the victims he was accused of molesting when they were minors.
Beginning as far back as 2001, Epstein lured a steady stream of underage girls to his Palm Beach mansion to engage in nude massages, masturbation, oral sex and intercourse, court and police records show. The girls — mostly from disadvantaged, troubled families — were recruited from middle and high schools around Palm Beach County. Epstein would pay the girls for massages and offer them further money to bring him new girls every time he was at his home in Palm Beach, according to police reports.
In a series of federal civil lawsuits, some of those girls — now in their 20s and 30s — allege that Epstein abused hundreds of underage girls, in Palm Beach as well as his Manhattan, New Mexico and Caribbean homes.
Despite these allegations, along with the known facts of the case at the time of his plea agreement, prosecutors handed Epstein an unthinkable deal.
In 2007, the FBI had prepared a 53-page federal indictment charging Epstein with sex crimes that could have put him in federal prison for life. But then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta signed off on a non-prosecution agreement, which was negotiated, signed and sealed so that no one would know the full scope of Epstein’s crimes. The indictment was shelved, never to be seen again.
Epstein instead pleaded guilty to lesser charges in state court, and was required to register as a sex offender. He was sentenced to 18 months incarceration.
Not only was his sentence light, but prosecutors ensured Epstein’s victims would be kept out of the loop:
On the morning of his sentencing in 2008, none of Epstein’s victims were in the courtroom to protest his soft jail term or the unusual provisions of his incarceration and probation — and that was by design.
Emails and letters contained in court filings reveal the cozy, behind-the-scenes dealings between federal prosecutors and Epstein’s indomitable legal team during the run-up to his federal plea deal, as they discussed ways to minimize his criminal charges and avoid informing the girls about the details of the deal until after the case was resolved.
That arrangement benefited Epstein in a number of ways. Unlike other high-profile sex crime cases, federal prosecutors agreed to keep his sentencing quiet, thereby limiting media coverage. His underage victims — identified in FBI documents — weren’t told about the plea deal so they weren’t in court, where they could voice their objections and possibly sway the judge to give Epstein a harsher sentence or reject the agreement altogether.
Most important, Epstein’s crimes would be reduced to felony prostitution charges, giving him the ability to argue that the girls weren’t victims at all — they were prostitutes.
Prosecutors also caved to Epstein’s lawyers’ demands that his incarceration be as luxurious as possible, with perks not afforded other inmates convicted of similar crimes.
Acosta, who is now President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor, told lawmakers last year at his confirmation hearing that he did not know that Epstein would receive such liberal treatment while incarcerated. But court records show that federal prosecutors under his authority acquiesced to many of Epstein’s demands, including that he not go to federal or state prison.
“I can’t remember how I found out that he had taken a plea,’’ said Courtney Wild, identified by the FBI as one of more than three dozen underage girls — some of them as young as 13 — who had been molested by Epstein at his waterfront estate between 2001 and 2005.
“We were purposefully misled into believing that his sentencing [in state court] had nothing to do with the federal crimes he committed against me or the other girls.’’
During Epstein's sentencing, the judge was kept in the dark as to the full extent of his crimes:
The judge at Epstein’s sentencing hearing at the Palm Beach County Courthouse knew very little about Epstein’s crimes. The sentencing paperwork was restricted to Epstein’s specific charges: one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of procuring a person under the age of 18 for prostitution.
“Are there more than one victim?’’ Circuit Court Judge Deborah Dale Pucillo asked the prosecutor at Epstein’s sentencing on June 30, 2008.
“There’s several,’’ replied assistant state prosecutor Lanna Belohlavek.
“Are all the victims in both of these cases in agreement with the terms of this plea?’‘ Pucillo later asked.
“Yes,’‘ Belohlavek replied, telling the judge that she had spoken to “several” of Epstein’s victims.
Emails show that federal prosecutors didn’t want the judge to know how many victims and accomplices there were.
Federal prosecutor A. Marie Villafaña — in a September 2007 email to Epstein lawyer Jay Lefkowitz — said: “I will mention co-conspirators but I would prefer not to highlight for the judge all the other crimes and all the other persons that we could charge.’’
Wild and others have taken action in federal civil court in an attempt to ensure future victims will not find themselves in the same situation:
Courtney Wild is suing the federal government, claiming that prosecutors deliberately kept her and other victims of Jeffrey Epstein in the dark about the status of his case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office signed a non-prosecution agreement with the multimillionaire.
Now 31, Wild is Jane Doe No. 1 in “Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 vs. the United States,” which seeks to overturn Epstein’s plea agreement on the grounds that it was executed in violation of the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act. The measure affords crime victims a series of rights, including to confer with prosecutors and to be notified about plea negotiations and sentencing.
That lawsuit — and an unrelated state court case scheduled for trial on Dec. 4 — could expose more about Epstein’s crimes, as well as who else was involved and whether there was any undue influence that tainted the federal case.