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A sexual predator’s shelter begins to crumble

By Janiah Adams -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Mar 5, 2019 - 10:02:15 PM

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MIAMI—In a case that’s taking state and federal governments by storm, women who were victims of sexual abuse as minors by Jeffrey Epstein, a West Palm Beach, Fla. billionaire, are demanding that the government remove his federal immunity, vacate his plea deal and reopen his sex trafficking case.

In this July 30, 2008 file photo, Jeffrey Epstein is shown in custody in West Palm Beach, Fla. Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta is expected to face questions at his Senate confirmation hearing about an unusual plea deal he oversaw for Epstein, a Florida billionaire and sex offender, as U.S. attorney in Miami. Photo: AP Photo/Palm Beach Post, Uma Sanghvi

These demands come after a federal judge, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra of Palm Beach, ruled Mr. Epstein’s plea deal was illegal. Mr. Marra gave lawyers and victims 15 days to confer and come to a decision.

At the center of all of this is Mr. Epstein, who’s accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls between 2001 and 2006. In 2008, the billionaire got off with 13 months in the county jail. This happened through a plea deal signed by Alexander Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for Miami and now President Trump’s secretary of labor. The non-prosecution deal allowed Mr. Epstein to plead guilty to lesser charges in the state’s court rather than face federal sex trafficking charges that involved more than 30 underage girls.

His team of lawyers, which included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, tried to paint a negative picture of the girls. They then convinced prosecutors to go easy on him.

The prosecutors, who were under Mr. Acosta, broke the law by failing to inform Mr. Epstein’s victims of the plea deal, which violates the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, according to the Miami Herald. The act, which was passed in 2004, allows victims certain rights, including the right to confer with prosecutors, to be informed about a plea deal and to be given the opportunity to appear at the sentencing.

One big question that people have is how could prosecutors have gotten away with this?

“Unfortunately, [in] our criminal justice system, prosecutors have wide discretion and often they’re considered the most powerful figures in the court because they have the authority to make deals that affect everyone’s lives,” said Zedrick Barber II, an attorney and founder of The Barber Firm in West Palm Beach. “In this regard, it seems as though according to the court, the deal that they made was unlawful and the way they’re able to do it is people literally falling asleep at the wheel.”

Between 2001 and 2006, Mr. Epstein had put together a well-constructed system to bring girls in and keep them quiet. Victims told the Miami Herald that they were offered a job to massage a man for $200 to $300. Many came from disadvantaged families, single-parent homes and foster care. One victim told the Miami Herald they were “stupid, poor children.”

Some girls would recruit others at malls and places where girls hang out.

According to victim recounts, Mr. Epstein preferred White girls who were “prepubescent.” Victims were anywhere from ages 14 to 16 or 17.

Girls were brought to Mr. Epstein’s mansion in West Palm Beach and offered something to eat. Then they’d be brought to a bedroom where he would be waiting for them. Sometimes they’d give him a massage while he laid face down on the table, other times he would try to go further with them.

The girls were told to tell Mr. Epstein that they were 18, just in case he ever got caught. Mr. Epstein claimed he did not know the age of the girls, but in Florida law, ignorance of age does not protect anyone from sexual acts with minors.

“At 14, 15, you don’t know who you are. You’re dealing with a power dynamic. It further convolutes everything,” said Julie Mansfield, a survivor of sexual abuse and founder of Give Me Dignity, a program that helps young people get through the effects of sexual abuse. “For me, it’s not a consensual sexual relationship at that age because you just don’t know what it is, especially with an older powerful person. The mind is confused.”

Legal experts are unsure if the plea bargain can be thrown out. But one option is that they could pursue legal action in other districts.

“In any regard, the victim won’t be able to dictate what the outcome could be,” Mr. Barber said. “They can only make a request. They can request from the U.S. attorneys or state attorneys that this guy be locked up for 40 to 50 years. Doesn’t necessarily mean they go with that request.”

It was in 2005 that parents of a 14-year-old girl told police their daughter had been molested by Mr. Epstein. As officers began to investigate, they were soon faced with dozens of victims.

Many lawsuits are pending against the billionaire, some in civil courts and criminal courts. One lawsuit that’s pending in New York alleges that Mr. Epstein had girls as young as 13 brought in from Europe, Brazil and Ecuador.

Mr. Epstein is friends with prominent figures such as President Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and leaders from around the world. Victims have accused Mr. Trump, Prince Andrew, Mr. Dershowitz and others of sexual abuse.

Now, because of his involvement with Mr. Epstein’s case, Democrats are calling for Mr. Acosta to resign while Republicans want the investigation to continue.

“We’d love to have an investigation that looks at all that internal deliberation and who knew what about this, how they talk about it, how was this decision ultimately made and what paper trail is there about that decision-making,” Republican Sen. Rubio told the Miami Herald. “Obviously, newspaper reporting is important but so is whatever facts the Justice Department has in its possession.”

Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson wants Mr. Acosta to resign and more.

“The ... manner in which he handled the Epstein case clearly demonstrates that he is not the right person to serve as our nation’s labor secretary,” the Democrat said in a statement. “If he could not stand up against Epstein’s white-shoe attorneys, he clearly is not qualified to take on the networks of human traffickers operating in the United States and represent their victims. Members of Congress are not going to give up on this. Not only should Acosta resign, he should never have been named labor secretary to begin with. And if he does not resign, he should be removed.”

Mr. Barber said this case is a reflection of what society has known about the U.S.’s criminal justice system.

“Prosecution, be it the state attorney’s office, the U.S. attorney’s, have broad and too much discretion when it comes to sentencing,” he said. “We have judges in place for a reason, we have a trial system put in place for a reason. I think those judges should be given more of a discretion to make decisions, but at the end of the day I believe it should be up to the prosecutor to prosecute instead of making decisions about how long or what type of punishment should be given to a defendant.”

Cases and investigations are still ongoing.