National News

Rich, White and a predator: Indictment brings up questions of race, class, power and sexual abuse

By J.S. Adams, Contributing Writer | Last updated: Jul 18, 2019 - 5:42:07 PM

What's your opinion on this article?

Jeffrey Epstein charged with abusing dozens of minors in sex trafficking case.

MIAMI—South Florida billionaire Jeffrey Epstein is now facing possible jail time after a July arrest. He was brought up on criminal charges for allegedly running a sex trafficking ring and raping several underage girls. With this latest development, many wonder what this could mean for other high profile individuals who have connections to the convicted sexual predator.

The scandal claimed Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who resigned July 12, as pressure mounted from the federal charges filed in New York and a sweetheart deal with Mr. Epstein approved by Mr. Acosta, then a Florida federal prosecutor, years ago. Back then Mr. Epstein was accused of sexual misconduct with girls but a 13 month sentence included 12 hour daily releases and one full day in jail a week.

The 14-page New York indictment, issued July 8, charges Mr. Epstein with sex trafficking conspiracy, saying that he “enticed and recruited, and caused to be enticed and recruited, minor girls to visit his mansion in Manhattan, New York ... and his estate in Palm Beach, Florida ... to engage in sex acts with him, after which he would give the victims hundreds of dollars in cash.”

It also accuses him of sexually abusing a victim at his New York residence over a number of years, and paying the victim several hundred dollars after each encounter.

He’s accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls between 2001 and 2006. In 2008, the billionaire got a plea deal signed by Mr. Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for Miami. The non-prosecution deal allowed Mr. Epstein to plead guilty to lesser charges in state court rather than face federal sex trafficking charges that involved more than 30 underage girls.

His most recent arrest comes after his plea deal was reviewed and deemed unlawful. Now, prosecutors say Mr. Epstein could face more than 40 years in prison if he’s convicted, which could very well be a life sentence for the 66-yearold. His lawyers asked a federal judge to release him on bond and place him under house arrest in his Upper East Side mansion.

As part of the proposed bail package, Mr. Epstein offered as collateral his New York mansion and a private jet, according to media reports.

Criticism of Acosta

Mr. Acosta had faced increasing criticism over the deal he helped Mr. Epstein to score. He held a news conference July 10, where he defended himself against charges of wrongdoing.

Mr. Acosta told reporters he secured the best deal he could at the time for Mr. Epstein, but admitted some of the terms were lenient. No apology was offered.

Several political officials and activists had asked for Mr. Acosta to step down.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “@ SecretaryAcosta must step down. As U.S. Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/ Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by @POTUS when he appointed him to the cabinet. #AcostaResign.”

After initially supporting Mr. Acosta, the president stood by his side at the White House as the cabinet secretary resigned, but didn’t apologize or admit wrongdoing in the Epstein case.

New federal charges, additional scrutiny

The deal Mr. Epstein received in Florida was one thing, but after his arrest, attention shifted to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

The New York Times reported that during a 2011 hearing, a prosecutor from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office put up an argument in court that Mr. Epstein, who had already been convicted in Florida of soliciting an underage prostitute, should not be registered as a top-level sex offender in New York.

The prosecutor, Jennifer Gaffney, asked a judge to reduce Mr. Epstein’s sex-offender status to the lowest possible classification. Doing this would have limited the personal information available to the public, and kept him from being listed on a registry of sex offenders for life.

The judge during that time was baffled, and told Ms. Gaffney, “I have to tell you, I’m a little overwhelmed because I have never seen a prosecutor’s office do anything like this.”

Mr. Vance told the New York Times that the request Ms. Gaffney made was a mistake that he didn’t know about.

Another place Mr. Epstein resided was an island in the Caribbean, Little Saint James Island, near St. Thomas. According to the Associated Press, Mr. Epstein bought the island through one of his businesses. He began to build large structures on the island and rid it of its natural vegetation. He wasn’t well received by locals.

“Everybody called it ‘Pedophile Island,’ ” Kevin Goodrich, who is from St. Thomas and operates boat charters, told the AP. “It’s our dark corner.”

One alleged victim said in a different court affidavit that she participated in an orgy on the island, and had sex with Mr. Epstein and others. She also said she saw former U.S. President Bill Clinton on the island, but she never saw him engage in sexual activities with anyone. A spokesman for Mr. Clinton issued a statement saying the former president never visited the island.

White male and class privilege?

Within Mr. Epstein’s social circle sits Mr. Trump, former President Clinton, Prince Andrew of England and others. Prince Andrew and Mr. Clinton have both flown on Mr. Epstein’s jet many times, along with other elites. In fact, Prince Andrew is cited in a lawsuit that alleged Mr. Epstein forced an underage girl to perform sexual acts with him. Prince Andrew has denied those claims.

Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, attorney and friend of Mr. Epstein, has been accused in a lawsuit. One of Mr. Epstein’s accusers filed a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Dershowitz, accusing him of lying when he said her accusations were lies.

Mr. Dershowitz told The Final Call that Mr. Epstein’s arrest can only help him in his own case. “The new case can only affect me positively because I asked right from the beginning for the FBI to investigate me,” he said. “I took the case to the FBI, I took it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, asking them all to investigate. I know that when there is a complete and full investigation, I will be exonerated because I never met these people.”

He believes Mr. Epstein’s issue is largely a legal one.

“Whether the deal applies here, whether there’s double jeopardy ... it will be interesting legal issues over the next year or so. And what’s big for Epstein is whether he will get out on bail or not,” Atty. Dershowitz said.

Wakumi Douglas, an activist against sexual violence, believes the big issue at hand is the need for change.

“Because of the levels of impunity men have faced around sexual harming, trafficking and brutalizing young women, when they are arrested in our current legal system, sometimes we want to celebrate that. But I think we have to remember as a movement to end sexual violence that the criminal legal system is violent and it sometimes doesn’t stop or end the brutalization of young women,” she said.

Others question whether Mr. Acosta’s money and connections helped him avoid full accountability for his actions. But demands for accountability and prosecutions have grown. Harvey Weinstein, a famed movie mogul, is fighting for his freedom against sexual abuse allegations. Kevin Spacey, an actor, is also in the midst of his own sexual assault case.

Ms. Douglas believes Mr. Epstein’s case and others like it speak to larger issues that exist within American society.

“I think the case speaks to White male privilege, but also class privilege. Because of this person’s status and his access to wealthy and elite individuals and the political elite, he was able to receive less of a punishment than people who are not White but also not rich. So we have to keep in mind that class plays a role here as well,” she said.

According to the Miami Herald, about 12 additional women have come forward with allegations against Mr. Epstein.

“While his arrest is some level of acknowledgement, I hope that his arrest provides some solace to victims,” Ms. Douglas said.

Mr. Epstein’s case is ongoing.