In the News

Prosecutors expected to unseal charges against Jeffrey Epstein

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Washington, July 8, 2019 | comments
Published in the Washington Post, by Matt Zapotosky

Federal prosecutors are expected to unseal new sex trafficking charges Monday against Jeffrey Epstein as the politically connected multimillionaire makes his first appearance in court.

Epstein — who was arrested over the weekend and is expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan — had previously pleaded guilty to Florida state charges of soliciting prostitution to resolve allegations he molested dozens of girls. That arrangement has been widely criticized as too lenient. As part of the deal, he had to spend just more than a year in jail and was allowed to leave daily for work, and he never faced any federal exposure.

The new charges, brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, could lead to a much stiffer penalty, though the precise counts were not immediately clear.

Epstein, now 66, is a financier who once counted among his friends President Trump and former President Bill Clinton. His victims have long alleged the criminal justice system treated him differently because of his wealth and political connections, and his treatment has come under significant journalistic and legal scrutiny.

The Miami Herald, for example, detailed in a lengthy investigative report how then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now Trump’s labor secretary, shelved a 53-page federal indictment that could have put Epstein behind bars for life in favor of the deal that allowed him to plead guilty only to state charges. Acosta has defended the arrangement as guaranteeing that Epstein would go to jail.

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility revealed earlier this year that it was probing whether the attorneys handling the case committed “professional misconduct.”

In the new case, Epstein seems to be running into a far more aggressive Justice Department. He was taken into custody over the weekend, meaning he would be jailed for at least a few days until he could appear in front of a judge and potentially be given conditions under which he could be released. Federal prison records show he was housed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. The federal detention center has a fearsome reputation; one inmate who spent time there and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba said the military detention facility was “more pleasant.”

Prosecutors could run into challenges if the new charges overlap with the conduct that was covered by Epstein’s guilty plea, though a person familiar with the case said officials were not particularly concerned about that. That means the charges likely involve new victims or new conduct that was not a part of Epstein’s previous deal.

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) who confronted Acosta about his role in the plea deal during a congressional hearing, said: “For too long, Jeffrey Epstein has walked free and avoided the consequences of his crime. There are still many questions to be answered. With that said, this indictment is a positive step toward putting this sexual predator away and giving justice to the survivors.”

Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report.

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