Opinion

Justice Department probe of Epstein/Acosta deal must be independent, results public

The story behind a Palm Beach sex offender’s remarkable deal

Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein has been a free man, despite sexually abusing dozens of underage girls according to police and prosecutors. His victims have never had a voice, until now.
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Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein has been a free man, despite sexually abusing dozens of underage girls according to police and prosecutors. His victims have never had a voice, until now.

In the aftermath of a Miami Herald investigation into the underage sex pyramid scheme of Palm Beach hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein, the Justice Department has opened an inquiry into how the case was handled.

Or, I should say, mishandled, botched and blocked from public scrutiny.

The multimillionaire served 13 months in “custody with work release” — a mockery of Florida’s strict sex-offender laws — and he lives happily ever after, reportedly in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Under another administration, the reaction to the news that an investigation into the case has been opened by DOJ might be a slam dunk — hurray! At long last, a shot at justice for the more than 80 girls identified by The Herald, who were 14 to 17 years old when they were sexually abused by this serial predator.

But this is President Donald Trump’s Justice Department — and that fact alone automatically raises questions and red flags.

For one, the federal prosecutor who let Epstein get away with a slap on the wrist for running an international sex trafficking ring — and maneuvered to keep records secret — is now none other than Trump’s Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta.

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U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has been criticized for the plea deal he worked out with Jeffrey Epstein. Acosta was U.S. attorney for Southern Florida at the time. Alan Diaz

He was the Miami-based U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida on the case, a fact that came to light during his confirmation hearing but was ignored by Republicans fast-tracking his nomination. His nomination for a massive agency with oversight over child labor laws and human trafficking makes it more egregious that he was approved.

Just as important as Acosta’s role in the Trump administration is that one of the names on the list of prominent and powerful celebrities and politicians who partied with Epstein is Donald Trump.

Bill Clinton, too, according to flight records flew 26 times in Epstein’s jets, including a Boeing 727 dubbed the “Lolita Express.” But Clinton is no longer the U.S. president, and doesn’t have control over the Justice Department.

“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years,” Trump told New York Magazine in 2002. “Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

With that kind of baggage in tow, there’s only one way this probe by the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility can earn any credibility: By being independent, transparent and open to public scrutiny in its investigation of whether DOJ attorneys engaged in professional misconduct.

This is a tall order for an agency not exactly known for being forthcoming about how it handles complaints against prosecutors. In fact, journalists will tell you that most public record requests under the Freedom of Information Act in this case and others have been denied.

This high-profile case is exceptional. Not only because of how heinous the crime was — ordinary girls who should’ve been thinking about high school, prom, and graduation lured by riches, luxury and then enslaved — but because case records were needlessly sealed by Acosta.

Why?

To keep the private lives of the wealthy in the dark, why else? The case of a sex predator of his ilk who didn’t have riches or government connections would be laid out in public records.

Epstein, Acosta and company might have gotten away with our never knowing the enormity of what was hidden if it weren’t for the Herald’s investigative reporter Julie Brown, who tracked down the women and connected the web of relations that led to Epstein’s sweetheart plea deal.

The public deserves answers — and there’s no certainty that what amounts to an internal investigation by an office without subpoena powers will do the job.

But it’s a start.

Congressional representatives like South Florida’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat, and Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are demanding an open probe. As are the authorities in Palm Beach who investigated, found the women credible — and were left in the dark under Acosta’s handling of the case.

“Jeffrey Epstein is a child rapist and there’s not a single mom or dad in America who shouldn’t be horrified by the fact that he received a pathetically soft sentence,” Sasse said in a statement Wednesday.

Scores of teenage girls were recruited, pyramid-style, to perform what were supposed to be high-paid “massage” services but ended up in sexual servitude to Epstein and his friends.

Thanks to the girls, who are now women living with lifelong scars in the #MeToo era and speaking up, the case is now a high-profile national scandal.

The secrecy surrounding the type of justice they were afforded by men in high places demands light.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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