FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jeffrey Epstein’s death 10 months ago denied his victims the satisfaction of seeing the sex trafficker face justice. Those victims and the public, however, still deserve to know everything about the secret deal Epstein received in Palm Beach County, Fla., a decade ago.
On June 8, Palm Beach County Chief Judge Krista Marx ruled that State Attorney Dave Aronberg and Clerk of Courts Sharon Bock can’t release transcripts from Epstein’s 2006 grand jury proceeding, which produced a single state count for solicitation of prostitution. Federal prosecutors in Miami at one point had considered charges that could have sent Epstein to prison for life for abusing dozens of teenage girls at his Palm Beach mansion.
But then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta filed no charges. As part of an appalling agreement with then-Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer, Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to the solicitation charge and drew an 18-month sentence in the Palm Beach County Jail. In a further insult to the victims, the sheriff’s office — which runs the jail — allowed Epstein to spend much of the time at his office.
If Epstein had gone to trial, the grand jury records would have become public. Because he took a deal, the records remain sealed and the questions remain unanswered.
Though Marx dismissed the part of the lawsuit against Aronberg and Bock, she allowed the Palm Beach Post to seek a court order that could allow the unsealing of the transcripts. Michael Grygiel, the paper’s attorney, said discovery on that count now will start. The Post should win.
Florida law allows three exceptions to disclosure of otherwise secret grand jury proceedings. One is “furthering justice.” As Grygiel notes, if learning why Acosta and Krischer approved a deal that has drawn condemnation worldwide doesn’t meet the standard of furthering justice, “it’s difficult to imagine that any case could.”
Politics almost certainly is at play. Krischer’s support helped Aronberg become state attorney in 2012. Aronberg has refused to explain what role Krischer continues to have in the office, except to say that he isn’t a prosecutor. Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s office also has paid Krischer to be a consultant.
Marx added to the rancid politics by taking over the lawsuit. She worked for Krischer as a prosecutor. As the Miami Herald reported, her daughter is an assistant state attorney under Aronberg. Her son is a deputy under Bradshaw, whose office for many years did not disclose the deal that allowed Epstein to serve such easy time.
Only an effort from outside this cozy circle will provide answers.
Last August, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked Bruce Colton — state attorney for Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties — to supervise a criminal investigation into Krischer’s and Bradshaw’s conduct.
Colton also sought the grand jury records. In January, Marx ruled against him, calling his work “a fishing expedition.”
Federal courts have been similarly unhelpful. Last year, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that Acosta had violated federal law by not telling the victims about his negotiations with Epstein. But in April, a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided 2-1 against that ruling. The panel said Acosta only could have violated the Crime Victims Rights Act if he had filed charges. The dissenting judge disagreed strongly, writing that “nothing” in the law “requires the majority’s result.”
That “victory” hardly amounted to vindication of Acosta. “It’s not a result we like,” appellate Judge Kevin Newsom wrote, “but it’s the result we think the law requires.” Acosta and Krischer’s deal, he added, remains “beyond scandalous” and “a tale of national disgrace.” Last month, a lawyer for the victims asked for a hearing before the full court.
Epstein’s case drew little notice outside of Palm Beach County when it was happening. In late 2018, however, the Miami Herald published a series on Epstein called “Perversion of Justice.” His victims, now adults, went on camera to describe how Epstein’s enablers recruited them and how he and his powerful friends molested them.
Last July, federal prosecutors in Manhattan arrested Epstein and charged him with sex trafficking, which provided a measure of satisfaction to his victims. Epstein’s suicide a month later, however, robbed them of the chance to confront their abuser and see justice served. In May, Netflix premiered a four-part series on Epstein called “Filthy Rich.”
Despite Epstein’s death, the federal investigation continues into those who recruited girls and had sex with them. Prosecutors want to interview Prince Andrew, who allegedly had sex with one of the victims and spent considerable time with Epstein. This month, the prosecution team said Andrew had not been cooperative and essentially called him a liar.
None of this would be necessary if Acosta and Krischer had done their jobs more than a decade ago. Acosta resigned last year as U.S. secretary of labor and has not reemerged in public life. Krischer retired in 2008 and never has directly addressed the Epstein agreement.
That deal likely allowed Epstein to abuse more girls. It shook confidence in the justice system. It would further justice to know how and why it happened.
— The Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.