Prosecutors broke law by not informing victims of Jeffrey Epstein plea bargain, judge rules

A federal judge in Florida ruled Thursday that prosecutors -- including current Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta -- violated federal law when they reached a plea agreement in 2007 with financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and did not inform his dozens of victims.

In a 33-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra wrote that prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida "mislead" Epstein's victims after negotiating the plea agreement by telling them "to be 'patient' while the investigation proceeded" and leading them to believe "that federal prosecution was still a possibility." However, Marra stopped short of short of invalidating the agreement, but asked prosecutors and victims' lawyers to recommend in 15 days how to move forward.

The judge wrote that evidence showed that Epstein "sexually abused more than 30 minor girls" between 1999 and 2007 "at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, and elsewhere in the United States and overseas." Epstein, Marra added, "used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him [and] worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others."

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Marra cited a letter to Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney in Miami, from Epstein attorney Jay Lefkowitz following an October 2007 breakfast meeting in which Lefkowitz wrote: "I ... want to thank you for the commitment you made to me during our October 12 meeting in which you . . . assured me that your Office would not . . . contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses, or potential civil claimants and their respective counsel in this matter."

Marra's ruling cites a statement by Marie Villafaña, then as now an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, that "[f]rom the time the FBI began investigating Epstein until September 24, 2007—when the [plea agreement] was concluded—the Office never conferred with the victims about [an agreement] or told the victims that such an agreement was under consideration."

Two of Epstein's victims, identified only as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, filed suit against prosecutors in 2008, soon after they were notified of the federal plea deal and approximately one year after the agreement was concluded. In January of that year, the judge noted, Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2 and other victims received letters from the FBI notifying them that their case "is currently under investigation." Jane Doe 1 met with FBI agents and an unidentified assistant U.S. Attorney, where she "provided additional details of Epstein's sexual abuse of her.

"The AUSA did not disclose to Jane Doe 1 at this meeting that they had already negotiated a [non-prosecution agreement] with Epstein," Marra wrote.

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Today’s order represents long-overdue vindication for all of the victims of Mr. Epstein and his co-conspirators," the victims' attorney, Brad Edwards, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this decision also highlights the failure of the United States Government to acknowledge its obvious wrongdoing. Rather than work to correct the injustices done to the victims, the Government spent 10 years defending its own improper conduct. It is time for the Government to work with the victims, and not against them, to hold everyone who committed these crimes accountable. Hopefully, the victims will finally receive the strong and direct apology they deserve for the flagrant depravation of their rights under the Crime Victim’s Rights Act."

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Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, said in a statement that he was "relieved" at the judge's ruling.

"Jeffrey Epstein is a monster and his victims deserve justice," Sasse said. " ... The fact that it’s taken this long to get this far is heartbreaking and infuriating. The Department of Justice should use this opportunity to reopen its non-prosecution agreement so that Epstein and anyone else who abused these children are held accountable."

In addition to his Palm Beach mansion, Epstein, now 66, allegedly operated his sex ring at a residence in New York City and his private island estate on the 72-acre Virgin Islands home dubbed “Orgy Island.” by some. Court documents obtained by Fox News in 2016 showed former President Bill Clinton took at least 26 trips flying aboard Epstein's private jet, known as the "Lolita Express," and apparently ditched his Secret Service detail on some of the excursions.

Epstein and President Trump also had a friendship, and one of Epstein's accusers told the Miami Herald newspaper that she was 16 years old and working at Mar-a-Lago as a locker room attendant when a female Epstein associate approached her in the summer of 2000 to offer her a job as a masseuse. The accuser, Virginia Roberts, told the Herald that Epstein and the associate sexually abused her and claimed she was "lent out to politicians and academics and royalty."

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During his confirmation hearing in 2017, Acosta told lawmakers that the decision to make a deal with Epstein was "broadly held" in the U.S. Attorney's office.

"The grand jury [in Florida] recommended a single count of solicitation not involving minors. That would have resulted in zero jail time, zero registration as a sexual offender and zero restitution for the victims in this case," said Acosta, who added, "It was highly unusual where a U.S. attorney becomes involved in a matter that has already gone to the grand jury at the state level. We decided that Mr. Epstein should plead guilty to two years, register as a sexual offender, and concede liability so the victims should get restitution in this matter."

Fox News' Gregg Re, Kristin Brown and Kathleen Reuschle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.