Billionaire Jeffery Epstein is the absolute height of a polarizing figure. He is accused of some of the most heinous illegalities, but he has managed to skirt severe punishment while enjoying cover from prominent figures.
Epstein's indictment on charges he operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls has reignited hope for many on the political left that President Trump may be implicated, and several South Florida figures are involved.
Epstein, 66, was arrested Saturday night at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey aboard his private jet as he was just returning from Paris. Later that evening, federal agents executed a search warrant of his mansion in New York City and seized a "vast trove" of lewd photographs of young-looking women or girls, prosecutors said in a bail memorandum.
On Monday Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges. His bail hearing is set for July 15.
Of particular focus in the investigation, in those with ties to Trump, is U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. Acosta served as prosecutor in Miami federal court in the trial against Epstein in 2008, culminating in what many hold to be an unsatisfactory judgment. Many have complained about the slim punishment handed to Epstein: a 13-week sentence spent in a West Palm Beach jail. The plea agreement meant Epstein would avoid further federal charges for trafficking in Florida.
The accusations have taken on a decidedly political tone from the accusers. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was pointed in her comments. “It’s time for Acosta to be held responsible for letting Epstein elude real justice for so long,” the Florida Democrat said.
The rationale behind the plea deal is far more nuanced than critics allege. Despite there being a number of young females delivering charges, only one was willing to take the stand. Epstein also passed a polygraph test in which he declared he was unaware any of the abused girls were underage. Sensing their case may be dissolving, the prosecution team elected to go with the terms of the so-called "sweetheart deal" in order to get jail time, and make sure Epstein would be registered as a sex offender.
Epstein would agree to plead guilty to charges of solicitation, and the solicitation of minors to engage in prostitution in a Palm Beach County Circuit Court -- which would then preclude any federal charges. He would have to become registered as a sex offender, and Epstein would agree to any settlements with up to 30 potential victims in civil cases. He ended up serving 13 months of his 18-month sentence at the West Palm Beach Stockade, where he had a work release agreement.
More details not blatantly reported at the time, but brought to light in large part by the Miami Herald’s lengthy investigation into the decisions, is that Epstein’s brokered deal could also have involved his providing the feds with key information to pursue -- the opportunity to reel in more and perhaps bigger fish. In a batch of released records regarding the Epstein investigation, there is indication the FBI was also receiving information from the West Palm billionaire. (See the document below.)
It is possible this was part of the lawsuit announced this past winter and brought against two fund managers from Bear-Stearns. Epstein was described as being a “key federal witness” in that case.
While the desire to link Trump to Epstein is ongoing, it is also an endeavor filled with risk. There are tangential connections made to the billionaire from the past, there is little evidence to show the president has been involved to a level of actually traveling to Epstein’s island. Bill Clinton, by contrast, was documented as having made up to two dozen trips to the Caribbean retreat.
Meanwhile, in court documents a lawyer for one of the victims stated Epstein had been barred by Trump from his West Palm Beach club Mar-A-Lago for a sexual assault on an underage female. It is safe to say this case will continue to unspool in the coming months, and probably longer.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.