By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org
Jeffrey Epstein didn’t inhabit the sordid world of sex trafficking all by himself.
He had plenty of company on his private jet called The Lolita Express, at his retreat in the U.S. Virgin Islands, his New Mexico ranch and his glitzy homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach. The teenage girls he lured with cash said they were forced to sexually service Epstein and his friends.
Before his legal troubles began in 2006, Epstein socialized with, among others, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and celebrity advocate who would later defend President Trump in his impeachment trial. None of them has been charged in connection with Epstein.
While awaiting trial in August 2019, the corrupt financier was found hanging in his New York jail cell, an apparent suicide. Epstein’s death ended a second criminal prosecution; victims are looking to his $600-million estate for compensation.
But questions about Epstein’s sex ring survive him. This month, a high-ranking federal judge raised these questions by way of an expansive dissenting opinion that sheds new light on how a 2007 deal went down — the deal that has bedeviled all the players in the Epstein saga ever since.
Sex ring players?
Who joined Epstein in sexually exploiting the girls? Who works relentlessly to protect these shadowy figures?
The answers remain elusive 13 years after the Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office entered into a bizarre pact that allowed an unknown number of what it called “potential co-conspirators” to sleep well at night.
“I have never heard of such a deal, in which unnamed co-conspirators were given blanket immunity for unnamed crimes,” attorney Jack Scarola, who represents several of Epstein’s victims, has said. He called the open-ended immunity clause an “extraordinary provision” written for “inexplicable reasons.” In 2017, Scarola listed President Trump as a potential witness in the victims’ civil lawsuit against Epstein.
In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges and served 13 months in the Palm Beach County lockup, almost all of it on work release. He enjoyed a decade of freedom before his 2019 arrest in New York for sex trafficking.
A year after The Miami Herald stoked public outrage over Epstein’s lenient treatment with a powerful series of stories in November 2018, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta was forced out of Trump’s Cabinet. Acosta had signed off on the infamous 2007 deal when he was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
A ruling and a dissent
On April 14, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled that Epstein’s victims cannot seek justice under the U.S. Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) because, basically, Acosta decided not to file an indictment against Epstein.
So Acosta’s choice cheated the victims two times—first by failing to punish their abuser, and then by denying them a legal remedy.
The court didn’t speak unanimously, however. Judge Frank Mays Hull issued an indignant, 60-page dissent that includes new details about how the notorious deal came together. It shows that prosecutors worked closely with Epstein’s defense team to shut the victims out of the bargaining process. That clearly violated the law, Hull wrote in her dissent that begins on page 60 at this link.
“The CVRA is not as impotent as the Majority now rewrites it to be,” she declared in her dissent. Encouraged by this, the victims’ lawyers are asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to review the 2-1 panel decision.
Hull’s dissent says former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Marie Villafana, the lead Miami prosecutor in dealing with Epstein’s defense team, helped keep his victims in the dark.
Did prosecutor protect sex ring?
“Villafana suggested strategies to conceal portions of the plea deal from the courts,” the dissent says. The agreement even states that it “will not be made part of any public record.”
The dissent also shows that Villafana strove to protect the identity of the invisible “potential co-conspirators” the deal shielded from prosecution.
A week before it was signed in September 2007, Villafana sent what appears to be a smoking gun to an Epstein defense lawyer. “I would prefer not to highlight for the [trial] judge all of the crimes and all of the other persons that we could charge,” Hull quoted her as saying in an email.
The deal not only provided cover for the unindicted, it suspended a South Florida grand jury proceeding that could have outed them. “All pending federal Grand Jury subpoenas will be held in abeyance unless and until the defendant violates any term of this agreement,” it says. The subpoena list has never surfaced publicly.
Villafana left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in August 2019 and now works for the Department of Health and Human Services in Phoenix, AZ. She did not respond to emailed questions from Florida Bulldog.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating Acosta, Villafana and others who worked on the 2007 deal. By leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office when she did, Villafana avoided the possibility of getting fired.
Hull, a Clinton appointee to the 11th Circuit, dissented in the case of In re: Courtney Wild. She was outvoted by Judge Kevin Newsom, a Trump appointee and author of the majority opinion, and Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat, a Gerald Ford appointee who holds the record for tenure on a federal appeals court.
Court says only Congress can fix this
Newsom described Wild, the petitioner, as having been one of more than 30 underage girls who were “victimized by notorious sex trafficker and child abuser Jeffrey Epstein.” Yet he rejected all of her requested remedies and sent her away “empty-handed.”
Wild has no rights under the victims’ protection law because Acosta didn’t initiate formal criminal proceedings against Epstein, Newsom reasoned. (Acosta’s office prepared, but never filed, a 53-page indictment.)
“The CVRA was never triggered,” the judge wrote. “It’s not the result we like but it’s the result we think the law requires.” He suggested that Congress revise the law to cover situations like this.
Hull fired back, saying she sees no such limitation in the law. “The Majority’s new blanket restriction eviscerates crime victims’ CVRA rights and makes the Epstein case a poster-child for an entirely different justice system for crime victims of wealthy defendants,” she wrote.
Indeed, Epstein fielded an expensive, star-studded lineup of lawyers to ensure that no charges would be filed against him. At various times over several months, Dershowitz, Roy Black and at least five other lawyers, some from big-name firms like Kirkland & Ellis, New York, and Alston & Bird, Washington, D.C., put on defense shows for prosecutors, according to Hull.
She noted how unusual it was to give Epstein’s co-conspirators immunity without extracting a plea or cooperation from them. Hull said that over the years following the deal, these people never stepped forward in court to protect their interests. It would have meant revealing themselves.
The judge emphasized the need for prosecutors to explain their actions and provide answers. “Mysteries still exist about how Epstein and his co-conspirators escaped federal prosecution for multiple sex-trafficking crimes against over 30 minor girls in Florida,” Hull wrote.
Meanwhile in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Epstein probate case grinds on. Victims seeking money from the estate have been asked to sign releases to protect unidentified “other individuals,” Reuters news service reported.
The request sounds familiar.