Now that U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has resigned over criticism of his role in a plea deal reached over a decade ago with billionaire financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, attention is likely to zoom in on the dozens of women who were victimized by Epstein — many at his home in Palm Beach County.
That’s long overdue.
Many of those girls were as young as 14 when they were abused and trafficked by Epstein, a hedge fund manager.
“We’re going to make sure these untold women have their day and justice will be served,” State Senator Lauren Book, an advocate for child sex trafficking and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, said Friday on The Florida Roundup. “This monster is a serial sex trafficker and sex predator who enslaved and hurt countless women who had no voice.”
Epstein was convicted in 2008 of soliciting a 14-year-old girl for prostitution. In spite of a 53-page indictment detailing the alleged crimes, he received just 13 months of jail time. He was also able to leave jail during the day and work from his office.
At the time, federal officials had identified 36 victims.
But this week, federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein with sex trafficking of minors and paying victims to recruit other underage girls.
Prosecutors cited reporting by Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie Brown, who published a series of stories last November that outlined Acosta’s handling of the case while a U.S. Attorney in Miami.
As part of that reporting, Brown worked to identify over 60 of Epstein’s victims, many of them young middle and high school girls in Palm Beach at the time of the abuse. That story and an accompanying video, by Herald multimedia journalist Emily Michot, served to shed new light on the severity of Epstein’s crimes, Miami Herald Investigations Editor Casey Frank said Friday on The Florida Roundup.
“What Julie Brown and Emily Michot did was give those victims a voice. And that has made a difference as we’ve seen this past week,” Frank said.
Records now show that Epstein’s victims were explicitly excluded from legal proceedings during his sentencing. Many who spoke to Brown about the abuse and molestation were speaking about it for the first time.
Emails between Epstein’s star-studded legal team and Acosta’s office showed that Epstein’s lawyers continually demanded the case be kept secret from victims.
Many of the girls that Epstein “recruited” came from troubled backgrounds, Frank explained.
“After [Epstein] was charged his legal team hired private investigators who dug deeply into the background of those young victims … to look for anything that could be used to undercut their testimony.”
On The Florida Roundup, former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein said Epstein’s victims deserve justice now.
“It’s a system that’s not perfect, and in most circumstances it’s a system that works,” he said of the justice system. “And when it doesn’t work we need to step back, we need to see what the problem was and we need to do something to correct it. When there are injustices… we right those injustices.”
Acosta’s resignation now puts the focus squarely on Epstein and the victims, he said.
“Victims ... are often victimized again when come back through the system. Without support of either their own lawyers or their family and support group, they often do fade into the background and that’s very often what defense attorneys hope will happen. We need to keep them at the forefront of this,” Weinstein said.
As many as a dozen new alleged victims have reached out to lawyers involved in the case in recent days.
“I think we’re going to find that more victims are gonna raise their hands to ensure that justice is done in this case going forward,” Frank said.