Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has faced criticism for making a “sweetheart deal” with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein that cut a serious prison sentence on sex trafficking charges down to just 13 months in a private wing of a Palm Beach jail. But he is not the only criminal justice official who failed Epstein’s victims.
Acosta held a press conference in Washington Wednesday, aiming to defend himself from critics such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has called on him to resign over his role in creating the deal. He claimed it was the best outcome available at the time because juries were less sensitive to accusations of sexual assault in a pre-#MeToo era, and also blamed local law enforcement officials.
But local officials, particularly those in New York, do in fact have serious questions to answer about the handling of Epstein’s case. A New York prosecutor tried to keep Epstein from being registered as a high-level sex offender, and the NYPD looked the other way when he didn’t show up to court-mandated check-ins required by his sex offender status — and did so for eight years.
The story of Jeffrey Epstein isn’t about Donald Trump, or Bill Clinton. It’s the story of a wealthy serial sexual predator who got away with his crimes for decades with the assistance of a bipartisan cadre of powerful allies, including in the offices that are supposed to prosecute such crimes.
In 2011, a prosecutor from the Manhattan district attorney’s office made an extraordinary argument before the Manhattan Supreme Court during a hearing over Epstein, who had pleaded guilty to charges in Florida of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution in 2008.
The prosecutor, Jennifer Gaffney, asked a judge to reduce Mr. Epstein’s sex-offender status to the lowest possible classification, which would have limited the personal information available to the public, and would have kept him from being listed on a registry of sex offenders for life.
Justice Ruth Pickholz vehemently denied the request and expressed incredulity that the district attorney’s office would argue in support of a man accused of sexually molesting dozens of teenage girls in Florida.
“I have to tell you, I’m a little overwhelmed because I have never seen a prosecutor’s office do anything like this,” the judge told Ms. Gaffney.
This effort was not just surprising, it directly contradicted the New York Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders’ evaluation of Epstein, whom the board viewed as a high-risk sex offender for his actions in Florida. Manhattan’s district attorney, Cyrus Vance, said later that the request to lower Epstein’s sex offender status was a mistake, saying in a briefing that summer, “In reaching that conclusion, the People apparently relied on a combination of a mistaken interpretation of the governing legal standards and certain secondhand information about the Florida case.”
Mistake or not, Vance’s office has faced questions over its prosecutorial decisions before in cases involved the powerful and well-connected. In fact, Vance’s office was under investigation last year by the state of New York for his decision not to prosecute Harvey Weinstein on allegations of sexual misconduct (despite recordings of Weinstein admitting to groping a woman) before that inquiry was paused. And in 2012, Vance dropped an investigation into Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. for allegedly misleading condo buyers, reportedly after receiving a visit from Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz.
According to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services, registered sex offenders have several basic obligations, including:
Report annually where they live by signing and returning an annual verification form to DCJS within 10 days after receiving it.
Notify DCJS in writing of a new address no later than 10 days after moving.
Report in person to a local police agency to have a current photograph taken every three years (Level 1 and 2 offenders) or every year (Level 3 offenders)
Notify DCJS in writing of any institution of higher education they are attending, enrolled, living or employed. Any change in status must be reported to DCJS no later than 10 days after the change.
Provide in writing Internet service providers, Internet screen names and e-mail accounts.
Level 3 offenders and offenders with a sexual predator designation must personally verify their addresses every 90 days with law enforcement. Law enforcement may at that time photograph a level 3 offender if that offender’s appearance has changed.
But Epstein, a level 3 registered sex offender, didn’t fulfill his obligations under these rules, something that would result in normal offenders being sent to prison. For example, he was supposed to register his address in person every 90 days beginning in 2011, meaning that he should have reported his address in person 34 times.
He never did.
A report by the New York Post found that Epstein never checked in with the NYPD and never verified his address as the law stipulates. At the very least, his team certainly knew about this requirement — at the same hearing where a Manhattan prosecutor attempted to get Epstein’s sex offender status lowered, Judge Pickholz said point-blank that Epstein would need to register in person with law enforcement every 90 days:
The NYPD cop assigned to monitor Epstein has repeatedly complained to Vance’s Sex Crimes Unit that Epstein wasn’t in compliance, according to a source familiar with the matter.
But prosecutors told the cop to merely send Epstein a letter reminding him of his reporting requirement.
Instead of registering every 90 days as a level 3 sex offender, Epstein attended movie premieres and hosted dinner parties for the rich and famous, all the while allegedly building a home treasure trove of pornographic material featuring very young women with CDs bearing handwritten labels like “Misc nudes 1” and ‘’Girl pics nude.”
And the entities tasked with protecting the public from Epstein did nothing.