WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) — The Department of Justice is refusing to issue an apology and compensation to victims for not conferring with them before granting wealthy money manager Jeffrey Epstein a favorable plea deal in the criminal case involving his underage prostitution ring.
In the underlying lawsuit, two anonymous plaintiffs, whom Epstein allegedly lured to his Palm Beach mansion for sexual favors when they were in their early teens, are demanding that Epstein’s 2007 plea deal be partly rescinded.
Citing violations of the Crime Victims Rights Act, the women say federal prosecutors intentionally shut them and other victims out of plea negotiations in Epstein’s sex crime case. They want financial recompense from the Department of Justice, an apology letter from federal prosecutors, and records from the criminal investigation and grand jury inquiry on Epstein.
Under the 2007 deal with Epstein, federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue a case against him if he pleaded guilty to state charges.
The investment-industry magnate was facing accusations that he engaged in sexual activity with more than 30 minors. Many victims allegedly were lured to Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion for what his handlers told them would be massage sessions for Epstein. The sessions frequently devolved into Epstein pleasuring himself or engaging in sexual activity with the teenagers, who were as young as 14 years old, according to court documents.
The federal case against Epstein was led by then-prosecutor Alex Acosta, who is now U.S. Secretary of Labor.
According to the law firm Searcy Denney, which represented some of the victims, the non-prosecution agreement “granted Jeffrey Epstein immunity from federal prosecution for potentially hundreds of sexual offenses” and “gave ‘get-out-of-jail free cards’ to all of Epstein’s unnamed co-conspirators.”
Epstein pleaded guilty to the state charge of soliciting underage prostitution. He served little more than a year in prison, during which time he was allowed to leave his cell to go work in a West Palm Beach office.
In a significant victory for the two plaintiffs, a judge in the Southern District of Florida ruled in February that federal prosecutors violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by not conferring with victims during plea negotiations. The judge’s order in civil court cites email chains in which Acosta’s office repeatedly led victims’ lawyers to believe the investigation of Epstein was ongoing.
“Particularly problematic was the Government’s decision to conceal the existence of the [non-prosecution agreement] and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility,” the ruling states. “When the Government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. While the Government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the NPA with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims. Instead, the victims were told to be ‘patient’ while the investigation proceeded.”
In the Monday filing, Justice Department attorneys acknowledge that prosecutors erred by keeping victims in the dark about the plea deal.
The filing states that “the government believes that it should have communicated its resolution of the federal criminal investigation of Epstein to his victims more effectively and in a more transparent manner.”
But, the DOJ claims, an apology and compensation from the government are beyond the scope of the Crime Victims Rights Act.
“The civil remedies that Petitioners seek are simply unavailable under the [Crime Victims Rights Act]. Instead of authorizing a victim to institute a civil action, the [Act] created a specific victims-rights-enforcement scheme within the federal criminal justice process.”
The department cites a clause in the Act that states: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to authorize a cause of action for damages or to create … any duty or obligation to any victim … for the breach of which the United States or any of its officers or employees could be held liable in damages.”
As for the request for an apology, the Department of Justice claims “such a remedy is not cognizable.” The department cites federal appellate court precedent that purportedly establishes that courts are “not usually concerned with procuring apologies to make morally right a legal wrong.”
The department offered to meet with victims, participate in a hearing for victims to make impact statements, and provide training to prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida to assure compliance with the Crime Victims Rights Act.
The government says the court should strike down the plaintiffs’ request to rescind Epstein’s federal immunity. Altering the non-prosecution agreement’s terms could put in jeopardy key provisions, such as Epstein’s waiving his right to contest liability for victims’ personal injury damages, the DOJ claims.
The plaintiffs’ attorney Bradley Edwards at Searcy Denney maintains that “the Government has it entirely within its power to provide all the various remedies being sought through the lawsuit — and then some.”
Edwards said “Epstein attempted to shape the agreement to his liking … all the way up to the highest levels of the Justice Department.”
Victims should have had the same opportunity to shape the outcome of the case, Edwards said.