WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – A South Florida newspaper is demanding grand jury records from wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s criminal case, in hopes the documents will shed light on the role Sunshine State prosecutors played in his sidestepping a long prison term.
The Palm Beach Post claims in a complaint filed Thursday that the release of testimony and other evidence from the 2006 grand jury proceedings will confirm whether Palm Beach County prosecutors gave Epstein favorable treatment after he was accused of engaging in sexual activity with dozens of minors.
Victims were lured to Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion for what his handlers told them would be massage sessions for Epstein. The sessions often devolved into Epstein pleasuring himself or groping the teenagers’ genitalia, according to police records.
Epstein, a wealthy money manager, cut a 2007 plea deal under which he was spared federal prosecution in exchange for pleading guilty to a 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.
A recent resurgence of media coverage of then-federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta’s role in the purported sweetheart deal contributed to Acosta’s resignation from his position as President Donald Trump’s labor secretary in July.
The Palm Beach Post’s lawsuit maintains that it was not just federal prosecutors who were going easy on Epstein as the saga played out more than a decade ago.
As the Post recounts, Barry Krischer, the Palm Beach County state attorney at the time, chose not to pursue a multi-charge case against Epstein even after local detectives identified more than 15 victims and prepared a detailed probable-cause affidavit, which chronicled an underage sex ring Epstein had allegedly organized at his mansion.
In May 2006, then-Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter — apparently sick of non-responsiveness from the state attorney’s office — wrote a letter to Krischer, suggesting that Krischer should be removed from the Epstein prosecution. The letter referenced “the unusual course” that Krischer’s office was taking in handling the prosecution.
Krischer convened a grand jury in July 2006. The jury came back with a single charge of soliciting prostitution.
The newspaper’s lawsuit says that grand jury records will show the extent to which Krischer and assistant state attorney Lanna Belohlavek undercut and downplayed their own case against Epstein.
“Access to the grand jury materials will allow the public to determine whether the grand jury process, and the secrecy that comes with it, was used to further justice, or instead, operated to shield Epstein and his co-conspirators from the consequences of their criminal activities,” the lawsuit states.
The newspaper asserts that in spite of the ever-mounting number of victims who were coming forward, only a single youth testified before the grand jury, a 14-year-old girl. Another teenager was scheduled to testify against Epstein, but said she was unable to attend due to school obligations.
The Post claims in the lawsuit that the release of the requested records will show whether Belohlavek self-sabotaged the case against Epstein during the grand jury proceedings by bringing up a victim’s unflattering social media posts.
Though grand jury proceedings are typically kept secret under Florida law, the complaint points to a statutory exception, which provides that records may be released for the broad purpose of “furthering justice.”
The Post’s attorneys at Greenberg Traurig cite Second Circuit precedent establishing that “historical or public interest” can be a sufficient reason for disclosure of grand jury materials in the absence of a countervailing need for secrecy.
The lawyers claim the importance of secrecy in the Epstein grand jury proceedings has waned because personal information about Epstein’s victims and alleged co-conspirators is already in the public domain.
In September, in a separate civil case, a federal judge refused two alleged victims’ request for copies of the grand jury records. The judge also denied their request to toss out plea-deal provisions which shielded Epstein’s alleged aides in the sex ring from prosecution.
Epstein was found dead in a prison cell at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center on Aug. 10. He was jailed there on sex trafficking charges, filed by New York federal prosecutors this past summer amid mounting public outrage over the Florida plea deal.
Jail officials called the death an apparent suicide.