July 24th, 2024

Florida prosecutors knew Epstein raped teenage girls 2 years before cutting deal, transcript shows

By Terry Spencer, The Associated Press on July 1, 2024.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Florida prosecutors knew the late millionaire and financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually assaulted teenage girls two years before they cut a plea deal that has long been criticized as too lenient and a missed opportunity to imprison him a decade earlier, according to transcripts released Monday.

The 2006 grand jury investigation was the first of many by law enforcement over the past two decades into Epstein’s rape and sex trafficking of teenagers – and how his ties to the rich and the powerful seem to have allowed him to avoid prison or a serious jail term for over a decade.

The investigations uncovered Epstein’s close ties to former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew, as well as his once friendly relationship with former President Donald Trump and numerous others of wealth and influence who have denied doing anything criminal or improper and not been charged.

Circuit Judge Luis Delgado’s release of approximately 150 pages Monday came as a surprise, since there was scheduled hearing next week over unsealing the graphic testimony. Gov. Ron DeSantis had signed a bill in February allowing the release on Monday or any time thereafter that Delgado ordered. Florida grand jury transcripts are usually kept secret forever, but the bill created an exemption for cases like Epstein’s.

The transcripts show that the grand jury heard testimony that Epstein, who was then in his 40s, had raped teenage girls as young as 14 at his Palm Beach mansion, often paying them so he could commit statutory rape or assault. The teenagers testified and told detectives they were also paid cash or rented cars if they found him more girls.

“The details in the record will be outrageous to decent people,” Delgado wrote in his order. “The testimony taken by the Grand Jury concerns activity ranging from grossly unacceptable to rape – all of the conduct at issue is sexually deviant, disgusting, and criminal.”

In 2008, Epstein cut a deal with South Florida federal prosecutors that allowed him to escape more severe federal charges and instead plead guilty to state charges of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. He was sentenced to 1.5 years in the Palm Beach County jail system, during which he was allowed to go to his office almost daily as part of a work-release program, followed by a year of house arrest. He was required to register as a sex offender.

Criticism of the deal resulted in the 2019 resignation of Trump’s labor secretary, Alex Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney for South Florida in 2008 and signed off on the deal. A 2020 Justice Department investigation concluded that Acosta used “poor judgment” in his handling of the Epstein prosecution, but it didn’t rise to the level of professional misconduct.

The chief prosecutor in the Epstein case, former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, did not immediately respond Monday to an email and a voicemail seeking comment about the transcripts’ release.

Current Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who was not involved in the investigation, said in a statement he is glad the records have been released. He said he has not yet read the transcripts, so could not comment on whether Krischer should have pursued a tougher prosecution of Epstein.

Brad Edwards, an attorney for many of the victims, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

According to the transcripts, Palm Beach Police Detective Joe Recarey testified in July 2006 that the initial investigation began when a woman reported in March 2005 that her stepdaughter who was in high school at the time said she received $300 in exchange for “sexual activity with a man in Palm Beach,” Recarey testified.

Another teenager, whose name was redacted in the transcript, told detectives that she was 17 years old when she was approached by a friend who said she could make $200 by providing a massage at Epstein’s home.

At the house, the teen was led to a room by an Epstein assistant, and a short time later, Epstein entered and demanded that she remove her clothes. She complied and started the massage. When Epstein tried touching her, she told him she was uncomfortable. Epstein then told her that he would pay her if she brought other “girls” to his home. She agreed to do so, according to the October 2005 interview with detectives recounted by Recarey.

“And he told her, “˜The younger, the better,'” Recarey said.

When she brought over a 23-year-old friend, Epstein told her that the friend was too old. Over time, the teen brought six friends from her high school over to Epstein’s home, including a 14-year-old girl, the detective said.

The teen, who likened herself to Hollywood Madame Heidi Fleiss to detectives, explained that the girls understood what they were getting into. She received $200 every time she brought over a friend.

“The more you did, the more money you made,” the detective said the teen told him. “She explained that there was going to be a massage or some possible touching, and you would have to provide the massage either topless or naked.”

Another teen testified she visited Epstein’s house hundreds of times in the early 2000s, starting when she was 16. She testified that Epstein paid her $200 each time she gave him a massage while naked, rented her a car and gave her $1,000 the time he raped her.

A 2005 police search of Epstein’s mansion found evidence supporting the girls’ testimony. Also, Epstein’s houseman told detectives that he knew “something was amiss” during his employment, that the teenagers who came to the mansion were “very young. Too young to be a masseuse.”

Epstein in 2018 was charged with federal sex trafficking crimes in New York – where he also had a mansion that was a scene of abuse – after the Miami Herald published a series of articles that renewed public attention on the case, including interviews with some victims who had been pursuing civil lawsuits against him. Epstein was 66 when he killed himself in a New York City jail cell in August 2019, federal officials say.

Delgado in his order wrote that the transcripts show why Epstein was “the most infamous pedophile in American history.”

“For almost 20 years, the story of how Jeffrey Epstein victimized some of Palm Beach County’s most vulnerable has been the subject of much anger and has at times diminished the public’s perception of the criminal justice system,” Delgado wrote.

___

Associated Press reporters Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida, Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Stephany Matat in West Palm Beach, Florida, Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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