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Sexual harassment and assault

Trial of billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein ends with apology – but not to the dozens of women he is accused of molesting as underage teens

  • A trial that could have allowed the victims of serial molester Jeffrey Epstein to finally tell their stories from a witness box was aborted
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 4:24pm

Moments before jury selection was set to begin in a trial that was expected to feature testimony about billionaire sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged abuse of underage women, the case settled, ending nearly a decade of legal wrangling between Epstein and a lawyer who represents the women.

Epstein, 65, who has connections to US President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton, was at the centre of the case in Florida, where he is alleged to have molested dozens of girls at his Palm Beach mansion when they were teenagers.

Epstein had been suing lawyer Brad Edwards, alleging that Edwards helped gin up false accusations as part of a fundraising scheme.

On Tuesday, Epstein apologised for “false and hurtful allegations” he made against Edwards. Epstein was not present in court, and he did not directly apologise to the women Edwards represents.

But Edwards said the women, now in their late 20s and early 30s, can take solace in the outcome of the case.

“This not only vindicates me; it vindicates them and their credibility,” Edwards said.

Epstein, a gifted financier with connections throughout the nation’s power elite, pleaded guilty to felony solicitation of underage girls in 2008 and received a sentence of 13 months in jail that gave him a high level of freedom – he was allowed to leave his jail cell during the day.

Though Epstein was held accountable on the state level, his accusers have long argued that the sentence was light and that federal charges – which were not pursued under then-US Attorney Alexander Acosta – shouldn’t have fallen by the wayside.

Jack Scarola, a lawyer for Edwards, on Tuesday called the outcome of the criminal case “a back room sweetheart plea deal” that did not bring justice.

The development stopped what was expected to be a 10-day trial with potentially revealing details about Epstein’s alleged abuse.

But the drama isn’t over: Edwards and Scarola are still trying to overturn the non-prosecution agreement that Acosta arranged, and they vow to have the women speak openly about what happened.

“In that case, as many victims as want to testify will be able to testify,” Edwards said.

“The number that were identified by the US attorney is 36 to 40 women. There are more. It depends on how far you want to go. The operation was to recruit underage females, then have those underage females recruit others. It’s like a spider web of child molestation.”

Epstein’s apology, read by his lawyer, Scott Link, explained that the lawsuit he filed against Edwards was an attempt to thwart Edwards’s effort to continue pursuing cases against him.

“Despite my efforts, he continued to do an excellent job for his clients and, through his relentless pursuit, held me responsible,” Epstein said in the statement.

“I am now admitting that I was wrong and that the things I said to try to harm Mr Edwards’ reputation as a trial lawyer were false.”

Tuesday’s agreement also includes an undisclosed financial settlement.

Epstein’s case also has put a spotlight on Acosta, who was the US attorney in Miami when Epstein was originally charged.

The agreement that Acosta, now Trump’s secretary of labour, arranged halted the earlier federal case and also kept most details of the charges against Epstein sealed from the public for years.

A recent Miami Herald investigation into Epstein’s criminal case sparked some lawmakers, including Democratic congresswoman Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, to call for an inquiry into whether Acosta violated any practices or procedures when he signed off on the deal.

Acosta has been floated as a possible successor to ousted attorney general Jeff Sessions.

“Obviously, a legislative committee has significantly greater investigative power than we do in the context of a lawsuit,” Scarola said.

“We hope that will lead to answers about how something like this could possibly have happened.”

Epstein owns an island in the Caribbean and has homes in Palm Beach and New York. During the time he was charged with molesting teenage girls more than a decade ago, he attended parties at Mar-a-Lago, and Trump flew on his private jet at least once.

As part of his 2008 conviction, Epstein is required to register as a sex offender.

Scarola and Edwards said the #MeToo movement helped encourage their clients to speak out. Scarola said what Epstein “did to his child victims is heinous” and that Epstein settled the case because he did not want their stories told in open court.

“The worst thing that could have happened to him from his perspective was a prolonged trial, where there would be news stories every day about just how bad his conduct was,” Scarola said.

Additional reporting by Tribune News Service