Settlement reached in billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein case
WEST PALM BEACH — The #MeToo movement may have finally caught up with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The 65-year-old politically-connected money manager on Tuesday admitted he sued Bradley Edwards to punish the attorney for successfully representing young women who claim Epstein sexually assaulted them at his Palm Beach mansion more than a decade ago.
Epstein’s admission, his apology and his payment of an undisclosed amount of money to Edwards brought an abrupt end to what promised to be a salacious trial minutes before it was to begin in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
But, Edwards said, the settlement is just another step in a long journey. The Fort Lauderdale attorney and his legal team pledged to continue to pursue Epstein on behalf of dozens of young women who claim Epstein paid them for sex when some were as young as 14.
And, this time, Edwards said, the attorneys won’t be alone.
Once fearful of retribution from Epstein, who counts President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prince Andrew and other celebrities as friends, the women are now older and wiser, Edwards said.
“These women are now further along in the healing process than they were when we met them,” said Edwards. Once insistent that they only be identified as Jane Does or by other pseudonyms, they are now willing to speak out.
Their voices are important, he said. Like fellow sexual abusers, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Bill Cosby and former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser, Epstein used his political connections and wealth to silence his victims, Edwards said. Times, he said, have changed.
Lois Frankel asks for investigation
As evidence, his attorney, Jack Scarola, pointed out that Congress is now eyeing the unprecedented deal federal prosecutors gave Epstein in 2009.
At a press conference after the settlement was announced, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said she and 11 of her colleagues have asked the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether any policies were violated when federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue Epstein, who was then represented by various celebrity attorneys, including Alan Dershowitz, Jay Lefkowitz, Roy Black and Ken Starr. If Inspector General Michael Horowitz declines to investigate, Frankel said she would ask a House committee to do so.
The investigation, Frankel said, would focus on former South Florida U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, who signed off on the so-called non-prosecution agreement. Acosta is now U.S. Secretary of Labor.
Instead of facing federal charges that could put him behind bars for years, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to two state charges — solicitation of a minor for prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. He served 13 months of an 18-month sentence in a vacant wing of the county stockade — a cell he was allowed to leave 16 hours a day, six days a week.
Barry Krischer, who was Palm Beach County State Attorney when the deal was cut, said he allowed federal prosecutors to take the lead on Epstein’s prosecution. “The case we had was not as serious as the one the feds had developed with him transporting young women in a plane across state lines,” he said.
Still, he voiced frustration that the case was still coming back to haunt him. “The case is 15 years old. The feds handled it,” he said. “I’m done.”
Frankel said she wants answers. Epstein could have provided information in another federal case, she said. In a decade-old confidential memo made public in May, the FBI hinted as much. “Epstein has also provided information to the FBI as agreed upon,” it wrote, without elaborating.
Frankel summed up her questions this way: “Do we have what I call a serial child molester because of his wealth and his connections and that’s the reason for the cover up or did he in fact provide some type of serious information on some other ongoing investigation?”
Even without Congressional help, Edwards and Scarola said pending litigation could force federal prosecutors to reopen the long-closed investigation.
In a lawsuit filed in 2008 in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Edwards accused Acosta’s former office of violating the federal Crime Victims Right Act by not telling Epstein’s victims about the plea deal before it was inked.
For months, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra has been considering final arguments from Edwards and federal prosecutors. It is unknown when he might rule.
Court papers show Epstein paid 3 women $5.5M
In court papers, prosecutors have said the deal was the best way to assure Epstein was punished. The women, who changed their stories, weren’t reliable witnesses, they said. Most importantly, they said, as part of the agreement, they forced Epstein to agree to pay roughly 30 young women who sued him over the alleged abuse.
While the settlements were confidential, in court papers Edwards revealed that Epstein paid three of the women he represented a total of $5.5 million.
The case that was set for trial on Tuesday had a circuitous history. It began in 2009 as a clash between two of the players in the biggest scandals to rock South Florida in a decade when Epstein sued convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.
In the lawsuit, Epstein claimed Rothstein and Edwards, who worked for Rothstein’s Fort Lauderdale law firm, represented the young women as part of the $1.2 billion swindle. Rothstein, who is serving a 50- year sentence, admitted he concocted phony settlements in celebrity-studded cases to lure investors.
After Rothstein was sentenced, Epstein dropped his suit against Edwards. However, Edwards responded by filing a malicious prosecution suit against Epstein. He claimed Epstein was using the court system to punish him for seeking justice for the young women.
In his apology, Epstein admitted as much.
Epstein apologizes in a statement
“The lawsuit I filed was my unreasonable attempt to damage his business reputation and cause Mr. Edwards to stop pursing cases against me,” Epstein said in the statement that was read by his attorney Scott Link. “It did not work. Despite my efforts, he continued to do an excellent job for his clients and, through his relentless pursuit, he held me responsible.”
“I am now admitting that I was wrong and that the things I said to try to harm Mr. Edwards’s reputation as a trial lawyer were false,” Epstein said. “I sincerely apologize for the false and hurtful allegations I made and hope some forgiveness for my acknowledgement of wrongdoing.”
Epstein’s absence was no surprise. Spending most of his time at his private island in the Virgin Islands or in his New York City penthouse, he long said he would never appear for the trial.
Still, Scarola said, he hopes Epstein days of luxury living will soon end either as a result of a federal investigation or a federal judge. “The contract was illegal from the start,” he said. “It needs to be set aside.”
Palm Beach Post staff reporter Christine Stapleton contributed to this story.