LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The case against multimillionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein is a horrifying one. And I say that also for those of you who have young children listening. Police and prosecutors say Epstein sexually abused dozens of underage girls - some as young as 14 or 15 - and, in some cases, asked them to recruit other girls for him and his powerful friends to prey on.
But in 2008, Epstein struck a deal to plead guilty to just felony prostitution charges in state court and serve 13 months. It was a remarkable deal, which gave him immunity from federal sex trafficking charges that could've sent him to prison for life. It also left his victims, now adults, out in the cold. Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown began examining Epstein's case in 2017. And she published her findings this week. And so now she's on the program with us.
JULIE BROWN: Hi.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The scope of accusers is terrifying. You were able to identify 80 of them - some of them in their late 20s and early 30s. Can you tell me about these women, who they were?
BROWN: Well, at the time that this happened, they were underprivileged girls who lived in West Palm Beach. And some of them lived in foster homes. Several of them were one step away from homeless, if not truly homeless. And they thought that they were just going to give a man a massage in exchange for money. But what ultimately happened is that he sexually abused them and then offered them even more money to recruit their friends and other girls in their same age. So he had a revolving door of young girls coming into his mansion in Palm Beach.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did they have any knowledge of the deal that was struck back then?
BROWN: No. No. And it was by design. Epstein's lawyers did not want them - find out. I mean, we have a whole trail of emails and letters that went between prosecutors and Epstein's lawyers saying, we've got to keep this out of the media. We don't tell the victims. I mean, they did not want the victims to know because they feared that, had the victims known, they would've raised objections. And then the deal would've fell apart.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The ultimate question is, why did this deal take place? And one of the people that you talk about is Alexander Acosta, who's now President Trump's labor secretary. And he was the former Miami U.S. attorney. He orchestrated this deal. Why exactly did they manage to negotiate so successfully with him?
BROWN: He had some of the best lawyers that his money could buy. He had an all-star legal team of Alan Dershowitz, Roy Black, Kenneth Starr, Jay Lefkowitz. Several of these lawyers were in a former law firm that Acosta had been affiliated with, as well. These were prominent players in the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis.
So they knew each other. So they were professionals together. And you could see in their emails everything was very amicable. You know, it was like OK. You know, we're going to do this. We're going to do that. It was very friendly. They wanted to make it go away. They never really talked about that they were going to prosecute this case.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. Alan Dershowitz was part of his legal team, but it wasn't only that. Your team reported that at least one victim claims that Mr. Dershowitz was one of the people who had sex with one of the many girls who was lured into Epstein's circle. Dershowitz has reiterated his denials to you. But there is a sense - right? - that this hugely connected man truly had a different set of rules attached to him in his case.
BROWN: Yes, obviously - at the same time this case was happening, Alex Acosta was prosecuting a lot of other men for pornography laws at the time the Justice Department was going after child pornography on computers. They were sending men to prison for decades for having child porn on their computers. But these were just regular Joe Schmoes. They weren't a powerful man. On the other hand, here, you had this powerful man who was actually molesting girls. And he gets off with a very light jail sentence.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is Epstein doing now?
BROWN: He has a private jet. You know, he flies back and forth mainly between New York and his permanent residency in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But he also - you know, over the summer, he was abroad. He was in Paris. And he still has the house in Palm Beach.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So he's basically living his life.
BROWN: Yeah, he's jet setting. He's also tried to, I think, repair his reputation, if that's possible, by donating, you know, a lot of money to mostly scientific research causes. He's donated a lot of money to Harvard University and to various other arts and science foundations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what would the victims like to see happen?
BROWN: The victims want to see him go to prison. They would like to see him, you know, pay for what he did. There were a number of civil claims against him. And many of the girls, if not most of them, did get some damage, money in damages. But to them, that is not real justice. To them, this is a person that should have to sit in a cell, as one girl told me, and really think about what he did wrong because, as of now, they believe - and all indicators are - he truly did not believe he did anything wrong.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Julie Brown. You can read her astonishing reporting and that of her whole team at miamiherald.com. Thank you very much.
BROWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.