The Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, where Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell last month. Credit: Jim Henderson

The federal prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein for running a sex-trafficking operation involving vulnerable young girls ended last month when Epstein was found dead in his cell. The official story is that he committed suicide. But many people, led by the victims of Epstein and his coconspirators, suspect foul play.

These victims say they were recruited as children to become sex slaves for Epstein and guests to his various mansions, including prominent American politicians, business executives, and world leaders. For years, these women have sought justice. And they have good reasons to now suspect that their government is lying to them in order to protect the rich and powerful.

First, these victims were already deceived once by the federal government. Back in 2005, police in Palm Beach, Florida, began investigating allegations that Epstein and his associates were paying vulnerable girls for massages and sex. But then the federal government stepped in and took the case away from local prosecutors and police, ostensibly to ensure that Epstein would not receive special treatment because of his wealth and status in the Palm Beach community. Many child victims came forward and cooperated with the federal investigation. In the end, the FBI identified dozens of credible victims, and prosecutors prepared a 53-page child sex-trafficking indictment that carried a potential punishment of life in prison.

But those charges were shelved in 2008 after the lead prosecutor on the case, Alexander Acosta, entered into a secret and unprecedented agreement not to prosecute Epstein or any of his potential coconspirators. The victims, who were teenagers at the time of the abuse, had a right to object before the agreement took effect. But they were illegally cut out of the deal, a judge has ruled. Acosta’s office sealed the agreement with the court and misled the victims to believe that a federal prosecution of Epstein and his coconspirators was still a possibility.

Second, Acosta has given conflicting statements about the highly unusual and illegal deal he cut with Epstein’s lawyers in 2008. In private conversations with Trump transition team members, who wanted to know if the Epstein deal was going to cause problems for Acosta—then a Labor secretary nominee—at confirmation hearings, Acosta explained that he’d cut the nonprosecution deal with Epstein’s attorneys because he had “been told” to back off, that Epstein was above his pay grade: “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone.”

But when questioned in public about the Epstein deal, Acosta has sung a different tune. In July of this year, he said he believed it was a good agreement based on the evidence he had in 2008 and that “new evidence and additional testimony . . . offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”

Acosta’s July public statement is plainly a lie. The new federal charges brought against Epstein did not arise out of any new investigation of Epstein. In fact, the 2019 indictment mirrors the charges that federal prosecutors prepared in 2008 and then shelved; it alleges sex trafficking of vulnerable girls between 2002 and 2005.

Rather, the 2019 case against Epstein arose out of investigative reporting by Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald. Brown identified about 80 women who say they were molested or otherwise sexually abused by Epstein. Brown also told the story of the extraordinary nonprosecution agreement that was kept under seal and secret from the victims, contrary to federal law.

Embarrassed by the stories in the Herald, the feds sprung into action. Federal agents arrested Epstein on July 6 as his private jet landed at Teterboro Airport near Manhattan, and they searched his town house.

In court, federal prosecutors argued that Epstein was too dangerous to be released on bond and must be detained at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, even though the feds allowed Epstein to walk away from the same charges back in 2008. Two months after being denied bail on the new indictment, Epstein was found dead in his cell.

Despite Acosta’s conflicting stories and his transparently phony public statement, no one in the mainstream press or Congress has dared to investigate the role played by U.S. intelligence agencies in the Epstein case. No one even dares to ask Acosta who told him to “back off” or what intelligence agency or agencies were working with Epstein in 2008. It appears that Democrats were initially willing to attack Acosta as a way to embarrass Trump. And once they realized that digging too deep would also embarrass their friends at intelligence, including the former agents who now work as analysts on cable TV promoting the story that Russia stole the election from Hillary Clinton, they decided to back off.

A third reason that Epstein’s victims should suspect foul play is that any criminal trial of Epstein or his coconspirators would have been highly problematic for the federal government. There’s plenty of evidence, of course. The government reportedly has dozens of credible witnesses who describe sexual abuse of children by Epstein and his VIP guests, plus video and photographic evidence from the cameras hidden in Epstein’s mansions.

But one potential defense that Epstein’s lawyers would be obliged to explore is whether Epstein believed that government officials with actual authority sanctioned his crimes because he was providing them with sexual blackmail material on targeted leaders. This is called the “reliance on public authority defense.” It typically arises in drug cases where the defendant argues he was working as a confidential source for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and therefore believed he was authorized to sell drugs.

Under the Constitution, the government is required to provide defense attorneys with all exculpatory evidence that could support any potential defense. Failure to do so can result in harsh sanctions against the prosecutors and even dismissal of the charges, as occurred recently in the federal prosecution of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens.

In other words, a public criminal trial would have made it very hard to cover up Epstein’s relationship to intelligence agencies. These are the agencies that tell our presidents which countries to bomb, what leaders to depose, and which terrorists to assassinate by drone.

Many will recall the damage done to the credibility of the FBI when it was revealed that convicted mob boss Whitey Bulger—who also died in federal custody—was committing extortion and murder while also working as an FBI informant. The Epstein scandal would be far worse because it potentially involves exploiting vulnerable children to obtain dirt on world leaders. Such a scandal would likely lead to major reforms and oversight of U.S. intelligence, similar to what we saw in the 1970s with the Church Committee investigation of the CIA, FBI, Internal Revenue Service, and National Security Agency in the wake of Watergate.

It’s no surprise then that the establishment press would urge us to move on from the Epstein case and to stop engaging in conspiracy theories. And it’s our job to keep talking about the case until we get truthful information about Epstein and about all his coconspirators, including the ones working with U.S. intelligence.  v

Leonard C. Goodman is a Chicago criminal defense attorney and co-owner of the newly independent Reader.

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