A long-running lawsuit in Florida between Jeffrey Epstein, an influential and well-connected multimillionaire convicted on child sex abuse–related charges, and the lawyer representing several of his accusers has concluded in a last-minute settlement, according to the Associated Press. As a result, the women will not, for now, have their long-awaited opportunity to testify against Epstein, whose crimes have never been fully examined in court.
Epstein’s crimes, which date back to the early and mid-2000s, became a focus of renewed national interest last week after the Miami Herald published a yearlong investigation into the deal that was struck to allow Epstein to receive a sentence of just 13 months in jail (much of which was spent in a private wing and on a cushy work release) and immunity in federal court. In the same report, the Herald identified more than 80 possible victims, some of whom spoke of serial abuse by Epstein and the resulting trauma. Much of the blame for the lenient deal fell on Alexander Acosta, now the U.S. secretary of labor, as he was then the U.S. attorney responsible for Epstein’s prosecution and has since said he arranged the plea deal in part because Epstein’s star-studded legal team, which included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, intimidated him and other prosecutors out of taking the case to trial. Emails between Acosta and Epstein’s team showed that Acosta largely allowed Epstein’s lawyers to set the terms of his plea deal, the Herald reported.
In the 2008 conviction, the women not only were denied their say in court, but they also were intentionally left in the dark about the legal proceedings against Epstein—a violation of their rights as victims, according to another lawsuit still working its way through the courts. Other lawsuits have been filed against Epstein in the past decade, and Epstein has paid $5.5 million to settle with three of the women, according to the Washington Post.
The trial that was set to start Tuesday with jury selection dealt with a conflict not between the victims and Epstein but between Epstein and the attorney Bradley Edwards, who represented some of Epstein’s accusers. Epstein sued Edwards, alleging the lawyer was going after him as part of a scam in which lawyers claim to have won large settlements from famous people in order to attract investors. Edwards then countersued for malicious prosecution, arguing that Epstein was trying to damage his reputation with that lawsuit as retribution for Edwards’ work for Epstein’s accusers. On Tuesday, Epstein admitted that he was wrong to have sued Edwards, according to the Post, and his lawyer read a statement in court apologizing for the suit.
“The lawsuit I filed was my unreasonable attempt to damage his business reputation and stop Mr. Edwards from pursuing cases against me,” Epstein said in the statement. “It did not work.”
Now attention will turn to Edwards’ push to have Acosta’s deal invalidated and the investigation into Epstein’s crimes reopened, on the argument that the deal Acosta and Epstein’s legal teams struck in private violated the rights of the victims. If that request is allowed by the judge, the women may then be able to testify to their abuse. Several women have already recounted to the press how as minors they were paid to give massages to Epstein and subsequently coerced into sex acts, adding that some of them were paid to recruit other underage girls. Many of the girls were poor and came from unstable homes.
A fuller investigation may identify other powerful men who abused underage girls procured by Epstein. Several of the women have said they were offered up for sex acts to rich and famous men at Epstein’s parties, but the 2007 plea deal provided immunity to any other possible guilty parties and shut down the ongoing FBI probe into the matter.