Epstein Sex Recruitment Scandal Shines Spotlight on Prosecutors

Even those who hide under the guise of our justice system – in Palm Beach County, Washington, D.C., or elsewhere – cannot be left to their own devices to act as police officers.

Conducting criminal investigations behind closed doors of a grand jury room, when appropriate, provides prosecutors with an effective way to continue an investigation without endangering jurors, witnesses, the defendant or the integrity of a sensitive case.

But secrecy in government can cut both ways. And in the case of serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, a well-connected Palm Beach millionaire, prosecutors apparently manipulated the jury process to hinder justice, not advance it, by hiding from the public politically sensitive circumstances they could not avoid, details about a notorious defendant who recruited underage girls to his residence for sexual abuse. It was the first sex crimes case ever to go to a jury in Palm Beach County history.

More on the Epstein case: What can we learn from the 2006 Jeffrey Epstein trial grand jury transcripts?

The story did not end with Epstein’s death in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 because neither the public nor his victims had access to many of the details of the case or the extraordinarily generous treatment and deals he received from prosecutors and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, unlike what virtually anyone else would have received.

The Palm Beach Post has been pushing for years to understand why Epstein got away with it for so long, and why prosecutors led by former State’s Attorney Barry Krischer worked so hard to hide that sweet indictment from the public. Thanks to fearless journalism, primarily by former reporter Jane Musgrave and investigative editor Holly Baltz, a nearly five-year trial by The Post and new rules aimed at unearthing transcripts of grand jury testimony, The Post this month was able to shed light on those dark days.

More on the Epstein case: Jeffrey Epstein’s prosecutor calls two underage victims ‘prostitutes’; have they faced charges?

The old law allowed the release of grand jury materials to “advance justice.” But the new law, sponsored by state Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, R-Highland Beach, redefined “advance justice” to include advancing the public interest.

The Post began its legal action in 2019 after learning that prosecutors had undermined their own case by limiting the number of witnesses against Epstein to two, despite the fact that Palm Beach police had identified many. They undermined the credibility of those child witnesses by asking them inappropriate questions. They asked one victim what kind of bra and panties she was wearing.

Nowhere did they focus on how Epstein abused girls whose families had little money and a plan to pay them not only to abuse them but also to bring in other victims. Shame kept many of them from reporting the matter to the police.

Obtaining the testimony was no easy feat. “The resistance our team encountered from the state’s attorney, the district clerk, and some of the judges involved was unprecedented,” Edwin M. Larkin, Post Gannett’s chief litigation counsel, wrote in an email commemorating the effort. “Grand jury transcripts are considered sacred,” he explained. “They are never released to the public because the secrecy of grand jury proceedings is one of the highest principles of criminal law.”

The litigation spurred legislative action that led to the release of jury trial transcripts on July 1.

“What you are doing is wrong”: Grand jury indicts Epstein’s teenage victim, transcript shows

Newspapers and politicians are often the targets of criticism, both from each other and from the public. However, this case provides evidence that the emphasis on honesty and transparency in government by the press and politicians can have the desired effect of creating a more just society.

The Epstein case, a tawdry tale of sexual harassment and privilege, also provides sad proof that even those who hide behind the facade of our justice system — in Palm Beach County, Washington, D.C., or anywhere else — cannot be left to police themselves without further scrutiny from an aggressive press.

These are not empty words. Epstein’s victims were real people, teenagers recruited from high schools and middle schools in our community who suffered terrible consequences and deserved better treatment from their government protectors.

“Some cut themselves. A few attempted suicide. Many worked in strip clubs, became prostitutes, became drug addicts, went to prison. At least two overdosed and died, leaving behind small children,” investigative editor Baltz wrote in a July 3 article.

If District Attorney Krischer had brought the charges recommended by Palm Beach police against Epstein, the suffering of the victims could have been alleviated almost two decades earlier.