Three months have passed since a judicial panel in New York heard arguments to unseal documents that could reveal whether federal prosecutors covered up evidence that New York financier Jeffrey Epstein and others were running an underage sex trafficking operation.
In March, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit seemed poised to release some documents in the case. The records involve Epstein’s one-time partner, Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been accused of helping him recruit and sexually exploit girls and young women in various locations around the United States and abroad in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The appeals panel gave all parties in the case until March 29 to file additional pleadings. Several challenges were subsequently filed, but the court has yet to make a final ruling.
The Miami Herald — one of the intervenors in the case — has submitted a letter to the court urging the judges to follow through on the case in the wake of a controversial Justice Department decision last week. In a 35-page motion, filed June 24, federal prosecutors in Georgia declared that they would not set aside Epstein’s federal non-prosecution agreement.
The Georgia decision dealt another blow to Epstein’s victims who have been fighting for a decade to have the deal thrown out and to pressure the Justice Department to prosecute the 66-year-old multimillionaire on sex trafficking charges. It also means that the Justice Department has no intention of allowing Epstein’s victims and the public to examine the facts of Epstein’s case and reach their own conclusions, the Herald argues in the letter.
In February, a federal judge in Florida, Kenneth A. Marra, ruled in the victims’ favor, saying that the government violated the Crime Victims’ Right Act when it failed to inform Epstein’s victims that prosecutors had secretly disposed of the case.
Marra ordered the government and attorneys for the victims to come up with remedies to address the federal violation.
U.S. Attorney Byung Pak responded last week, saying that Epstein’s victims are free to express their displeasure about what prosecutors did, but they have no right under the law to demand anything from the government — not even an apology.
Sanford L. Bohrer, the Miami Herald’s attorney, said that Pak’s decision highlights the pressing need for the New York appeals court to expedite unsealing the documents in Maxwell’s case.
That case is a 2015 defamation lawsuit filed against Maxwell, the daughter of the late British media mogul Robert Maxwell. Maxwell, now 57 and an environmentalist, has been accused of assisting Epstein in the trafficking of underage girls and young women to powerful and wealthy politicians, lawyers, scientists and businessmen.
She has denied the allegations and has never been charged with any crimes.
The Herald’s lawyer contends that the Justice Department’s decision last week shows that the government continues to evade public accountability and, therefore, it’s more urgent than ever that the Maxwell case be made public.
“[Pak’s] submission makes clear that access to the documents that [the Herald and other parties] seek in [the Maxwell] matter remains an issue of critical public concern,” Bohrer wrote in a letter to Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe, clerk of the court for the appeals panel. He said the government “essentially argues that Epstein’s victims are not entitled to any meaningful redress, including partial rescission, declaratory relief and specific injunctive relief requested.’’
In 2008, the FBI had identified nearly three dozen underage victims who were allegedly lured to Epstein’s mansion in Palm Beach under the pretext that he would pay them for massages. The girls, mostly 13 to 16 years old, were groomed by Epstein and others who worked for him to engage in sex acts with him and others, the evidence showed.
In November, the Miami Herald published an investigation that examined how then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta negotiated a secret non-prosecution agreement that resulted in Epstein receiving an extraordinarily light sentence.
Acosta, who is now President Donald Trump’s labor secretary, ensured that the agreement was sealed so that no one — not even the victims — would know the scope of Epstein’s crimes or who was involved. Epstein’s lawyers worked together with prosecutors to limit public scrutiny of the case, and arranged for Epstein to quietly plead guilty to lesser charges in state court, the Herald series revealed.
The handling of the case is now under investigation by the Department of Justice.
As part of the Herald’s series, the newspaper went to court in 2018 to unseal the Maxwell case, which was settled in 2017. A contingent of other media companies, a conservative social media blogger and Epstein’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, are also seeking to have the Maxwell case made public.
The defamation case was filed against Maxwell by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claims she was recruited by Maxwell when she was 16 and working as a spa attendant at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s lavish country club in Palm Beach. In court papers, she claimed that Epstein and Maxwell directed her to have sex with public figures. In a sworn affidavit, she has named Prince Andrew and Dershowitz as among those she had sex with when she was underage. Both the prince and the famed lawyer have denied her claims.
Dershowitz wants the Maxwell case made public because he says that the documents will exonerate him. Also party to the appeal is social media blogger Michael Cernovich.
Based on the court filings, the case is believed to contain a range of evidence, including testimony from other possible underage victims who were trafficked. All parties in the case, including the Herald, have agreed to redact the names of minors and other details that would identify victims.
Maxwell is the sole party fighting to keep the entire record sealed. Two other currently unidentified people, labeling themselves as John Does, have filed legal briefs in an attempt to conceal personal information that could connect them to the alleged underage sex trafficking operation.
Epstein, who was not party to the Maxwell suit, has denied that he ran a sex trafficking operation, and his attorneys say that the number of victims involved has been “vastly exaggerated’’ by the media.