The order came a day after state Sen. Lauren Book (D) delivered more than 4,000 petitions demanding that DeSantis order an investigation into Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s handling of Epstein.
Book asked DeSantis to take action after Bradshaw said he would launch an internal investigation into how Epstein was granted privileges such as an unlocked cell door and work release rules that allowed him to spend more time at his office and Palm Beach estate than in jail.
“They need to look into how this serial sex predator, this monster, enjoyed going in and out of jail, going home, a limo service, having the deputies assigned to him dressed in suits,” Book said. “It’s all horrible, all the way around, from the plea deal itself to the work release that he should have never been entitled to.”
DeSantis’s order tells the FDLE to “initiate a preliminary inquiry beyond the work release of Jeffrey Epstein and into other irregularities surrounding the prior state investigation and the ultimate plea agreement.”
Epstein is in jail in New York, awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. Authorities there say he abused dozens of young girls at his Palm Beach and Manhattan homes.
He was investigated for similar charges in Palm Beach in 2005. While police there said that Epstein molested dozens of girls, some as young as 14, he was allowed to plead guilty to two state charges of soliciting prostitution in 2008 and sentenced to a year in jail and a year of community control.
He never faced any federal charges. The U.S. attorney in Miami at the time, Alexander Acosta, negotiated the plea deal with Epstein’s attorneys that spared Epstein a harsher sentence and time in state prison, where most felony sex offenders serve their time.
Acosta was later named labor secretary by President Trump. Increased scrutiny and criticism of the Epstein deal — spurred by a Miami Herald investigation last year — prompted Acosta to resign last month.
Epstein’s time in jail was notable for the treatment he was given. He was declared a sex offender at the time of his plea, but the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office allowed him to go on a work release program. Epstein paid over $126,000 to have deputies — wearing suits, and greeting him at his office as “Mr. Epstein” in many cases — watch him while he was out at his office or going to appointments.
He was permitted to leave his cell in the minimum-security stockade for 12 hours a day, six days a week. The deputies assigned to him usually sat in his front office, acting as receptionists by checking in visitors, or followed him while he rode in a limousine driven by his bodyguard.
When he was at the stockade, deputies were given permission to leave Epstein’s cell door unlocked.
DeSantis said in a news release that “Floridians expect and deserve a full and fair investigation” into how the wealthy and well-connected Epstein was treated in Palm Beach County.
DeSantis said he was reacting to a letter from Bradshaw, dated Tuesday. Bradshaw, who was elected sheriff in 2004 and has been reelected every four years since then, requested a state criminal investigation “examining every aspect of the Epstein case, from court sentencing to incarceration.”
DeSantis also ordered that a state attorney outside Palm Beach County work with the state agency.
Bruce Colton, state attorney for the 19th Judicial Circuit, which covers several counties north of Palm Beach, will oversee the investigation.
Colton said DeSantis’s order appears to give the FDLE authority to look into more than how Bradshaw’s office handled Epstein.
“It gives the FDLE authority to look further than just the work release situation,” Colton said. “They seem to feel there’s evidence of some wrongdoing or other irregularities as well.”