Lawyers for multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein argued Monday that new charges which could send him to prison for the rest of his life are an unwarranted “redo” of a case he settled years ago, but the law gives federal prosecutors wide discretion to bring such prosecutions.
Epstein, a jet-setting financier whose friends once included President Trump and former president Bill Clinton, has faced accusations that his wealth and connections got him a sweetheart deal from prosecutors in the earlier case in Florida. On Monday, Epstein’s newest lawyer, Reid Weingarten, argued that prosecutors were trying to get a “do-over” of the old case that has become something of an albatross for the Justice Department.
“There was a belief that there was a global agreement” to resolve all potential federal charges against Epstein, Weingarten said at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan Monday. “This is essentially a redo. That’s how it feels to us.”
As part of that earlier deal, Epstein, 66, signed a non-prosecution agreement with federal authorities in 2007 and pleaded guilty in state court. During his 13-month sentence in a Palm Beach jail, Epstein was allowed to work out of his office six days a week.
In the years since that plea deal, public outrage has grown as more details of Epstein’s conduct — paying minors to perform massages that often escalated to sex acts — became known. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors promised not to charge Epstein’s employees who they say recruited and scheduled the girls’ meetings with him.
Non-prosecution agreements are a long-standing, albeit controversial, practice by the Justice Department. Best known as a tool for punishing companies for alleged misconduct, they can be used against individuals — typically they are applied to bit players in criminal investigations. Such people may have had small roles in a conspiracy but are considered primarily witnesses to criminal conduct by others.
The charges unsealed Monday mark another strange twist in a long-running legal saga full of unexpected moves by prosecutors.
It’s common for criminal investigations to examine conduct in multiple federal districts, said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, “but it’s highly unusual for one U.S. attorney’s office to take a look at similar conduct that has already been reviewed and adjudicated by a U.S. attorney’s office in another district.”
Mintz said the new case sends a message to federal prosecutors in both Florida and Justice Department headquarters that the Epstein case deserved closer scrutiny.
In announcing the charges, officials praised investigative reporting for sparking renewed interest in the case and asked for any additional victims to come forward. Many of Epstein’s victims have argued that he got a slap on the wrist for a shocking series of crimes against vulnerable minors.
Epstein was arrested Saturday when his private jet landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. He was held in jail over the weekend as he awaited his first court appearance — a stark indication of how the Justice Department is taking a more aggressive approach to him the second time around.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Monday the indictment is centered on conduct that occurred in Epstein’s mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, making it a separate case from the Florida charges.
In a court filing arguing that Epstein should remain in jail until his trial, prosecutors said his past deal with the Justice Department “did not purport to cover any victims outside of the State of Florida,” and the new indictment alleges that there are dozens of victims “abused in this District in addition to dozens of victims who were abused in Florida.”
The indictment lists three victims, though prosecutors left open the possibility that more charges could be brought as they continue to gather evidence.
The non-prosecution agreement Epstein signed in 2007 does not bar charges in other jurisdictions, though it does note that Epstein “seeks to resolve globally his state and federal criminal liability.”
The same document, however, says that under the terms of the deal, there would be no prosecution “in this district” if Epstein adheres to the terms of the agreement. That language seems to leave open the possibility that charges could be filed elsewhere, and some non-prosecution deals contain specific language ruling out similar charges in other jurisdictions.
Arlo Devlin-Brown, a defense lawyer who once served as chief of the public corruption unit in the Southern District of New York, said the wording of non-prosecution agreements can vary significantly from district to district, making it harder for Epstein to argue he is being treated unfairly.
“Federal double-jeopardy laws are not super helpful to defendants, because the charges have to be an almost identical match,” he said.
Devlin-Brown said the fact that the new case is assigned to public corruption prosecutors suggests that “at some point, their investigation involved potential official misconduct, and it’s possible it still does.”
Separately, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates possible ethics violations by government employees, has been reviewing how prosecutors, including then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, handled the Epstein case. Acosta, who is now the labor secretary, has faced calls from Democrats and victims’ advocates to resign. The significance of the ethics review of the earlier Epstein case is unclear, since many of the key decision-makers are no longer in the Justice Department and could not face employee discipline.
Acosta has said he agreed to the plea deal to ensure that Epstein went to jail.