'He's a coward': Women who endured Epstein's sex abuse voice outrage



NEW YORK, Julie K Brown, Miami Herald (tca/dpa)- For 10 years, the women who were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein were silenced and ignored, deprived of a chance to confront their abuser by a highly unusual plea deal negotiated by the multimillionaire's powerful legal team.
Tuesday, just over two weeks after he was found hanged inside his jail cell while awaiting a belated day of legal reckoning, the women finally got to vent their sorrow and pent-up anger.




Courtney Wild, who was 14 when she says Epstein first abused her, called him a "coward" for cheating his victims out of a chance to denounce him face to face.
She was among more than a dozen women - many of whom were underage when Epstein allegedly abused them - who showed up at a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday to talk about Epstein's regimen of sexual abuse.
Another was Chauntae Davies, who has said she was recruited to be a masseuse for Epstein on his private plane, known as the Lolita Express. She said she was sexually abused by Epstein multiple times over a period of years and that his death, rather than bringing closure, deepened her fury towards him.
Some of the women who were testifying did so using their names. Others went by Jane Doe. Some chose to provide written statements. Their stories tracked each other, describing what amounted to a sexual pyramid scheme.
Epstein had recruiters fan out into the community, finding underage girls, many of them from troubled backgrounds willing to come to his home and give him a massage for 200-300 dollars. The massages sometimes turned into sexual assault.
Girls were offered additional money if they were willing to recruit other girls for the same purpose.
At least one victim beseeched the justice system not to let the Epstein investigation die just because he is no longer alive. Epstein had handlers and recruiters and paymasters at his estates. He owned palatial homes in Florida, New York City, Paris, New Mexico and on his private island in the Virgin Islands. None of those handlers have been charged. Most are still around.
Bradley Edwards, attorney for some of the accusers, called it a "historic day for crime victims in America."
Edwards continued: "This hearing has great significance. While it does not provide complete closure, it solidifies the fact that victims are an integral part of the process."
The hearing, before US District Judge Richard M Berman, marks the first time most of the women were able to speak about the betrayal they've felt at the hands of federal prosecutors, who gave Epstein a secret plea deal in 2008. It's also the first time that they are able to talk about the financier's death in the federal lockup.
"I can't say that I'm pleased he committed suicide, but I am at peace knowing he will not be able to hurt anyone else," said one of his victims in a written statement released Tuesday by her lawyer, Lisa Bloom.
The hearing was actually a mechanism for federal prosecutors in New York to formally drop the sex trafficking case against Epstein, who was found dead on August 10, one week after he was removed from suicide watch.
Attorney General William Barr has ordered a federal investigation into his death, which the medical examiner ruled a suicide.
Geoffrey Berman, US attorney for the Southern District of New York and no relation to the judge, has said he intends to pursue federal charges against the co-conspirators Epstein used to recruit girls and young women around the country and abroad. Among those suspected of helping him is Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and daughter of the late publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell. Maxwell has denied the allegations.
The case was first investigated by Palm Beach, Florida, police beginning in 2005. It wound through the criminal justice system, ending with the FBI and the US attorney in Miami at the time, Alexander Acosta. The Miami Herald, in a three-part series published this past November, reconstructed the case by analyzing the dozens of civil suits filed over the past decade. The Herald also identified more than 80 women who alleged they were abused by Epstein, interviewing about a dozen of them for the series. Four of them spoke on the record and on video.
In addition to Courtney Wild, at least one other woman who spoke out to the Herald was expected to testify Tuesday.
As a result of the series, and subsequent stories that followed further scrutinizing the case, Acosta - appointed US secretary of labour by President Donald Trump in 2017 - was forced to resign. Epstein, who had returned to his jet-setting life after a short jail term, was arrested on new federal charges in July.
There are two federal investigations into the case as well as a criminal probe in Florida, where Epstein abused many of the girls from 1997 to 2006, court records show. The victims, most of whom were 13 to 16 years of age, were recruited from schools, spas and malls.
In February, a federal judge in Florida ruled that Epstein's 2008 plea deal was negotiated in violation of the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act, which requires federal prosecutors to take certain steps to involve victims in the criminal justice process. In this case, the judge found that prosecutors deliberately hid the plea deal from Epstein's victims, sealing the agreement so that no one, including the victims and the public, would learn about it until months after the case was closed.
The non-prosecution agreement called for Epstein to serve just over a year in the Palm Beach County Jail. During his incarceration, he was allowed to leave his jail nearly every day, spending up to 12 hours in a luxurious office he set up in West Palm Beach.
One woman has recently come forward to allege that Epstein had a sexual encounter with her and another woman in his office during the time he was provided "security" by plainclothes members of the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office. Epstein was allowed to hire the deputies, paying them to escort him to and from jail during his 13 months of incarceration. Questions have been raised about how a convicted sex offender of young girls was allowed work release, some of that time spent behind closed doors unsupervised, records show.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has ordered an investigation into whether laws were broken by sheriff's deputies and others in the jail who gave him special treatment.
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Wednesday, August 28th 2019
Julie K Brown, Miami Herald (tca/dpa)
           


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