Students at Royal Palm Beach High School quickly heard about “a creepy old guy” named Jeffrey who lived in a pink waterfront mansion and was paying girls $200 to $300 to give him massages that turned sexual.

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PALM BEACH, Florida — Michelle Licata climbed a narrow, winding staircase, past walls covered with photographs of naked girls. At the top of the stairwell was a vast master bed and bath, with cream-colored shag carpeting and a hot pink and mint green sofa.

The room was dimly lit and very cold.

There was a vanity, a massage table and a timer.

A silver-haired man wearing nothing but a white towel came into the room. He lay facedown on a massage table, and while talking on a phone, directed Licata to rub his back, legs and feet.

After he hung up, the man turned over and dropped his towel, exposing himself. He told Licata to get comfortable and then, in a firm voice, told her to take off her clothes.

At 16, Licata had never before been fully naked in front of anyone. Shaking and panicked, she mechanically pulled off her jeans and stripped down to her underwear. He set the timer for 30 minutes and then reached over and unsnapped her bra. He then began touching her with one hand and masturbating himself with the other.

“I kept looking at the timer because I didn’t want to have this mental image of what he was doing,” she remembered of the massage. “He kept trying to put his fingers inside me and told me to pinch his nipples. He was mostly saying ‘just do that, harder, harder and do this. … ’”

After he ejaculated, he stood up and walked to the shower, dismissing her as if she had been in history class.

It wasn’t long before a lot of Licata’s fellow students at Royal Palm Beach High School had heard about “a creepy old guy” named Jeffrey who lived in a pink waterfront mansion and was paying girls $200 to $300 to give him massages that quickly turned sexual.

Eventually, the Palm Beach police, and then the FBI, came knocking on Licata’s door. In the police report, Licata was referred to as a Jane Doe 2 in order to protect her identity as a minor.

There would be many more Jane Does to follow: Jane Doe No. 3, Jane Doe No. 4, Jane Does 5, 6, 7, 8 — and as the years went by — Jane Does 102 and 103.

Long before #MeToo became the catalyst for a women’s movement about sexual assault — and a decade before the fall of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and U.S. Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar — there was Jeffrey Edward Epstein.

Epstein, a multimillionaire hedge fund manager whose friends included a constellation of entertainers, politicians, business titans and royalty, for years lured teenage girls to his Palm Beach mansion as part of a cult-like sex pyramid scheme, police in the town of Palm Beach found.

Michelle Licata says she was 16 when she first visited Jeffrey Epstein’s home on El Brillo Way to give him a massage. She says he tried to penetrate her with his fingers.
(Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)
Michelle Licata says she was 16 when she first visited Jeffrey Epstein’s home on El Brillo Way to give him a massage. She says he tried to penetrate her with his fingers. (Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)

The girls arrived, sometimes by taxi, for trysts at all hours of the day and night. Few were told much more than that they would be paid to give an old man a massage — and that he might ask them to strip down to their underwear or get naked. But what began as a massage often led to masturbation, oral sex, intercourse and other sex acts, police and court records show. The alleged abuse dates back to 2001 and went on for years.

In 2007, despite ample physical evidence and multiple witnesses corroborating the girls’ stories, federal prosecutors and Epstein’s lawyers quietly put together a remarkable deal for Epstein, then 54. He agreed to plead guilty to two felony prostitution charges in state court, and in exchange, he and his accomplices received immunity from federal sex-trafficking charges that could have sent him to prison for life.

He served 13 months in a private wing of the Palm Beach County stockade. His alleged co-conspirators, who helped schedule his sex sessions, were never prosecuted.

The deal, called a federal non-prosecution agreement, was sealed so that no one — not even his victims — could know the full scope of Epstein’s crimes and who else was involved. The U.S. attorney in Miami, Alexander Acosta, was personally involved in the negotiations, records, letters and emails show.

Acosta is now a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. As U.S. secretary of labor, he has oversight over international child labor laws and human trafficking.

The Miami Herald analyzed thousands of pages of court records and lawsuits, witness depositions and newly released FBI documents, and also tracked down more than 80 women who say they were victimized, scattered around the country and abroad. Until now, those victims — today in their late 20s and early 30s — have never spoken publicly about how they felt shamed, silenced and betrayed by the very people in the criminal justice system who were supposed to hold Epstein accountable.

“How come people who don’t have money get sent to jail — and can’t even make bail — and they have to do their time and sit there and think about what they did wrong? He had no repercussions and doesn’t even believe he did anything wrong,” said Licata, now 30.

Licata is among 36 women who were officially identified by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office as victims of Epstein, now 65. But after the FBI case was closed in 2008, witnesses and alleged victims testified in civil court that there were hundreds of girls who were brought to Epstein’s homes, including girls from Europe, Latin America and former Soviet Republic countries.

But Acosta and Epstein’s armada of attorneys — Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Jay Lefkowitz, Gerald Lefcourt, Jack Goldberger, Roy Black, Guy Lewis and former Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr — reached a consensus: Epstein would never serve time in a federal or state prison.

• • •

There were really just two people willing to risk their careers to go after Epstein: Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter and Detective Joseph Recarey.

For Reiter, business tycoon Jeffrey Epstein wasn’t any more formidable than any of the other 8,000 or so wealthy and powerful people living on the island. Police had handled sensational cases involving wealthy residents before — from the murders of heiresses to the rape case involving William Kennedy Smith, of the Kennedy family.

The easternmost town in Florida, Palm Beach is a 10.4-square-mile barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean populated by some of the richest people in the country. President Trump has his “winter White House” in Palm Beach, and the town makes news as much for its glitz as it does for its unusual efforts to preserve its well-mannered image, like banning shirtless joggers.

But it was a little surprising, even to Reiter, to learn that one of its residents had a revolving door of middle and high school girls coming to his gated compound throughout the day and night.

In their first media interviews about the case, Reiter and Recarey revealed new details about the investigation, and how they were, in their view, pressured by then-Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer to downgrade the case to a misdemeanor or drop it altogether.

In his first interview about the Jeffrey Epstein case, Joseph Recarey, who was lead detective on the case with the Town of Palm Beach, revealed the police department’s frustrations with prosecutors.
(Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)
In his first interview about the Jeffrey Epstein case, Joseph Recarey, who was lead detective on the case with the Town of Palm Beach, revealed the police department’s frustrations with prosecutors. (Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)

Between March of 2005 — when the case was opened — and seven months later, when police executed a search warrant at Epstein’s home, Recarey had identified 21 possible victims, according to a copy of the unredacted police report obtained by the Herald. By the time police felt they had enough evidence to arrest Epstein on sex charges, they had identified about 35 possible underage victims and were tracking down at least a dozen more, the police report said.

“I was surprised at how quickly it snowballed. I thought at some point there would be a last interview, but the next victim would supply me with three or four more names and the next one had three or four names and it just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Recarey said.

By then, word had gotten back to Epstein from some of the girls that they had been questioned by police. Epstein hired famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

“Alan Dershowitz flew down and met privately with Krischer,” Recarey said. “And the shenanigans that happened, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of before.”

Police reports show that Epstein’s private investigators attempted to conduct interviews while posing as cops; that they picked through Reiter’s trash in search of dirt to discredit him; and that the private investigators were accused of following the girls and their families. In one case, the father of one girl claimed he had been run off the road by a private investigator, police and court reports show.

Several of the girls said they felt intimidated and frightened by Epstein and Sarah Kellen, the millionaire’s assistant and alleged scheduler of massages, who warned them not to talk to police, according to the police report.

Dershowitz, in an interview with the Herald, said he had nothing to do with gathering background on the girls — or in directing anyone to follow the police, or the girls and their families.

“I’m not an investigator. My only job was to negotiate and try the case when it comes to trial,” he said.

He nevertheless convinced Krischer that the girls would not be credible on the witness stand, according to Reiter and Recarey.

The defense team’s investigators compiled dossiers on the victims in an effort to show that Epstein’s accusers had troubled pasts.

Dershowitz met with Krischer and Recarey, sharing with them the results of an investigation into one of the girls whom Dershowitz described as “an accomplished drama student” who hurled profanities at his investigator at “a furious pace.”

“Our investigation had discovered at least one of her websites and I am enclosing some examples … the site goes on to detail, including photos, her apparent fascination with marijuana, “ Dershowitz wrote in an undated letter to Recarey. He also disputed the claim that one of the defense team’s private investigators had misrepresented himself as a police officer.

Recarey stood his ground.

“His attorneys showed us a MySpace page where one of the girls was holding a beer in her hand, and they said, ‘oh look, she is underage drinking,’” Recarey recalled. “Well, tell me what teenager doesn’t? Does that mean she isn’t a victim because she drank a beer? Basically, what you’re telling me is the only victim of a sexual battery could be a nun.”

Krischer and the lead state prosecutor on the case, Assistant State Attorney Lanna Belohlavek, began to dodge Recarey and Reiter’s phone calls and emails, and they dragged their feet on approving subpoenas, Reiter and Recarey said.

“Early on, it became clear that things had changed, from Krischer saying, ‘we’ll put this guy away for life,’ to ‘these are all the reasons why we aren’t going to prosecute this,’” Reiter said.

Krischer, who is now retired and in private practice, did not respond to multiple requests from the Herald for comment. Belohlavek also did not respond to an email sent to her office.

“It became apparent to me that some of our evidence was being leaked to Epstein’s lawyers, who began to question everything that we had in our probable cause affidavit,” Reiter said.

The day of the search on Oct. 20, 2005, they found that most of Epstein’s computer hard drives, surveillance cameras and videos had been removed from the house, leaving loose, dangling wires, according to the police report.

But the girls’ description of the house squared with what detectives found, right down to the hot pink couch and the dresser drawer of sex toys in Epstein’s bathroom.

Reiter said his own trash was disappearing from his house, as his life was put under Epstein’s microscope. Private investigators hired by Epstein’s lawyers even tracked down Reiter’s grade school teachers, the former chief said. Questions were raised about donations that Epstein had made to the police department, even though Reiter had returned one of the donations shortly after the investigation began.

Recarey, meanwhile, said he began to take different routes to and from work, and even switched vehicles because he knew he was being tailed.

“At some point it became like a cat-and-mouse game. I would stop at a red light and go. I knew they were there, and they knew I knew they were there. I was concerned about my kids because I didn’t know if it was someone that they hired just out of prison that would hurt me or my family,” Recarey said.

Despite relentless political pressure, Reiter and Recarey soldiered on, and their determination yielded evidence that supported most of the girls’ allegations, they said. They had phone records that showed Epstein and his assistant, Kellen, had called many of the girls. Epstein’s flight logs showed that the calls were made when Epstein was in Palm Beach.

They obtained dozens of message pads from his home that read like a who’s who of famous people, including magician David Copperfield and Donald Trump, an indication of Epstein’s vast circle of influential friends. There were also messages from girls, and their phone numbers matched those of many of the girls Recarey had interviewed, Recarey said. They read: “Courtney called, she can come at 4,” or “Tanya can’t come at 7 p.m. tomorrow because she has soccer practice.”

They also found naked photographs of underage girls in Epstein’s closet, Recarey said.

There were also witnesses: Two of Epstein’s butlers gave Recarey sworn interviews, confirming that young girls had been coming and going at the house. One of the butlers, Alfredo Rodriguez, told Recarey that when he was tasked with cleaning up the master bath after Epstein’s sessions with the girls he often discovered sex toys. Once, he accidentally stumbled on a high school girl, whom he identified, sleeping naked in Epstein’s spa, he testified in a 2009 court deposition.

Rodriguez said he was given the job of paying the girls, telling Recarey that he was “a human ATM machine” because he was ordered by Epstein to keep $2,000 on him at all times. He was also assigned to buy the girls gifts. Rodriguez gave Recarey copies of pages from a book that Epstein and his staff kept with the names and phone numbers for many of the Palm Beach girls, Recarey said.

Rodriguez, however, held onto the bulk of Epstein’s “little black book,” and in November 2009 tried to sell it for $50,000 to an undercover FBI agent posing as a victim’s lawyer. He was arrested, and sentenced in 2012 to federal prison, and died three years later following an illness. The book — listing personal phone numbers for a cavalcade of Epstein’s powerful friends and celebrities — eventually became public as part of a civil lawsuit. It listed more than 100 female names and phone numbers under the headings “massage” in every city where Epstein had homes.

In May 2006, Recarey drew up probable cause affidavits, charging Epstein, two of his assistants and one recruiter with sex-related crimes. Instead, Krischer took what Recarey said was the unusual step of referring the case to a state grand jury. Epstein was indicted in state court on a minor charge of solicitation of prostitution.

Recarey said Krischer told him he didn’t believe Epstein’s accusers, and only two of them were called before the state grand jury investigating the case — even though police had lined up more than a dozen girls and witnesses at that time.

Believing that the case had been tainted, Reiter — that same month, May 2006 — took a very public stance against Krischer, writing a letter, which was released to the news media, calling on Krischer to remove himself from the case. The chief then referred it to the FBI, which opened its own investigation in July 2006, FBI records show.

Reiter said he was effectively blackballed in some Palm Beach circles as a result of going over Krischer’s head, and their relationship, once strong, would never be the same.

Reiter has no regrets about what he did.

“There are challenges here that don’t exist in a lot of other places because of the affluence in the community, but the only way I could approach this case was that none of that matters. The truth is still the truth. The facts are the facts. Everybody is treated the same.”

In the years that followed, several of the victims obtained lawyers and filed civil lawsuits against Epstein. About two dozen lawsuits were filed, starting in 2008. The early cases were particularly brutal for his victims, the court records show. The girls faced fierce grilling from another pack of Epstein’s civil attorneys, who questioned them about their boyfriends, drinking, drug use, social media posts, their parents and even their medical histories.

One girl was asked about her abortions, and her parents, who were Catholic and knew nothing about the abortions, were also deposed and questioned.

Licata said the questions from Epstein’s civil lawyers were so intimate that she became paranoid that people were following her.

“His lawyers were just in my life inside and out. They asked if I had a baby, if I had an abortion, ‘did you sleep with 30 different guys’ and ‘do you think that played a part?’ I said, ‘you’re going to come at me like that when you represent a guy who is doing this to hundreds of girls? How do you sleep at night?’”

• • •

Jeffrey Epstein was born in Brooklyn, the son of a New York parks department worker. In one of several depositions he gave as part of the lawsuits filed against him, he said he attended the Cooper Union school for the advancement of science and art and then studied physics at New York University. But he never obtained a degree, instead going on to teach at the Dalton School, an elite K-12 private academy on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Various news profiles over the years have speculated about how he made his vast fortune, calling him an “International Moneyman of Mystery” and “The Talented Mr. Epstein.”

This much is known: He got his start on Wall Street after being offered a job by the father of one of his students. At Bear Stearns, he became a derivative specialist, applying complex math formulas and computer algorithms to evaluate financial data and trends.

He then struck out on his own, opening J. Epstein & Co. His fortunes improved when he became a financial adviser for Leslie Wexner, founder of The Limited stores and owner of Victoria’s Secret brands. Later, Epstein would boast that he would manage the portfolios of only those clients who had $1 billion or more.

Through Wexner, he acquired a seven-story stone mansion that is considered the largest private residence in Manhattan — a 21,000-square-foot fortress with heated sidewalks that spans the entire block on 71st Street between Fifth and Madison avenues.

He also owns a 10,000-acre ranch, named “Zorro,” in New Mexico, a private island called “Little St. James” in the Virgin Islands, the $13 million house in Palm Beach, a Gulfstream jet and, at one point, owned a Boeing 727.

He has never been in the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, largely because the magazine has never been able to determine the source or the size of his wealth.

He has been dogged by questions about his financial dealings. A former business partner, Steven Hoffenberg, sued him in 2016, claiming that Epstein was the mastermind behind a $500 million Ponzi scheme that Hoffenberg was imprisoned for in 1995. Hoffenberg served 18 years for the scam, but he later dropped the lawsuit against Epstein.

In August, two of Hoffenberg’s former investors rekindled the lawsuit against Epstein, but the case was dropped in October.

The home of Jeffrey Epstein has a large waterfront footprint in the Town of Palm Beach, not far from President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)
The home of Jeffrey Epstein has a large waterfront footprint in the Town of Palm Beach, not far from President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)

Epstein and his associate, British-born socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, were also accused in a 2015 federal civil suit of organizing underage sex parties on his private plane, nicknamed “The Lolita Express,” and at Epstein’s various homes. Maxwell, who has never been charged with wrongdoing, has denied allegations made in the lawsuit that she was Epstein’s “madam.” The suit, filed by victim Virginia Roberts, was settled in 2017.

It was Epstein’s contacts with powerful and famous people that first propelled him into the public spotlight. In 2002, he flew former President Bill Clinton, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Chris Tucker and others to South Africa on his private jet as part of a fact-finding AIDS mission in support of the Clinton Foundation.

But Epstein, a Clinton donor who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and causes, realized that his Democratic connections weren’t going to help him in 2006, when the federal prosecutor was Acosta, a conservative Republican appointed during the George W. Bush administration.

• • •

Epstein’s tactic: hire the most aggressive and politically connected lawyers that his money could buy.

At the top of his list: Kenneth Starr, a Republican icon because of his pursuit of Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation, which led to the impeachment (but not conviction) of the president after it was revealed he’d had sex with a young White House intern. Like Acosta, Starr had worked at the prestigious law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Epstein also tapped Jay Lefkowitz, also of Kirkland, who worked as a domestic policy adviser and later as a special envoy to North Korea during the George W. Bush presidency.

Epstein also hired Bruce Reinhart, then an assistant U.S. attorney in Palm Beach. Reinhart, now a U.S. magistrate, left the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Jan. 1, 2008, and went to work representing Epstein’s employees on Jan. 2, 2008, court records show. In 2011, Reinhart was named in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act lawsuit, which accused him of violating Justice Department policies by switching sides, implying that he leveraged inside information about Epstein’s investigation to curry favor with Epstein.

Reinhart, in a sworn declaration attached to the CVRA case, denied the allegation, saying he did not participate in Epstein’s criminal case and “never learned any confidential, non-public information about the Epstein matter.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has since disputed that, saying in court papers that he did possess confidential information about the case.

Contacted for this story, Reinhart, in an email, said he never represented Epstein — only Epstein’s pilots; his scheduler, Sarah Kellen; and Nadia Marcinkova, described by some victims as Epstein’s sex slave. Reinhart also pointed out that a complaint filed against him by victims’ lawyer Paul Cassell was dismissed by the Justice Department.

That same year, 2011, more girls continued to come forward, including Roberts, who claimed in a British tabloid story that Epstein directed her — while she was underage — to have sex, not only with him, but with other powerful men, including his attorney, Alan Dershowitz, and Prince Andrew. Dershowitz and Andrew denied her claims, but after she filed a sworn affidavit in federal court in Miami, the ensuing media firestorm forced Acosta, then dean of the law school at Florida International University, to explain why he’d declined to prosecute Epstein.

In a written, public statement on March 20, 2011, Acosta asserted that the deal he struck with Epstein’s lawyers was harsher than it would have been had the case remained with the state prosecutor, Krischer, who favored charging Epstein with only a misdemeanor prostitution violation.

Acosta also described what he called a “year-long assault” on prosecutors by Epstein’s “army of legal superstars” who, he said, investigated individual prosecutors and their families, looking for “personal peccadilloes” to disqualify them from Epstein’s case.

Former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now a member of President Trump’s Cabinet as secretary of labor, was called on to explain his non-prosecution agreement with Jeffrey Epstein during his Senate confirmation hearing.
 (Cristobal Herrera/Sun Sentinel/TNS)
Former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now a member of President Trump’s Cabinet as secretary of labor, was called on to explain his non-prosecution agreement with Jeffrey Epstein during his Senate confirmation hearing. (Cristobal Herrera/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Dershowitz, in an interview, denied that Epstein’s lawyers would ever investigate prosecutors.

Documents nevertheless show that Acosta not only buckled under pressure from Epstein’s lawyers, but he and other prosecutors worked with them to contain the case, even as the FBI was uncovering evidence of victims and witnesses in other states, FBI and federal court documents show.

A 53-page federal indictment had been prepared in 2007, and subpoenas were served on several of Epstein’s employees, compelling them to testify before a federal grand jury. The court records reveal that emails began to fly back and forth between prosecutors and Epstein’s legal team. Those emails show that federal prosecutors kept acquiescing to Epstein’s demands.

Prosecutors allowed Epstein’s lawyers to dictate the terms of each deal that they drew up, and repeatedly backed down on deadlines, so that the defense essentially controlled the pace of the negotiations, the emails and letters show.

It’s clear, from emails and other records, that prosecutors spent a lot of time figuring out a way to settle the case with the least amount of scandal. Instead of charging Epstein with a sex offense, prosecutors considered witness tampering and obstruction charges, and misdemeanors that would allow Epstein to secretly plead guilty in Miami, instead of in Palm Beach County, where most of the victims lived, thereby limiting media exposure and making it less likely for victims to appear at the sentencing.

“I’ve been spending some quality time with Title 18 (the U.S. criminal code) looking for misdemeanors,” the lead prosecutor, A. Marie Villafana, wrote to Epstein’s lawyers on Sept. 13, 2007, adding that she was trying to find “a factual basis” for one or more non-sex-related crimes to charge him with.

The email chain shows that prosecutors sometimes communicated with the defense team using private emails, and that their correspondence referenced discussions that they wanted to have by phone or in person, so that there would be no paper trail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafana was the lead prosecutor on the Jeffrey Epstein case and seemed at times to want to minimize the severity of the potential charges. In one email to a lawyer for Epstein, she wrote: “I’ve been spending some quality time with Title 18 [the U.S. criminal code] looking for misdemeanors.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafana was the lead prosecutor on the Jeffrey Epstein case and seemed at times to want to minimize the severity of the potential charges. In one email to a lawyer for Epstein, she wrote: “I’ve been spending some quality time with Title 18 [the U.S. criminal code] looking for misdemeanors.”

“It’s highly unusual and raises suspicions of something unethical happening when you see emails that say ‘call me, I don’t want to put this in writing.’ There’s no reason to worry about putting something in writing if there’s nothing improper or unethical in the case,” said former federal prosecutor Francey Hakes, who worked in the Justice Department’s crimes against children unit.

On Sept. 24, 2007, another agreement was reached, but Epstein still wasn’t happy with it, emails show.

Lefkowitz continued to pressure the U.S. Attorney’s Office to keep the agreement secret, even though under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, prosecutors were required to inform the victims that a plea deal had been signed.

“We … object to your sending a letter to the alleged victims,” Lefkowitz wrote on Nov. 28. “ … Any such letter would immediately be leaked to the press, your actions will only have the effect of injuring Mr. Epstein and promoting spurious civil litigation directed at him. We also request that if your office believes that it must send a letter to go to the alleged victims … it should happen only after Mr. Epstein has entered his plea.”

By December, Epstein had still not agreed to a date for his plea hearing, and was technically in violation of the September agreement, which required him to appear in court by November, Acosta noted in a letter to Kenneth Starr in December 2007.

“The (U.S. attorneys) who have been negotiating with defense counsel have for some time complained to me regarding the tactics used by the defense team,” Acosta wrote. “It appears to them that as soon as resolution is reached on one issue, defense counsel finds ways to challenge the resolution collaterally. … Some in our office are deeply concerned that defense counsel will continue to mount collateral challenges to provisions to the agreement, even after Mr. Epstein has entered his guilty plea and thus rendered the agreement difficult, if not impossible, to unwind.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

Villafana frequently showed her frustration.

“I thought we had worked very well together in resolving this dispute. … I feel that I bent over backwards to keep in mind the effect that the agreement would have on Mr. Epstein,” Villafana wrote to Epstein attorney Lefkowitz on Dec. 13, 2007.

By then the deal had been signed for two months, and Jeffrey Sloman, Acosta’s top assistant, told Lefkowitz he intended to begin notifying Epstein’s victims.

An indignant Lefkowitz wrote to Acosta: “You … assured me that your office would not … contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants and their respective counsel in this matter.”

As the months went on, with the agreement still in limbo, federal prosecutors once again began to prepare indictments against Epstein, court records show. The FBI investigation briefly resumed, and additional witnesses were interviewed in New York and New Mexico, the records show. In January 2008, several Epstein victims were sent letters informing them that the FBI investigation was “ongoing” as negotiations to finalize the plea bargain continued behind the scenes.

Starr finally appealed to the Justice Department in Washington, challenging federal jurisdiction of the case, but in May 2008, the Justice Department affirmed Acosta’s right to prosecute.

• • •

In recent court filings, the government was forced to answer questions about its negotiations, finally admitting in 2013 that federal prosecutors had backed down under relentless pressure by Epstein’s attorneys.

“The government admits that, at least in part as a result of objections lodged by Epstein’s lawyers to victim notifications, the (United States Attorney’s Office) reevaluated its obligations to provide notification to victims and Jane Doe #1 was thus not told that the USAO had entered into a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein until after it was signed,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee.

Said Hakes, the former federal prosecutor: “I have never heard of a case where federal prosecutors consult with a defense attorney before they send out standard victim notification letters. To negotiate what the letters would say and whether they would be sent at all suggest that the victims’ rights were violated multiple times.”

Starr’s aggressive advocacy for Epstein against allegations of improper sexual behavior was in stark contrast to the path he took investigating then-President Clinton. The Starr Report, the summary of his findings in the Whitewater investigation, which started as a probe of a land deal gone sour and veered into an investigation of sexual misconduct, savaged the president for his involvement with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and was the basis for impeachment.

Starr himself would face criticism in 2016 — he stepped down as president of Baylor University amid allegations that he and other university officials mishandled sexual assault allegations brought by female students against members of the school’s football team.

The Herald reached out to Starr, through certified letter and through a spokesman for his current law firm, the Lanier Firm, but did not receive a response for this story.

Palm Beach police detective Recarey, one of the most highly decorated officers on the Palm Beach Police Department, called the Epstein case the most troubling of his 23-year career.

“Some of the victims were — and still are — afraid of Epstein,” he said as part of a series of interviews with the Herald earlier this year.

Privately, Reiter and Recarey said they held onto a hope that Epstein would be brought to trial someday, but they said that that notion had faded.

“I always hoped that the plea would be thrown out and that these teenage girls, who were labeled as prostitutes by prosecutors, would get to finally shed that label and see him go to prison where he belongs,” Recarey said.

Recarey died in May after a brief illness. He was 50 years old.


More from the series

  1. Perversion of Justice: How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime
  2. Perversion of Justice: Cops worked to put serial sex abuser in prison. Prosecutors worked to cut him a break
  3. Perversion of Justice: Even from jail, sex abuser manipulated the system. His victims were kept in the dark