Jeffrey Epstein: How the sex-trafficking investigation could shed light on corruption

N'dea Yancey-Bragg, Kevin McCoy and Jorge L. Ortiz

Jeffrey Epstein – a registered sex offender, wealthy financier and philanthropist – pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of sex-trafficking girls as young as 14.

Ep stein "sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes" in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, along with other locations, according to the indictment. The charges – one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex-trafficking conspiracy – stem from accusations dating to 2002-2005. 

The new charges come 11 years after Epstein, "bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system," and avoid what could have been a lengthy prison sentence when he pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under 18 for prostitution, the Miami Herald reported.

Who is Jeffrey Epstein? The wealthy financier is charged with sex trafficking girls as young as 14

Epstein's plea deal

In November, the Herald published an in-depth look at the 2007 deal that showed Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta was directly involved in negotiating the plea with Epstein's lawyers.

Under a non-prosecution agreement overseen by federal authorities in Florida, Epstein served a 13-month jail sentence but was allowed to spend much of it in work release at his Palm Beach office. He settled with dozens of victims and was required to register as a sex offender.

The revelations about Epstein's light sentence have sparked calls for Acosta's resignation because he was the top federal prosecutor in Miami at the time.

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Epstein's alleged co-conspirators were granted immunity and the federal non-prosecution agreement was sealed, which meant it was even hidden from the girls Epstein was accused of abusing when they were teenagers, the Herald revealed.

Federal prosecutors identified three dozen alleged victims. 

In response to those reports, Democratic lawmakers last year called for a Justice Department investigation into Acosta's role in Epstein's plea agreement. In February the Justice Department launched an investigation into potential "professional misconduct" in Epstein's plea deal. That same month U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that Acosta and his team had violated the Crime Victims Rights Act by concealing the plea agreement from Epstein's victims. 

Public corruption

The criminal case against Epstein has been assigned to the Public Corruption Unit of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office. The case could shine a light on those connected to the sex trafficking operation.

Given Epstein’s list of powerful connections – which includes President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and high-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz – revelations that come out of the case have potential to be significant.

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Lawyers for Epstein's victims have compared the trafficking ring to an organized crime family with people working as schedulers, recruiters, pilots and bookkeepers.

A lawsuit filed by Virginia Giuffre, who identified herself as one of the victims, alleged Epstein and a friend named Ghislaine Maxwell sexually trafficked her to Epstein's friends, including Dershowitz, who was a lawyer for the financier.

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Maxwell and Dershowitz denied the allegations.

Sealed court records related to that lawsuit could be released within weeks thanks to a ruling in a federal appeals court.

Contributing: William Cummings and John Bacon, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jeffrey Epstein: How the sex-trafficking investigation could shed light on corruption