Wealth, power and justice: The Jeffrey Epstein case

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The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed read

What's happening: Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire money manager with connections to a long list of rich and powerful figures, was arrested Saturday on charges he allegedly ran a sex trafficking ring and abused dozens of underage girls. Federal prosecutors said a raid on Epstein's New York mansion uncovered "a vast trove" of images and CDs that they believe contain lewd images of minors.

The case has drawn massive attention, in part because of Epstein's deep Rolodex of high-profile past acquaintances, including both President Trump and former President Bill Clinton. The new charges have also led to scrutiny of an agreement Epstein reached with federal authorities in 2008 that allowed him to serve just 13 months in jail and register as a sex offender after facing charges that could have led to his being locked away for decades. The deal also granted immunity to "any potential co-conspirators."

The deal was agreed to by Alexander Acosta, who was a U.S. attorney at the time and was secretary of labor in the Trump administration until he resigned Friday morning. Acosta has been accused of offering a "sweetheart deal" to a well-connected figure. In February, a judge ruled Acosta and federal prosecutors violated the law by not informing the victims of the deal.

Acosta defended his decision making in a press conference Wednesday, saying that Epstein could have gone free without punishment if the case had gone to trial. A former Florida state attorney who was in office at the time of the deal said Acosta's account was an attempt to "rewrite history" of the true events.

Why there's debate: Epstein's case highlights how power, social status, wealth and political connections surround justice in America. At the center of the debate is how the wealthy and powerful can insulate themselves from punishment for alleged misdeeds in ways that aren't available to average people.

Some argue that the sensationalism and celebrity of the case glosses over the reality of just how common the exploitation of young girls is. Pervasive inequality and a justice system that devalues victims, they say, allow crimes like the ones Epstein is accused of to persist.

There are also questions about where Epstein's wealth came from in the first place, how political foes twist events to fit their own means, the value of newspaper journalism and whether Epstein will bring anyone else down with him.

What's next: The new case against Epstein is in its early stages and could entail a long legal battle. It's possible he may be offered and accept a plea deal, which would likely require him to provide information on other participants of his alleged trafficking ring.


The case highlights how a corrupt system protects people in power

"The Epstein case is first and foremost about the casual victimization of vulnerable girls. But it is also a political scandal, if not a partisan one. It reveals a deep corruption among mostly male elites across parties, and the way the very rich can often purchase impunity for even the most loathsome of crimes." — Michelle Goldberg, New York Times

The case shows how the justice system fails survivors of sex crimes

"Survivors don't want to have to choose between healing and justice — let alone between minimizing their ongoing trauma and seeking justice — but those are the choices with which the current system often leaves them." — Alison Turkos, NBC News

"There are a lot of complicated threads to untangle in the case of billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein. … We cannot forget that, at heart, this is a very high-end version of the same treatment that victims of sexual crimes — particularly young women — receive at the hands of the justice system all the time." — Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times

Epstein is a perfect example of the forces the #MeToo movement has battled

"The story of how Epstein initially got such a light sentence — and who was involved — is a master class in the power dynamics that have been exposed by the #MeToo movement but have yet to truly change." — Jane Coastan and Anna North, Vox

The case draws attention to how America's justice system favors the rich and powerful

"That Epstein’s victims have had to wait so many years for justice to be done … is yet one more disturbing reminder that we have two justice systems in America. One for the rich and well-connected, who can game the system, throw money at their problems, walk away unscathed, and never have to say they’re sorry, and one for the rest of us." — Michael A. Cohen, Boston Globe

The sensationalism of the case overlooks the damage experienced by the victims

"The salivating over Epstein’s indictment because of which other celebs and politicos it may implicate is perhaps unavoidable in today’s culture, but it’s also perverse, considering the seriousness of the charges against him and the horrific number of victims he may have abused. They are the real story, and they deserve our full attention." — S.E. Cupp, New York Daily News

Trump's own allegations of misconduct fuel a broader desire for justice

"But frustration at [Trump's] impunity helped create a drive for accountability for other powerful men who had abused women. Trump didn’t make Harvey Weinstein into a moral monster, and Weinstein’s conduct was not a secret among the powerful, but without Trump, Weinstein might still be at it. The same is now true of Epstein." — David A. Graham, Atlantic

The case can help the public understand the more mundane way sex trafficking typically plays out

"When jurors hear 'sex trafficking,' they conjure up images of victims bound by chains, subjected to physical force and imprisonment. While some cases include those aggravating facts, more often, the victim instead chooses to stay with her assailant, who preys upon a vulnerability." — Barbara McQuade, New York Magazine

Epstein became rich in a system that offers little scrutiny of the finance sector

"He claimed he’d fueled a lifestyle of vast homes, a private jet, and endless travel by managing the money of billionaires and taking a commission, a story that no one I spoke to believed."Vicki Ward, Daily Beast

Epstein's billionaire image may be a lie

"Mr. Epstein is routinely described as a billionaire and brilliant financier, and he rubbed elbows with the powerful, including former and future presidents. … Much of that appears to be an illusion, and there is little evidence that Mr. Epstein is a billionaire." — James B. Stewart, et al., New York Times

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