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Jeffrey Epstein Embodies Elite Impunity

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The sheer scale of the crimes Jeffrey Epstein has allegedly committed staggers the imagination. Yet Epstein, who was arrested in New York on Sunday on charges of sexual trafficking of minors, was not an individual miscreant, a lone Humbert Humbert who transgressed against widely shared social norms. As someone who has enjoyed the friendship of the rich and powerful all his adult life, Epstein is emblematic of a much wider problem: a system of elite impunity that extends to even the worst crimes.

The Miami Herald reports that in 2005 when police in Palm Beach, Florida, first started interviewing Michelle Licata, a teen who said she’d been sexually abused by the multimillionaire hedge fund investor, they designated her “Jane Doe” to protect her identity since she was then a minor. The newspaper added, “There would be many 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.”

Behind the protective anonymity of the Jane Doe appellation, each of those girls had a real name, a family, and a story. In the totality of their testimonies, the girls offered strikingly consistent accounts about being lured while they were underage into Epstein’s mansion with the promise of easy money for giving a massage. After the massage, many of these girls claimed, they were sexually assaulted.

Despite these often horrifying accounts, Epstein was given a sweetheart deal in 2008 by federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta, who now serves as secretary of labor in the Trump administration. Under the non-prosecution agreement reached by Acosta and Epstein’s high-powered attorneys (a team that included Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr), the FBI probe into Epstein was effectively closed, and Epstein received a 13-month sentence, served in the Palm Beach County Jail, where he stayed in a private wing. During this jail sentence, he received a permit to go to his office for up to 12 hours a day.

Few convicted sex offenders enjoy such a cushy confinement. In fact, the Palm Beach sheriff’s department has rules that forbid granting sex offenders the privileges Epstein received.

After serving the sentence, Epstein continued to benefit from the solicitude of the criminal justice system. In New York State in 2011, the office of District Attorney Cy Vance tried to downgrade Epstein from being a Level 3 sex offender (the highest risk) to a Level 1. Shooting down this motion, New York State Supreme Court Judge Ruth Pickholz said, “I have to tell you, I’m a little overwhelmed because I have never seen a prosecutor’s office do anything like this. I have done so many [sex offender registration hearings] much less troubling than this one where the [prosecutor] would never make a downward argument like this.’’

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