A woman who accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexually abusing her beginning when she was 14 is asking the Supreme Court to rule that federal prosecutors violated her rights by failing to consult her before cutting what critics have dubbed a sweetheart deal with the since-deceased financier and philanthropist.
The so-called nonprosecution agreement precluded U.S. authorities in south Florida from bringing federal charges against Epstein, despite similar allegations from dozens of women, if Epstein pleaded guilty to two state felonies related to soliciting a minor for sex.
Lawyers for Courtney Wild are asking the justices to overturn an appeals court ruling from June that held that Wild could not use a civil suit to enforce her rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, a law Congress passed in 2004 to guarantee victims of crime certain protections in the federal criminal justice system.
The 7-4 ruling from the full bench of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the government’s actions in the case “shameful,” but concluded that while the statute gives victims rights to jump into federal criminal proceedings, it doesn’t allow them to sue when no such case was ever filed.
“The en banc decision leaves the Government free to negotiate secret, pre-indictment non-prosecution agreements without informing crime victims,” attorneys Paul Cassell, Brad Edwards and Jay Howell wrote in the high court filing.
Wild’s lawyers argue that unless the justices step in, the government will be free to sideline victims as it reaches similar nonprosecution agreements — or NPAs — with targets of sensitive investigations.
“Given that the underlying legal issue involves a practice that the Government intends to keep secret, this Court may well face a now-or-never opportunity consider the question presented,” Wild’s attorneys wrote. “It was only due to unusual circumstances that Jeffrey Epstein’s NPA was revealed to the victims — and the public. In future cases, there is no guarantee that the Government will disclose its clandestine NPAs, much less disclose them in a way that would permit the kind of district and appellate court challenges that occurred here.”
In addition to the legal issue, Wild’s petition is a test of whether the justices are interested or willing to dive into the tortuous and sordid Epstein saga.
Epstein, a wealthy investment manager who had homes in Florida and Paris and who owned a small island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, allegedly sexually abused more than 30 teenage girls over a period that spanned more than a decade. Some of the girls were allegedly recruited by Epstein accomplices who trolled high school parking lots for teenagers looking for quick cash in exchange for performing “massages” on an older man.
Epstein came under scrutiny by federal and state prosecutors in the mid-2000s, with the feds eventually preparing a 53-page draft sex-trafficking indictment against him in 2007. However, Epstein’s high-wattage legal team — which included such legal luminaries as Kenneth Starr and Alan Dershowitz — managed to cut a deal in which federal prosecutors agreed to forgo any charges in exchange for Epstein’s pleading guilty to the two state felonies. Alleged victims were left in the dark or actively misled by federal prosecutors as the negotiations progressed. Epstein served only about 13 months in jail, enjoying daytime release and other lax conditions.
Shortly after the fact of a federal deal with Epstein’s lawyers became public in 2008, lawyers for Wild and other victims went to court to try to void the federal nonprosecution agreement. The case dragged on for more than a decade. So long, in fact, that after a series in the Miami Herald revived interest in the case, federal prosecutors in New York got a sex trafficking indictment of him there in July 2019.
Epstein was ordered held without bond and sent to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan to await trial. Authorities say he was found unresponsive in his cell there in August 2019 after he appeared to have hanged himself off a bunk bed. The 66-year-old’s death was ruled a suicide.
Following Epstein’s death, the judge handling Wild’s case said Epstein’s death mooted the case since he could never be prosecuted. Wild’s attorneys appealed but were unsuccessful in reversing the decision.
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, said they would continue their investigation into those who aided Epstein, and last July they announced an indictment of Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend, on sex-trafficking charges. She was also ordered held without bond and is set for trial in Manhattan in November.
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