In 2008, in a courthouse in Palm Beach, Florida, Jeffrey Epstein pled guilty to two counts of sexual solicitation and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Epstein, who would later be accused of sexually assaulting dozens of underage girls, had been under federal investigation for years on suspicions he had been bringing girls into his home to massage him and perform sex acts. The woman leading the investigation was federal prosecutor Anna Marie Villafaña; after the sentence was handed down, she reportedly wrote to a colleague, “After all the hell they put me through, I don’t feel like celebrating 18 months. He should be spending 18 years in jail.”
According to the Miami Herald, this statement was part of a 350-page report issued after the Justice Department inquired into whether or not there was misconduct on the part of Alex Acosta, the U.S Attorney at the time who was also Villafaña’s superior on the case.
The full report, 350 pages long, finds no official misconduct by the Justice Department or then-U.S. Attorney Acosta, but merely myriad examples of poor judgment, both in the way Acosta allowed the case to be disposed of and the way victims were misled to believe it was still under serious investigation. And it describes how the determined efforts of Villafaña were thwarted by an all-star cast of prominent defense lawyers, the county sheriff who granted Epstein work release, and, in Villafaña’s view, her own less-than-supportive superiors, Acosta among them.
Throughout the report, Villafaña speaks in detail about the way her colleagues undermined her authority and how Epstein’s defense team went above her head completely. Epstein ended up spending just 13 months in the Palm Beach County Stockade, with a 12-hour work release during the week—which is Villafaña referred to as a “material breach” of the non-prosecution agreement to which Epstein and his lawyers had agreed. When she expressed her concern over the work release to one of Epstein’s lawyers, the man forwarded his response to her superior, adding that Villafaña “is very concerned about anything that Epstein does.”
The year before Epstein’s guilty plea, Villafaña sent a prosecution memo to Acosta, first assistant US attorney Jeffrey Sloman, and another prosecutor Matthew Menchel, that proposed a 60-count indictment. “Weeks later the Justice Department division that combats child exploitation reviewed her materials, offered to work with her, and called the memo ‘exhaustive’ and ‘well done,’ the Herald reports.
But despite her efforts, Menchel went around Villafaña and spoke to one of Epstein’s defense attorneys, Lilly Sanchez, about resolving the matter with “a plea deal in the parallel state case.” What was unknown at the time to Acosta and Villafaña was that Menchel and Sanchez had previously dated. Villafaña wrote to Menchel in an email, “[I]t is inappropriate for you to enter into plea negotiations without consulting with me or the investigative agencies, and it is more inappropriate to make a plea offer that you know is completely unacceptable to the FBI, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], the victims and me.” Not one to be told what to do by a woman, Menchel tone policed Villafaña in his response, writing in part, “Both the tone and substance of your email are totally inappropriate.” He then proceeded to make Villafaña’s job more difficult, writing in response to her request for a meeting with Acosta and Sloman:
If the U.S. Attorney [Acosta] or the First Assistant [Sloman] desire to meet with you, they will let you know. Nor will I direct Epstein’s lawyers to communicate only with you. If you want to work major cases in the district you must understand and accept the fact that there is a chain of command — something you disregard with great regularity.
As you well knew, you were never given authorization by anyone to seek an indictment in this case.”
After the release of the prosecution memo, Villafaña discovered that Epstein would be returning from the Virgin Islands and wanted to file charges the day after his return to New Jersey. Menchel gave her a polite no saying, Acosta wanted to “take his time making sure he is comfortable before proceeding.” In the report, Villafaña chalked up Acosta’s reluctance to act to his intimidation by Epstein’s defense team, whom she believed he admired as big names in the legal world. At the time Epstein was being represented by Alan Dershowitz and former Solicitor General Kenneth Star, as well as Lilly Sanchez.
The federal prosecution would never come to pass. Instead, Acosta, who feared the case could be lost if it went to trial, decided on a non-prosecution agreement that would see Epstein plead guilty to minor charges in state court. Part of the agreement required that Epstein register as a sex offender with the state after he’d served his time. Villafaña told internal investigators that she was not consulted on this decision.