Jeffrey Epstein’s death in August, following the emergence of harrowing details of his years of abuse, pulled the rug out from under victims seeking justice and resolution. But there was still the lesser prospect of seeing his co-conspirators—including, notably, alleged “fixer” Ghislaine Maxwell—finally being held to account. Yet Epstein’s numerous associates, several of whom are accused of facilitating and participating in his abuses, have yet to face criminal charges.
This raises a simple question with a not-exactly-simple answer: Why have they continued to escape prosecution?
Partially this is because of a controversial 2007 plea deal that not only allowed Epstein to serve just 13 months in jail—with work release, which allowed him to spend his days in his Palm Beach office—but also protected any and all of his co-conspirators from prosecution. On Monday, accuser Courtney Wild filed an appeal in an attempt to change all that—a move that follows a Florida judge’s decision last month to uphold the decade-plus-old agreement. But much of the difficulty comes from the murkiness of Epstein’s circles; it’s unclear how to draw a clear line between victim and perpetrator, because in at least some cases, his associates may have been both.
As Mother Jones reported yesterday, the 2007 deal went to remarkable lengths to protect all potential co-conspirators. The agreement read, “The United States also agrees that it will not institute any criminal charges against any potential co-conspirators of Epstein, including but not limited to—” before going on to name four women who allegedly assisted Epstein in recruiting underage girls for sexual abuse. The phrase “including but not limited to” broadly, and without limit, extends the protections far beyond the named women.
Alan Dershowitz, who represented Epstein, argues that the provision was phrased so vaguely to protect the possibility of victims who had been deputized to find other victims, but lawyer Spencer Kuvin, who represented three Epstein victims at the time of the agreement, told Mother Jones, “If they wanted to exclude any girls from prosecution, the government could’ve done that.” In other words: They didn’t have to protect any and all co-conspirators in order to protect potential victims turned perpetrators.
Despite its sweeping nature, there is some disagreement over just what the plea deal proscribes. Gerald Lefcourt, a lawyer behind the 2008 agreement, has argued that the deal applies to “all federal and state criminal liability,” according to MarketWatch. However, it was entered in the southern district of Florida and specifies that it applies “in this district.” As such, it’s been argued, notably by the New York prosecutors leading the investigation against Epstein, that criminal charges are possible elsewhere.
Even still, prosecutors face other challenges: for example, proving that co-conspirators knew they were facilitating the abuse of underage girls. Some legal experts have argued that if prosecutors had strong enough cases, charges already would have been brought.
These potential victim-perpetrators—a possibility raised by Dershowitz, who is himself accused of Epstein-related sexual abuse—currently hinder federal prosecutors in New York. “Allegedly reporting to [Maxwell] and to Epstein was a coterie of assistants in their early 20s, and prosecutors are examining whether their experience with the accused predator should categorize them as an accomplice or as one of the abused, the people familiar with the matter said,” reports CNN. These are women who allegedly recruited underage victims and further facilitated their abuse, arranging transportation and payments of money. “And for some of them, court papers and other filings indicate, their work for him may have been a product of his abuse,” says CNN.
This defense is both emotionally compelling and an unsettling threat to remaining avenues for justice. It also speaks to the very foundation of Epstein’s abuse: his victims were routinely turned into accomplices via recruitment of other victims in what police have called a “sexual pyramid scheme.” One example is a woman, whom Epstein reportedly “bragged that he had ‘purchased’” as a “sex slave,” and who is also accused of facilitating and directly perpetrating sexual abuse. As the CNN report puts it, “The question of whether to prosecute someone who both suffered abuse and aided their abuser’s criminal activity is a complex one for law enforcement officials.”
In the meantime, Wild is hoping to remove that roadblock to prosecution: the 2007 plea deal. Her legal push has been accompanied by some political pressure: In August, Sen. Ben Sasse wrote in a letter to Attorney General Barr that “the Department of Justice should rip up the non-prosecution, non-investigation agreement,” specifically “in order to bring Epstein’s co-conspirators to justice.”