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Florida governor orders criminal investigation of Jeffrey Epstein's 2008 plea deal

Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a probe into the deal that spared Epstein serious jail time and would eventually cost Alex Acosta his job as labor secretary.
U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein looks on near Judge Richard Berman during a bail hearing in his sex trafficking case in New York on July 18, 2019.
Jeffrey Epstein during a bail hearing in his sex trafficking case in New York on July 18.Christine Cornell file

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a state criminal investigation on Tuesday into the plea agreement that allowed Jeffrey Epstein to skirt federal prosecution for soliciting prostitution from underage girls in 2007.

The arrangement, under which Epstein was allowed to serve most of his 13-month state sentence on work release without fear of federal charges, has already cost Alex Acosta his job as U.S. labor secretary. As the U.S. attorney in Miami at the time, Acosta signed off on the non-prosecution deal, which went into effect in 2008.

Acosta's office reached the deal to halt the federal sex abuse investigation involving dozens of teenage girls in return for Epstein pleading guilty to lower state charges involving a single victim.

The deal has been widely denounced both for its leniency and for its secrecy, as Epstein's accusers were not informed of the agreement until after it had been struck.

Epstein, 66, a multimillionaire financier with high-profile friends, was arrested in early July on federal charges of sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. Federal prosecutors were able to bring the new charges because they address crimes not covered by the 2007 agreement, alleged to have been committed outside the Miami area.

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges and remains held without bail. He is separately being sued by a woman who told NBC News last month that Epstein raped her when she 15 years old.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw ordered an investigation last month into the county's actions at the time, but on Tuesday, he asked DeSantis to transfer oversight of the probe to the Florida Division of Law Enforcement "given the recent questions that have been raised."

The request from Bradshaw, who was sheriff at the time of the secret agreement, came after more than 4,000 people signed a state lawmaker's petition demanding a state investigation.

DeSantis agreed with the request, saying state investigators should expand the inquiry "beyond the reported concerns with Jeffrey Epstein's work release." He also transferred jurisdiction for the investigation from Palm Beach County to the state attorney for Fort Pierce.

"Floridians expect and deserve a full and fair investigation," DeSantis said in a statement.