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Florida authorities: No evidence of criminal activity in state's handling of Jeffrey Epstein investigation

Epstein’s victims have questioned his 2008 plea deal, which let him plead guilty to state instead of federal charges and spend 12 hours a day outside jail.
Image: Jeffrey Epstein appears in court in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2008.
Jeffrey Epstein appears in court in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2008.Uma Sanghvi / Palm Beach Post via Reuters file

Florida authorities have found no evidence of criminal activity in the state's handling of its investigation of late financier Jeffrey Epstein, according to a series of summaries released Monday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Epstein, who died by suicide in 2019 after his arrest by federal authorities for alleged sex trafficking, had made a controversial plea deal with state prosecutors in 2008. After an undercover investigation of his alleged wrongdoing with underage girls that started in 2005, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to a state charge and spend much of his 13-month incarceration on "work release."

The findings released Monday are the results of preliminary inquiries by the FDLE's Office of Executive Investigations. Investigators examined issues such as Epstein's 2008 plea agreement, his time in custody of the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office and allegations that Epstein engaged in sexual activity with young women during work release.

“No evidence” of criminal activity by authorities was found with regard to the investigation, prosecution or punishment, the reports concluded, though the inquiries found that Epstein was given “differential treatment” while in PBSO custody. The inquiries also said it was "possible" that Epstein had engaged in sex with young women while on work release but that no evidence was found that would warrant a criminal investigation.

Epstein’s victims and critics have questioned his so-called “sweetheart deal,” which included a federal non-prosecution agreement that allowed him to plead guilty to state charges and a work-release provision that let him spend as much 12 hours a day, six days a week outside of jail.

“That wasn’t real jail, that was like make-believe jail,” Chauntae Davies, who says she was abused by Epstein, told NBC News in a 2019 interview. “It’s the jail I want to go to if I ever go to jail.”

“No evidence was developed to indicate that undue influence by Epstein or his defense counsel contributed to either the PBPD’s (Palm Beach Police Department) or the SAO’s (State Attorney’s Office) assessments of their proposed charges against Epstein,” one of the summaries read.

Investigators also looked at concerns that Epstein work-release should have required a court order and concluded that he was eligible without one as long as he met the qualifications under the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. The report also states that FDLE found “no evidence” that former Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer “colluded with Epstein’s defense counsel in order to provide Epstein any benefit related to work-release or jail placement.”

Back in August 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis requested that FDLE take over a criminal investigation of Epstein and make “a preliminary inquiry into ... irregularities surrounding the prior state investigation and the ultimate plea agreement.”

The decision came after Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw asked to transfer oversight of his office's criminal investigation to FDLE and pledged his office’s cooperation.

“I believe the public interest would be best served by an FDLE-led investigation examining every aspect of the Epstein case, from court sentencing to incarceration,” Bradshaw wrote in a letter to DeSantis’ office.

The inquiries do not evaluate the performance of federal authorities. The FBI began its own investigation of Epstein in 2006, resulting in an indictment the next year. Alex Acosta, who was then U.S. Attorney for Southern Florida, signed the federal nonprosecution deal with Epstein in 2008. The Justice Department said in 2020 that former federal prosecutors had shown "poor judgment" but had not broken the law in making the deal.