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Epstein Teen Sex Case Documents May Be Opened by Court

March 6, 2019, 11:26 PM

A federal appeals court March 6 signaled it may move to unseal documents that could shed new light on the teen sex trafficking case against Miami hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s role in Epstein’s controversial plea deal.

The documents were filed in a Manhattan federal defamation lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s alleged victims, against British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Giuffre alleges Maxwell and Epstein recruited her into a forced sex ring at Epstein’s home in Florida when Giuffre was a minor. She sued Maxwell for defamation after Maxwell accused Giuffre of lying. The case was eventually settled, but the Miami Herald intervened to ask the court to unseal a wide range of deposition testimony and other documents related to the claims.

A three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit seemed to favor lawyers’ request that it order a district court judge to go through some 167 sealed documents to decide whether all or parts of the documents should be made publicly available. That includes deposition testimony, motions, exhibits, and court decisions in the defamation case, which turned on whether Giuffre’s allegations are true.

“The presumption has to be of openness, that the material should be made available to the public,” Judge Jose Cabranes said at a hearing March 6.

Acosta has been under fire since a November Herald report detailed the accusations against Epstein. The former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida helped hatch a plea deal that allowed the well-connected hedge fund mogul to avoid conviction on the most serious charges. Epstein eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of soliciting a prostitute and served 13 months in a state prison.

The documents could offer new insight into the allegations against Epstein by unsealing the documents, including what Acosta and other prosecutors knew when they agreed to the plea deal. Those prosecutors have repeatedly said they got the best result possible in what was a difficult case involving some victims who didn’t want to cooperate and federal charges that required proof of movement across state lines.

A handful of Democrats in Congress and some progressive groups have been calling for Acosta to resign since a federal judge in Miami ruled Feb. 21 that prosecutors broke the law by not telling some of Epstein’s alleged victims about the deal until it was done. The Justice Department last month announced it was launching a probe into the situation. Epstein’s accusers are expected Friday to ask the Miami judge to tear up Epstein’s plea deal.

Acosta has said through a DOL spokeswoman that he welcomes the new investigation and stands by his work as a federal prosecutor. The spokeswoman said the Justice Department has backed Acosta’s actions through three administrations.

White House Support

The White House is so far standing by Acosta, who President Donald Trump nominated to run the Labor Department in 2017. Trump’s first pick—fast food executive Andy Puzder—bowed out in the face of decades-old domestic abuse allegations that his ex-wife later recanted.

Acosta made the “best possible decision and deal” in a “very complicated case,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Feb. 22. Trump later the same day called Acosta “a fantastic labor secretary.”

The former National Labor Relations Board member and law school dean dodged something of a bullet last week, when the world’s largest worker organization decided not to call for him to step down. AFL-CIO leaders want to let the court battles and investigations play out. They’re concerned that Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella, a Republican operative who cut his teeth working with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, likely would take a more aggressive anti-union stance if he were to replace Acosta.

Marie Villafana, who worked as a federal prosecutor under Acosta on the Epstein case, told a federal court in 2017 that one alleged victim who initially declined to speak with investigators was represented by a lawyer whose fees were paid by Epstein. The same alleged victim later told investigators that Epstein never had sexual contact with her, according to Villafana. She also said other alleged victims declined to participate in the prosecution’s case.

Epstein’s all-star legal defense team included Harvard University professor Alan Dershowitz, former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and famed criminal defense attorney Roy Black. Jay Lefkowitz, who previously worked with Acosta at Kirkland and Ellis, also was part of the team.

Dershowitz Allegations

A lawyer for Dershowitz also asked the federal appeals court to open the record in the Giuffre case. He says the documents will clearly show that Giuffre and another Epstein accuser lied when they claimed Epstein directed them to have sex with the Harvard professor as part of the trafficking operation.

“His reputation has been besmirched,” Andrew Celli, who represented Dershowitz at the hearing, said of the accusations. “He has been relentlessly pilloried in the public discourse.”

Celli and Dershowitz—who spoke to reporters after the hearing—say the sealed documents include emails in which a book publisher discussing a possible deal with Giuffre urged her to make the accusations against Dershowitz, despite acknowledging that they weren’t true. Dershowitz said he wants the federal government to investigate Giuffre for perjury.

“I will not be satisfied until Virginia Giuffre goes to prison for deliberate, willful perjury,” Dershowitz said. “That’s where she belongs.”

Paul Cassell, Giuffre’s lawyer, told the court he also wants the record made public.

The documents will show that “Epstein and Maxwell were trafficking my client to powerful friends, including Mr. Dershowitz,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bloomberglaw.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com