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Citing 'black eye' on justice, DeSantis signs bill to unseal secret Jeffrey Epstein files

Julie K. Brown, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

More than two decades after Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused dozens of girls in Palm Beach, Florida, his victims may finally learn how and why the state prosecutor’s handling of the case allowed Epstein to escape a prison term more in line with the serious crimes he committed.

On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that permits the unsealing of the long-secret evidence and testimony presented to a 2006 Palm Beach grand jury, leading the panel to return an indictment against Epstein on only minor prostitution charges.

At the time, Palm Beach police had interviewed at least six girls who claimed Epstein had sexually assaulted them as part of a massive scheme in which they were also pressured to recruit more girls for him to abuse over many years.

The signing of the bill could pave the way for the public to evaluate whether former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer conducted a thorough prosecution of Epstein.

DeSantis noted that the Epstein case — and the plea deal the financier struck with state and later, federal prosecutors — has long been a “black eye” on the nation’s criminal justice system.

“They say justice delayed is justice denied, and this whole situation proves that to be true,” the governor said at a press conference at the Palm Beach County Police Department.

But as the governor signed the bill — with several Epstein survivors at his side — a Palm Beach County judge denied a pending court petition calling for the records to be unsealed. Judge Luis Delgado, who reviewed the grand jury records, proclaiming that making the files public “will not further justice.” However, it was clear his ruling was timed to coincide with the new bill, as he noted that the provisions under the new law could give the court more leeway because of the intense public interest in the case.

Under the new law, the records will not be made public until at least July 1.

“The legislature and I agreed that there needs to be a mechanism in some of these rare circumstances where people can get the truth and where we can try to pursue justice,” DeSantis said.

He added there are still many questions surrounding the case yet to be answered, even though Epstein is now dead and his accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, is serving a long prison sentence.

“We are now sitting here decades later, you have Epstein — and Maxwell, who is actually in prison in Florida — and yet nothing else has ever happened. How is that possible given the magnitude of what was going on?”

Epstein’s crimes were first reported to the FBI in 1996 — but it wasn’t until a complaint was filed with the Palm Beach Police Department in 2005 that Epstein came under scrutiny. Krischer, who had a reputation for aggressively prosecuting crimes against children, initially said he didn’t know who Epstein was, and told police he would put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Palm Beach detectives took statements from victims, many of them terrified of Epstein, who told them basically the same story: They were offered money to give a wealthy man “massages” — massages that turned into assaults — at his Palm Beach mansion.

Epstein hired a team of influential lawyers, among them Alan Dershowitz, Kenneth Starr and Roy Black. According to police, Epstein also hired private investigators who stalked his victims and their families. Soon, Krischer began questioning whether Epstein should be charged with any crimes.


In 2018, the Palm Beach Police detective who investigated the case told the Miami Herald that state prosecutors began worrying about the credibility of Epstein’s victims and what they called “conflicting accounts” of what happened. Most troubling to police, however, was prosecutors’ labeling the victims as prostitutes, even though some of them were as young as 13.

Detective Joe Recarey, who testified before the 2006 grand jury, said the prosecutors repeatedly postponed the grand jury, then rescheduled at the last minute. By this time, some of the young women had moved away or were in college. The rescheduling would force victims to travel long distances and miss classes on short notice, Recarey said.

Behind the scenes, prosecutors were unsuccessfully trying to get Epstein to plea to lesser charges. When that failed, Krischer took the unusual step of empaneling a grand jury, a move reserved for homicide cases.

Recarey and his police chief, Michael Reiter, were so troubled by what they saw as the state attorney minimizing Epstein’s crimes that they took the case to the FBI in 2007.

“Grand juries nearly always do what prosecutors want them to do. The grand jury was used to stifle the Palm Beach Police Department’s investigation and quiet our efforts at prosecuting Epstein,” said Reiter, now retired.

“We know the charge against Epstein that it produced, but what we do not know is why. Was it a purposeful sabotaging of the case or did something unknown occur? Release of the grand jury record should answer that question.”

Recarey, who died after a short illness in 2018, had never given an on-the-record interview until the Miami Herald approached him about the case in 2017. Reiter also spoke publicly for the first time about the case as part of the Miami Herald’s “Perversion of Justice” series.

The series, which also included interviews with Epstein’s victims, detailed how Epstein and his lawyers managed to manipulate prosecutors into giving him a extraordinarily lenient deal that was kept secret from his victims and their attorneys. He then avoided being in jail for long periods of time by getting an unusual incarceration arrangement in which he spent almost all his waking hours in a luxurious office suite in downtown Palm Beach. He rarely spent time in jail, and was allowed to have young women visit him at his office.

After the Herald’s series, DeSantis asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the state prosecution’s case as well as Epstein’s unusual jail privileges. In 2021, state investigators said they found no evidence that Krischer and Assistant State Attorney Lanna Belohlavek or the Palm Beach sheriff in charge of the jail committed any wrongdoing.

However, at the time, a Palm Beach County judge refused to let state investigators review the grand jury records.

Epstein, 66, was re-arrested on sex trafficking charges in July 2019. He died in jail awaiting trial. His death was ruled a suicide by hanging. Maxwell, 62, was tried and convicted in 2021. She is serving a 20-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution for women in Tallahassee.


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