EDITORIAL: Justice, finally, for Epstein's victims

York Dispatch Editorial Board
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a news conference, in New York, Monday, July 8, 2019. Federal prosecutors announced sex trafficking and conspiracy charges against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. Court documents unsealed Monday show Epstein is charged with creating and maintaining a network that allowed him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Justice has long been delayed — and, in many ways, denied — for the unknown number of victims of billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who was arrested again this month on new sex-crimes charges.

But with the unsealing of an indictment in New York July 8 that accuses the well-connected former hedge-fund manager of abusing dozens of underage girls, sex trafficking and conspiracy, justice may finally be brought to bear.

It’s about time.

Epstein, 66, faced similar charges a decade ago, accused of having sex with dozens of teenage girls in Florida. He escaped federal prosecution, however, thanks to a shockingly lenient plea deal overseen by federal prosecutor-turned-Trump Cabinet member Alexander Acosta.

As the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, Acosta allowed Epstein to plead to a pair of state-level prostitution charges. Instead of the decades in prison he would have faced had he been found guilty of federal charges, Epstein spent just 13 months in jail — with six-day-a-week work release.

The deal not only pulled the plug on an ongoing FBI investigation, it granted immunity from federal charges to Epstein and — oddly, suspiciously — any “potential co-conspirators.”

More:Trump says Labor Secretary Acosta stepping down

More:Wealthy financier charged with molesting dozens of girls

Perhaps worse, victims in the case were not notified of the deal — as was legally required.

None of this prevented every member of the Senate’s Republican majority — and five Democratic senators — from green-lighting Acosta in 2017 as President Trump’s secretary of labor, where he remains today.

In light of the new charges against Epstein, Acosta is unfit for the Cabinet, and it was completely appropriate that he resign, as he did Friday. 

Those new charges, it should be noted, owe much to a monumental investigation by the Miami Herald. The paper last November revisited the 2008 case, unearthing many new details and detailing the painful experiences of minors — some as young as 13 — that Epstein was accused of luring, molesting and paying to recruit other underage girls.

Epstein appears not to have sought the help he clearly needs. Investigators say they found “hundreds if not thousands” of images of unclothed minors in Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse — criminal in and of itself.

This sordid case has implications for the Trump administration beyond Acosta’s departure. Epstein has counted President Donald Trump as among his longtime friends.

“I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Trump told New York Magazine back in 2002. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

The skin crawls. And one wonders anew about Trump’s support of an accused child molester in a 2017 special election for Alabama governor.

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton — weighed down by his own history of suspect sexual encounters — is likewise known to have consorted with Epstein, including joining him for international flights on his private jet.

Epstein now must face the full weight of prosecution.

Because if the arrest (and, should he be proven guilty, conviction) of a politically connected billionaire proves anything, it is that no one in this nation — no matter how rich or powerful they or their friends are — should be above the law.