To our Readers: We are publishing the better part of an article from the Miami Herald, with links back to that article. We did not published the interactives or the videos. We suggest you go to the original article and read it in its entirety.
Jeffrey Epstein’s story is utterly horrifying. The number of children involved is tragic; and the magnitude of his sexual operations both maddening and sobering. We thank the author for her precision and detail.
A decade before #MeToo, a multimillionaire sex offender from Florida got the ultimate break.
On a muggy October morning in 2007, Miami’s top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, had a breakfast appointment with a former colleague, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Lefkowitz.
It was an unusual meeting for the then-38-year-old prosecutor, a rising Republican star who had served in several White House posts before being named U.S. attorney in Miami by President George W. Bush.
Instead of meeting at the prosecutor’s Miami headquarters, the two men — both with professional roots in the prestigious Washington law firm of Kirkland & Ellis — convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away. For Lefkowitz, 44, a U.S. special envoy to North Korea and corporate lawyer, the meeting was critical.
His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found.
At this home on El Brillo Way in Palm Beach, young girls, recruited by other young girls, would arrive by car or taxi, be greeted in the kitchen by a member of Jeffrey Epstein’s staff and ascend a staircase. They were met by Epstein, clad in a towel.
Emily Michot email@example.com
Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.
But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved.
Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.
The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.
As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it.
This is the story of how Epstein, bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system, and how his accusers, still traumatized by their pasts, believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them.
“I don’t think anyone has been told the truth about what Jeffrey Epstein did,’’ said one of Epstein’s victims, Michelle Licata, now 30. “He ruined my life and a lot of girls’ lives. People need to know what he did and why he wasn’t prosecuted so it never happens again.”
Now President Trump’s secretary of labor, Acosta, 49, oversees a massive federal agency that provides oversight of the country’s labor laws, including human trafficking. He also has been on a list of possible replacements for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned under pressure earlier this month.
Acosta did not respond to numerous requests for an interview or answer queries through email.
But court records reveal details of the negotiations and the role that Acosta would play in arranging the deal, which scuttled the federal probe into a possible international sex trafficking operation. Among other things, Acosta allowed Epstein’s lawyers unusual freedoms in dictating the terms of the non-prosecution agreement.
“The damage that happened in this case is unconscionable,” said Bradley Edwards, a former state prosecutor who represents some of Epstein’s victims. “How in the world, do you, the U.S. attorney, engage in a negotiation with a criminal defendant, basically allowing that criminal defendant to write up the agreement?”
As a result, neither the victims — nor even the judge — would know how many girls Epstein allegedly sexually abused between 2001 and 2005, when his underage sex activities were first uncovered by police. Police referred the case to the FBI a year later, when they began to suspect that their investigation was being undermined by the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office.
NOT A ‘HE SAID, SHE SAID’
“This was not a ‘he said, she said’ situation. This was 50-something ‘shes’ and one ‘he’ — and the ‘shes’ all basically told the same story,’’ said retired Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter, who supervised the police probe.
More than a decade later, at a time when Olympic gymnasts and Hollywood actresses have become a catalyst for a cultural reckoning about sexual abuse, Epstein’s victims have all but been forgotten.
The women — now in their late 20s and early 30s — are still fighting for an elusive justice that even the passage of time has not made right.
Like other victims of sexual abuse, they believe they’ve been silenced by a criminal justice system that stubbornly fails to hold Epstein and other wealthy and powerful men accountable.
“Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless. He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right,’’ said Courtney Wild, who was 14 when she met Epstein.
Over the past year, the Miami Herald examined a decade’s worth of court documents, lawsuits, witness depositions and newly released FBI documents. Key people involved in the investigation — most of whom have never spoken before — were also interviewed. The Herald also obtained new records, including the full unredacted copy of the Palm Beach police investigation and witness statements that had been kept under seal.
The Herald learned that, as part of the plea deal, Epstein provided what the government called “valuable consideration” for unspecified information he supplied to federal investigators. While the documents obtained by the Herald don’t detail what the information was, Epstein’s sex crime case happened just as the country’s subprime mortgage market collapsed, ushering in the 2008 global financial crisis.
Records show that Epstein was a key federal witness in the criminal prosecution of two prominent executives with Bear Stearns, the global investment brokerage that failed in 2008, who were accused of corporate securities fraud. Epstein was one of the largest investors in the hedge fund managed by the executives, who were later acquitted. It is not known what role, if any, the case played in Epstein’s plea negotiations.
The Herald also identified about 80 women who say they were molested or otherwise sexually abused by Epstein from 2001 to 2006. About 60 of them were located — now scattered around the country and abroad. Eight of them agreed to be interviewed, on or off the record. Four of them were willing to speak on video.
The women are now mothers, wives, nurses, bartenders, Realtors, hairdressers and teachers. One is a Hollywood actress. Several have grappled with trauma, depression and addiction. Some have served time in prison.
A few did not survive. One young woman was found dead last year in a rundown motel in West Palm Beach. She overdosed on heroin and left behind a young son.
Most tenants of a drab, four-story building in Park Slope, Brooklyn, knew about the brothel in their building. Strange men buzzed their apartments at all hours, looking nervous as they headed toward the same two apartments where many residents believed sex was being sold.
Calling the landlord was useless, several tenants said.
“I thought it was strange that he didn’t seem worried about it,” one woman who lived in the building for seven years said. “It was so out in the open.”
In September, the police broke up a large prostitution ring that had been protected by seven police officers. Prosecutors said the landlord of that Park Slope building, Isaac A. Schwartz, was in on it. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of enterprise corruption and conspiracy.
Known by his nickname, “Shragie,” Mr. Schwartz not only owned four of the buildings where the ring’s prostitutes worked, but he’s also been twice included on an official list of the city’s worst landlords.
A retired detective, Ludwig Paz, was charged with being the leader of the ring, which operated brothels in several buildings in Queens and central Brooklyn, but the authorities said Mr. Schwartz also played a key role: finding locations for Mr. Paz.
In New York, gentrification has pushed prostitution indoors. Street walkers have all but disappeared. Prostitutes now advertise online, sex dates are arranged over the phone and brothels operate inside apartments in residential neighborhoods.
As a result, landlords play an important role in the sex trade. By enlisting Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Paz avoided having a landlord report his activities to the police, law enforcement officials said.
Efforts to rid the city of illegal sex have previously implicated prominent landlords, but the police have had a difficult time proving the extent of an owner’s knowledge and involvement.
David M. Hoovler, a former federal prosecutor who is the district attorney in Orange County, N.Y., said the rise of human trafficking in the United States has resulted in an increasing number of landlords willing to participate in illegal activities.
But it’s difficult to prove anything against them in court.
“You have to have evidence that links them to the actual criminal enterprise,” Mr. Hoovler said. “They actually have to have the intent to participate in it. They have to derive a profit from it.”
[A former vice detective is at the center of one of the New York Police Department’s worst scandals in recent years]
Inspector James P. Klein, the commanding officer of the vice enforcement division, where Mr. Paz worked until 2010 and where he was working when he started his secret enterprise, said the police rely heavily on undercover operations and the city’s nuisance-abatement law to shut down brothels.
But landlords are rarely charged with a crime, he said, because the police often don’t have enough evidence to show they are complicit, which results in a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole: The police shut down brothels and massage parlors, only to see another open in the same place or nearby.
Mr. Schwartz declined to comment on what role, if any, he had in Mr. Paz’s business. Mr. Schwartz’s lawyer, Gedalia Stern, also declined to comment, as did several of Mr. Schwartz’s relatives and colleagues.
The police said it remained unclear how Mr. Schwartz, who is 44 and lives with his wife in Midwood, Brooklyn, partnered with Mr. Paz.
But one law-enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss an open case, said that Mr. Schwartz spent several years “actively assisting” Mr. Paz and knew “exactly what kind of business was being conducted” in his buildings.
The former tenant in the Park Slope building, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared retaliation by her previous landlord or his associates, said Mr. Schwartz’s response when she asked him why he tolerated having the sex trade in his building was, “They pay me good money.”
A business built on renovating ‘dumpsters’ and housing the homeless
In one of his appearances in housing court, Mr. Schwartz said that his business was built on buying buildings in distress — or what he called “dumpsters” — and turning them “into something.” His strategy depended on receiving city money to house the homeless.
“So mainly all of my real estate is put together from shelters,” he testified in 2016.
On numerous occasions, the city paid Mr. Schwartz to house the homeless in some of his buildings, court records show, including one at 880 Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where the authorities said a brothel operated.
But the brothel buildings comprised only a fraction of Mr. Schwartz’s larger portfolio. Through a network of shell companies, he owns at least 48 properties worth more than a combined $87 million, city records show. The companies all can be tied back to an entity called Pacific Management, which Mr. Schwartz still runs, with a partner, Mendy Lowy, from a cramped and cluttered office on Coney Island Avenue above a Pakistani bakery. (Ms. Lowy did not respond to several phone calls seeking comment.)
Mr. Schwartz has twice ended up on the Public Advocate for the City of New York’s list of the worst landlords. Eight of Mr. Schwartz’s buildings were on the city’s watch list last year, racking up more than 500 violations for problems such as water leaks, bulging walls and inadequate light and ventilation, officials said. Court records show that Mr. Schwartz and his companies have been sent to housing court more than 150 times recently.
One of those proceedings involved Sven Britt, a musician who four years ago moved into an apartment in a high-rise at 2007 Foster Avenue that Mr. Schwartz purchased a decade ago, property records show.
Within a few months, a gas leak in the unit prompted National Grid to shut off the gas, Mr. Britt said. Then came a bedbug infestation. After that, Mr. Britt said, came a series of ceiling collapses so severe that he could see “daylight through the roof.”
But Mr. Britt noticed what appeared to be an even bigger problem: a brothel in the building.
Landlords are seldom charged
Law enforcement officials said it can be difficult and expensive to investigate landlords like Mr. Schwartz who are suspected of profiting from prostitution, in part, because it is largely a cash business.
Mr. Hoovler, the Orange County district attorney, said his office spent months investigating a hotel chain in New Windsor, N.Y., after its managers agreed to give discounted room rates to an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. Investigators pored over hotel and banking records and conducted wiretaps to confirm the hotel managers knew about the prostitution.
“We were able to show not only links to money, but we were also able to show the links between the people,” said Mr. Hoovler. Eventually, two company officers pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of permitting prostitution, and the corporation pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution and paid a $1,000 fine.
The authorities in New York City followed a different strategy in the 1970s during a campaign to push pornography and prostitution out of Midtown Manhattan. Rather than seeking indictments, the city went after landlords through their mortgages, taking advantage of standard clauses that allowed banks to foreclose on properties where illicit activity was taking place, said Sidney Baumgarten, a lawyer appointed by Mayor Abraham Beame during that era to lead the Midtown Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee.
The city identified more than 450 illicit establishments between 59th Street and The Battery at Manhattan’s tip, Mr. Baumgarten said. The businesses were popular with landlords because they commanded higher rents and rampant official corruption during that time made them difficult to snuff out.
“You had a lot of people who were interested in keeping things going on this way,” Mr. Baumgarten said. “I tend to think that a lot of it is still going on.”
A paramedic who pays bail for kidnappers
Little in Mr. Schwartz’s history indicated he would eventually be accused of being involved in prostitution. At Mr. Britt’s housing court trial, Mr. Schwartz described himself as the hard-working son of a bakery owner from upstate New York.
He also said he had helped run a contracting firm, Powerful Electric, with his brother-in-law before he started in real estate. Powerful Electric, based in Brooklyn, is still owned by the brother-in-law, Shalom Seelfreund. He declined to be interviewed.
Mr. Schwartz had another side job too — as a good Samaritan. He joined the East Midwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps in 2006, and served three years as an emergency medical technician. The president of the corps, Yakov Hornitzer, said Mr. Schwartz stood out as a dedicated worker who took many shifts and attended classes to enhance his knowledge of medicine. Three years later, Mr. Schwartz took the test to become a full-fledged paramedic and joined the Hatzolah ambulance service in Carnarsie.
A few years after that, he was tied to a bizarre kidnapping ring in New Jersey. He and his real estate partner, Ms. Lowy, signed two $1 million bonds securing the release of a pair of Orthodox Jewish men — one of them a rabbi — whom federal prosecutors charged with abduction and assault.
For hefty fees, the government said, the defendants would snatch reluctant husbands from the streets, would tie them up and beat them and sometimes shock them with Tasers until they agreed to divorce their wives.
Lawyers for the men, who are now in prison, said they did not know how Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Lowy knew their clients.
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It is no secret that Senator John Flanagan (NY-R) has done everything to support the education agenda (anti-education agenda) of the ultra-Orthodox and to assist them (and the Catholic Church) in covering up the sexual abuses of children by preventing the passage of legislation that would extend the reporting period for children sexually abused before the age of 18. Since 2008 efforts have been made to extend the Statute of Limitations for filing a claim of sexual abuse; and Flanagan has spearheaded efforts to stymie the passage of that legislation. What we find remarkable (and worthy of note on this site in light of the Baltimore sexual abuse scandal) is his current effort to address human trafficking, (little discussed in New York), a subject that provides him the cloak of someone who cares about this issue without alienating the block that supports him.
FROM THE SENATE WEBSITE OF JOHN J. FLANAGAN
Child sex abuse survivor who worked with the state Senate GOP now says it will take a Dem majority to pass Child Victims Act
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
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A haven for paedophiles: The ultra-Orthodox settlement where Malka Leifer hides
Emmanuel: Atop the shadow-cast hills at the northern end of the West Bank, in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlement of Emmanuel, abusers of children have found a safe haven.
Malka Leifer, the former Melbourne school principal and accused child molester, came to live here in 2016 after an Israeli judge found she was mentally unfit to face extradition to Australia.
And here, even though she is wanted by Victoria Police on 74 counts of alleged sexual assault and rape involving girls, one resident claims Leifer was able to continue abusing children, including his own teenage daughter, without consequence.
She was not the only alleged abuser who took refuge among the ultra-religious in Emmanuel. Another sex offender, Yehiel Shinin, came to live here after being released from jail, too frightened to return to his old neighbourhood.
“He claimed he came here [he wanted] to forget his past and start a new life,” an Emmanuel source said on condition of anonymity.
“But it is never like that.
“When you come to this kind of town and see that there is no law and you can do whatever you want, he started molesting kids here again because it was easy for him.
“It’s easy to do such things in Emmanuel.”
The wild, wild West Bank
This strictly religious, poverty-stricken settlement is one of eight ultra-Orthodox settlements that lie outside the “Green Line” – Israel’s pre-1967 border with the Palestinian territories.
These settlements are turning the perception of radical Zionist settlers on its head. Most residents are anti-establishment and anti-Zionist, believing only in the authority of the Rabbinate and rejecting the institutions of the state.
“It’s the combination of being in a settlement and being religious. It’s the wild wild West Bank, where law is a recommendation,” says Oze Rozenberg, an investigative journalist familiar with the town since its inception in the 1980s.
“Everything we think we know – it’s barely scratching the surface.”
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