A Florida appeals court has opened the door to the possible release of transcripts of the grand jury’s investigation into the notorious sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein Nearly 20 years ago, that ended with prosecutors brokering a deal that critics called questionably lenient.
The Florida Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that District Judge Donald W. Hafele erred in ruling that he did not have authority to release the normally classified transcripts of the 2006 Palm Beach County trial. The court referred to a provision of state law that says grand jury records may be released if “it serves the interests of justice.”
In Wednesday’s decision, the court ordered Hafele to review the records and release those he believed would serve justice by redacting the names of victims, witnesses and those who were not criminally charged. There is a public interest in knowing whether the wealthy and politically connected Epstein, who lived in a Palm Beach mansion, received special treatment, the court ruled.
“There is a tradition in the United States, older than our nation itself, that grand jury trials should always be secret,” the appellate judges wrote, citing a 1997 decision. “However, the rule of secrecy is not without exception .”
The Palm Beach Post had sued for the transcripts, but Hafele did not believe the “promoting justice” provision applied to a party not directly involved in the Epstein case. Even then, he believed these parties would need open criminal or civil proceedings and would have limited exposure.
Palm Beach County Clerk Joseph Abruzzo was technically the defendant in the Post’s lawsuit because his office maintains the files, but he welcomed the ruling and said he would not appeal.
“I will leave no stone unturned to release these recordings to the public for complete transparency,” he said in a statement.
Epstein was 66 when he killed himself in a federal prison cell in New York City in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Federal prosecutors have accused him of paying hundreds of dollars for massages to underage girls at his homes in Florida and New York, where he then molested them.
Florida’s handling of Epstein came under scrutiny in 2018 following a series of articles in the Miami Herald. They detailed the disagreements that arose between police officers starting in 2005 after teenage girls and young women told Palm Beach police investigators that Epstein had sexually assaulted them. They had agreed to massage him semi- or fully naked for money, but said he would then molest them without their consent.
Palm Beach police, meanwhile, took their evidence to federal prosecutors, who threatened to press charges until a settlement was reached in June 2008. Epstein pleaded guilty to charging a person under the age of 18 with prostitution and criminally soliciting prostitution. He was sentenced to 18 months in Palm Beach County prison, followed by 12 months of house arrest. He had to register as a sex offender.
While in the care of the Palm Beach Sheriff, Epstein was allowed to remain in an isolated cell at the county’s minimum security camp, where he was free to move about and watch television. State investigators said in a 2021 report that it was a wise decision to isolate him. They said she was hit to protect Epstein from other inmates and prevent him from using his fortune to become “king of the dormitories.”
Epstein was also soon accepted into the county’s time off work program. During that time, he was brought to his office, where he reportedly ran his financial consulting firm and foundation. At the time of his release, he was in his office six days a week, 18 hours a day. He had to wear an ankle monitor and hire two deputies to monitor his whereabouts from the lobby, but they weren’t with him in his office.
A woman, then 17, and another woman, then an adult, said they were trafficked into Epstein’s office during that time to have sex with him for money.
Epstein’s former girlfriend, socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, is serving a 20-year sentence after she was found guilty of luring girls into his homes and abusing them in 2021.