Editor's note: Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York on July 6, 2019, and faced federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. On August 10, 2019, he died in an apparent jailhouse suicide. For more information, see The Daily Beast's reporting here.
On May 7, Joel De Fabio, a Miami criminal attorney, was appointed to represent Johnny Saintil, a Haitian American accused of three counts of child sex trafficking. In addition to Saintil, who was also known as “J1,” four other men were arrested and charged: Michael Defrand aka “Fats” or “Fatboy”; Stanley Wilson aka “Bird”; Maritza Rodriguez aka “Sunshine” or “Ritz,” and Latanya Ned.
Rodriguez has pleaded guilty and Ned is expected to plead guilty this Friday in Fort Lauderdale on child-trafficking charges. But the three others—Saintil, Defrand and Wilson—remain in federal custody at the Broward County Jail in Florida, facing possible life imprisonment.
The case of Saintil, a man of limited means with no political influence, is instructive in light of another case.
The Saintil case smacks of discrimination and biased justice in comparison to Epstein’s sweet deal.
On October 29, 2007, Florida’s attorney general signed a plea deal with Jeffrey E. Epstein, a wealthy New York hedge-fund manager. Epstein had been arrested in Palm Beach, but after a two-year FBI probe his high-powered lawyers were able to negotiate an agreement that allowed him to plead guilty to only two counts of solicitation of prostitution with a minor, rather than all five counts of child sex-trafficking charges stipulated in the final Non Prosecution Agreement.
The “work release” sentence allowed him a private cell on a VIP floor, away from the other inmates, due to “security reasons.” Epstein was also able to leave the county jail at 6 a.m. every morning and return every night by 10 p.m.
After 13 months, Epstein was released, without having to submit to wearing an electronic monitor; all told, the mogul served 18 months of “community control.”
And today, he is free to roam the 100 acres of Little St. John, his private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
So what does Epstein have to do with Saintil case?
As De Fabio argues it, this is a case about selective prosecution, or, in other words, equal justice under the law. In a motion to dismiss the indictment, De Fabio argues that Epstein’s Non Prosecution Agreement allowed him to avoid all federal charges of child trafficking and simply serve a mild sentence by pleading guilty to the lesser charges of solicitation of prostitution with a minor, and that his client—Saintil—should be offered a similar deal. Other similar motions are said to be in the works on behalf of other defendants.
“In my over 40 years of being involved in the criminal-justice business, I have never seen such an agreement [as the one] negotiated by the U.S. government,” said Hugo Rodriguez, a Miami-based criminal-defense attorney and a retired FBI agent. “It’s obvious, this is a case of selective prosecution.” Lawyers in Florida are watching the decision on the case, he said, “for guidance, and how they’ll proceed with other cases filing a similar defense.”
Saintil is a poor Haitian American who can’t afford a private attorney, and, unlike Epstein, cannot leverage the power of influential friends. (Among Epstein’s connections are President Bill Clinton, Ghislaine Maxwell, and Gov. Bill Richardson). He is also unable to hire the kind of legal firepower that Epstein retained. (The Epstein dream team included O.J. Simpson’s criminal attorney, Alan Dershowitz, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, Marty Weinberg, Roy Black, Jack Goldberger, Gerald Lefcourt, and other high-profile attorneys.)
To De Fabio, the Saintil case smacks of discrimination and biased justice in comparison to Epstein’s sweet deal. If guilty of similar crimes, both men—regardless of race, religion, or economic status—should serve the same amount of time.
That, after all, would be equal justice under the law.
Conchita Sarnoff has developed multimedia communication programs for Fortune 500 companies and has produced three current events debate television programs, The Americas Forum, From Beirut to Kabul, and a segment for The Oppenheimer Report. She is writing a book about child trafficking in America.