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.
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida—A civil trial involving politically connected financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein ended before it even began Tuesday with the two sides announcing a last-minute settlement and the billionaire issuing an apology.
Epstein, 65, has been accused of molesting dozens of underage girls, but the case scheduled to start this week here wasn’t filed by the women.
Instead, their attorney, Bradley Edwards, sued Epstein for claiming victim lawsuits were part of Ponzi scheme run by a former law partner and contained false allegations that were meant to “defame” his reputation.
Three of Epstein’s accusers were expected to testify before the surprise announcement of a settlement just before jury selection was about to begin, though none were present Tuesday. The billionaire hedge-fund manager also was not at the 13-minute hearing.
“This is not a compromise,” Edwards said in a statement read by his own lawyer, Jack Scarola. “It is a surrender by Jeffrey Epstein.”
Epstein lawyer Scott Link then read out an apology statement that was part of the settlement, financial terms of which were not disclosed.
“The lawsuit I filed was my unreasonable attempt to damage his business reputation and cause Mr. Edwards to stop pursuing cases against me. It did not work,” Link read out loud on Epstein’s behalf. “Despite my efforts, he continued to do an excellent job for his clients, and through his relentless pursuit, held me responsible.”
The statement continued: “I am now admitting that I was wrong and that the things I said to try to harm Mr. Edwards’s reputation as a trial lawyer were false. I sincerely apologize for the false and hurtful allegations I made and hope for some forgiveness for my acknowledgment of wrongdoing.”
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Donald Hafele issued a blanket “thank you” to the women who planned to take the stand and answer questions about their interactions with Epstein years ago.
“To those that were here that were planning to testify and were involved in the matters with Epstein in the past, I thank you for being willing to step forward and having the courage to do so,” the judge said.
Outside the courthouse, Scarola, along with his team of four lawyers, said public attention helped bring the settlement about.
“This trial would have revealed itself as the distraction that Jeffrey Epstein wanted it to be, in reality this is about the victims,” Edwards said, standing near 70 storage boxes and three posters to show “what decades worth of legal work looks like.”
“What happened today was a win,” he added.
Edwards also thanked “good journalism” that gave many victims the confidence to reveal themselves—particularly the Miami Herald’s bombshell investigation by reporter Julie Brown.
Last week, the Herald published a series of stories about the Epstein case that included interviews with accusers who had never spoken before and the revelation that he became a government informant in exchange for a sweetheart plea deal that buried dozens of allegations of sexual abuse at his Palm Beach mansion.
The newspaper identified 80 alleged victims, though only eight agreed to be interviewed, in what is now an extraordinary tale of a #MeToo movement case that fell through the cracks.
In an exclusive interviews, the survivors detailed how Epstein solicited girls as young as 14 and 15 for nude massages, which allegedly often ended in masturbation, oral sex, or, and in at least one case, forcible rape.
“He was able to buy his way out of another conviction. But at this time settlement allows for a second trial to occur,” said Spencer Kuvin, an attorney for three young women who were allegedly lured to Epstein’s Palm Beach estate and assaulted.
Epstein, who has counted Donald Trump and Bill Clinton among his famous friends, pleaded guilty in 2008 to two relatively minor charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution. He served 13 months of an 18-month sentence in the private wing of a Palm Beach county jail and was permitted to leave six days a week, for 16 hours each day, for “work release,” according to local press reports.
His accusers have long been enraged that they got no say in the slap-on-the-wrist deal—which was brokered by Miami federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta, who is now President Trump’s labor secretary.
The plea deal with Acosta sealed a 57-page probe into his alleged crimes and silenced the girls who had accused him of sexual assault. Not only were the girls never notified of Acosta’s deal, they were never allowed to appear in court.
In exchange for what Scarola called “get-out-of-jail-free card,” according to court records, Epstein provided “valuable consideration”—or critical information—to federal investigators on another crime. Though it is not clear what information he provided, records show that around the same time, Epstein was considered a crucial witness for the trial of two Bear Stearns executives who allegedly committed corporate securities fraud during the 2008 financial crisis.
Tuesday’s trial focused on the first of two civil lawsuits filed in the long-running legal battle between Epstein and Edwards. The second lawsuit, filed under the Civil Victims’ Rights Act, was filed a decade ago for two Jane Does who were allegedly sexually assaulted by Epstein. It seeks to nullify the controversial non-prosecution agreement.
“I am excited to go back to what I do best, which is protecting these women in court. Today is a win because it paves the way for our second suit against Epstein,” Edwards told The Daily Beast following the press conference.
Link denied any comment following the hearing, adding he had “nothing else, especially to The Daily Beast.”