I've just read a Miami Herald article from March, 2019: Jeffrey Epstein prosecutor was previously rebuked for handling of a child sex case. The article, among other troubling details, recounts the fact that the Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) who handled the Epstein case, A. Marie Villafaña, had been rebuked in the most severe terms by a federal judge less than a year previously for withholding information in another case of sexual abuse of a minor girl. Importantly, not only was Villafaña accused in writing by the judge of an "intentional and/or serious lapse in judgment," but the judge made a point of sending a copy of his order to Acosta, the then US Attorney.
Without delving too deeply into the facts, here's what the issue was. The case involved a 19 year old male who had seduced a 14 year old girl. At sentencing Villafaña proposed a sentence that was close to the minimum, and also suggested psychological treatment. However, the mother of the victim, in speaking before the judge at the hearing, alluded to the fact that the defendant had engaged in similar behavior with girls in Texas and California. This had not been disclosed to the judge previously, who promptly sentenced the defendant to twice what Villafaña had suggested.
But the judge wasn't done. He reviewed the full case and, three months later, issued an order in which he wrote:
“The court is at a total loss as to why the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, as well as the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the above-styled cause, found it appropriate to intentionally withhold ... information from the court.’’
In response, Acosta had another AUSA write an explanation. In it the US Attorney's Office
argued that since McDaniel had never before been charged with a crime, the history was not relevant at sentencing. The defendant’s prior relationship with a 16-year-old was not illegal in Texas or in California, they said, and the girl classified her relationship as a friendship.
All the relevant information was provided to the probation department and at McDaniel’s detention hearing, they added, making the point that it was in the record and, therefore, not intentionally withheld by the government.
The judge conceded that the information was part of the probation and bond hearing record, but he maintained that it was nevertheless the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s duty to present the defendant’s prior history with minors to him at sentencing. He refused to remove the most critical portions of his order censuring Villafaña.
Francey Hakes, who worked in the Justice Department’s Crimes Against Children unit and who commented for the article, observed:
Lack of candor to the court is a serious charge, and the judge has quite reasonably expressed dismay that the assistant U.S. attorney apparently intended that he never be given a full picture of the defendant’s conduct.
Hakes added that
[The judge's] comments were so brutal that it should have deterred Acosta and Villafaña from keeping the Epstein deal secret.
It is highly unusual for a court to allege an assistant U.S. attorney has intentionally withheld information. That allegation is like dropping a bomb in the legal community.
That's pretty hard to argue with. After getting smacked that hard, Acosta and Villafaña should have been walking on egg shells in cases like this.
And yet ...
[N]ine months later, in September 2007, Villafaña was in the throes of thorny negotiations with Epstein’s lawyers. While an FBI investigation was ongoing, Villafaña discussed ways to quietly resolve the case, emails show.
... Acosta and Villafaña, tried to keep the full scope of Epstein’s crimes out of the public eye. At one point, they discussed charging Epstein in Miami, instead of Palm Beach County, where the crimes happened, noting there would be less media coverage.
Emails also show that prosecutors repeatedly abided by Epstein’s lawyers’ demands that his victims not be told that an agreement had been reached until after he was sentenced. That meant that the girls could not appear at a hearing to derail finalizing of the deal. ...
Villafaña wrote Epstein lawyer Jay Lefkowitz to discuss the wording of the sentencing agreement for the judge:
“I will include all our standard language regarding resolving all criminal liability and I will mention co-conspirators, but I would prefer not to highlight for the judge all of the other crimes and all the other persons we could charge,’’ Villafaña wrote.
In the course of the Palm Beach police and FBI investigation into Epstein, the number of identified victims ran into the dozens--with serious evidence that the total number of victims was in the hundreds. And yet this is what transpired at Epstein's sentencing in state court (which was part of the federal plea deal):
At Epstein’s sentencing, Palm Beach County prosecutor Lanna Belohlavek was questioned by the judge about whether all of Epstein’s victims were told about the deal, as required by law.
“Are there more than one victim?’’ Circuit Court Judge Deborah Dale Pucillo asked Belohlavek at the June 30, 2008, sentencing.
“There’s several,’’ Belohlavek replied.
“Are all the victims in both these cases in agreement with the terms of the plea?’’ the judge asked.
“Yes,’’ Belohlavek said.
The reference to "several" victims is clearly a serious shading of the truth. A concscious and intended deception. The claim that the victims had been informed and agreed with the deal was flatly untrue.
And then at the end of the article we read something rather remarkable:
Bradley Edwards, who represents several of Epstein’s victims, defended Villafaña, saying he believed that she was directed to settle the case and not inform Epstein’s victims about the deal.
“In my conversations with her, I came to believe that she was in a difficult position. She never came out and said this, but I suspected that someone above her directed her to do what she did,’’ Edwards said.
As I said above, I'm willing to believe that this was the case. Nevertheless, two points:
1) Some things you just can't agree to do--especially (duh!) shortly after getting whacked hard for doing something very similar; call it self preservation, a basic instinct, one would have thought; and
2) If we're to accept this and grant some lessened degree of responsibility, we surely need to know the full story.
If there's a truth beyond what we've seen so far, Acosta would be well advised to come out with it.