Palm Beach County officials gave the late wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein “differential treatment” in jail, but no evidence was uncovered that suggests they broke any laws, a state investigation released Monday concluded.
Gov. Ron DeSantis requested the probe in August 2019 as new scrutiny was heaped on how officials in Palm Beach County handled the high-profile case.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation focused on former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer’s decision not to aggressively prosecute sex abuse allegations against Epstein over a decade ago; Epstein’s generous work release privileges in jail; and allegations that Epstein had sex with young women while under the jail’s supervision.
Investigators cleared deputies and prosecutors of any criminal wrongdoing and found no evidence of “undue financial influence.” They also didn’t find evidence that Epstein had sexual encounters while under the jail’s supervision. Two women who said they had sex with Epstein when he was on work release declined to provide sworn statements, investigators wrote.
State Sen. Lauren Book, who pushed for the probe, said she thinks the report still shows that the system failed to hold a convicted sex offender accountable.
“No laws broken doesn’t mean no wrongs were done,” said Book, D-Plantation. “The state needs to put better bumpers on the system so this kind of stuff doesn’t happen again. Deep pockets shouldn’t equal special treatment.”
Epstein died in a New York jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. The medical examiner ruled his death to be a suicide.
Work release was proper, investigators conclude
Epstein spent 13 months in the Palm Beach County stockade during 2008-09 as part of a plea deal widely criticized as being too lenient. The agreement ended a federal sex abuse investigation that involved dozens of teenage girls.
While incarcerated, Epstein was allowed to leave jail up to 16 hours a day to spend time in a West Palm Beach office building, working for a nonprofit organization he created called the Florida Science Foundation.
Those privileges were granted under Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s leadership, who has been over the agency since 2004.
As part of the arrangement, Epstein’s nonprofit organization paid nearly $128,000 to the Sheriff’s Office for off-duty deputies to supervise the work release. The deputies were required to wear suits while on the detail.
Back at the jail, Epstein had privileges, such as an unlocked jail cell door and a private television, to make his stay in the stockade more comfortable.
Investigators wrote that Epstein received “differential treatment,” but “those actions were explained by PBSO and were determined not to be a criminal matter.”
“Based on the review of Florida State Statutes, PBSO records, and PBSO personnel statements, no evidence was developed to substantiate that any identified PBSO member engaged in criminal activity during the performance of their duties associated with PBSO’s housing and supervision of Jeffrey Epstein,” investigators wrote. “No financial intelligence was developed to substantiate any claim that undue financial influence was received by any individual member of PBSO to benefit Epstein.”
Jail officials told FDLE investigators Epstein wasn’t housed with other inmates in part because they “could not identify boyfriends or associates of his victims” who might want to harm him. They also had concerns that he could be extorted or extort other inmates.
Epstein met the county’s criteria to participate in the work release program, and former Chief Deputy Michael Gauger approved modifications, including changes that let Epstein spend two hours at his home during work release toward the end of his sentence. The FDLE found three other sex offenders who were authorized to participate in the work release program.
The Palm Beach County’s Sheriff Office discontinued its work release program in December 2019 after a review determined it was not of benefit to the agency, said Teri Barbera, a PBSO spokeswoman.
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“At this time there is an ongoing internal affairs investigation into any possible administrative violations,” she said. “The results of which will be released in the near future.”
Former state attorney cleared
The investigation also examined Krischer’s handling of the case. The FDLE did not find evidence that Krischer “colluded” with Epstein’s defense team or tipped him off to a search warrant.
The State Attorney’s Office had concerns that the prosecution would be hampered because the teenage victims would be viewed as “prostitutes,” according to the FDLE’s summary. It wasn’t until 2016 state law was changed that children under 18 could not be charged with prostitution because they are unable to give consent.
Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state prostitution charges, and federal prosecutors abandoned a 53-page indictment with more serious charges. He served 13 months of an 18-month sentence, registered as a sex offender and paid settlements to victims.
Krischer served as Palm Beach County’s state attorney from 1992 until his retirement in 2009.