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Book review: “Perversion of Justice” questions the leniency provided to Jeffrey Epstein

“Perversion of Justice” by Julie K. Brown (Dey Street Books)

Americans were sickened when they learned of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged exploitation of young girls. Procurers were said to have trolled for children as young as 14, bringing them to Epstein for his sexual pleasure. But almost as disgusting as the accusations of rape and sexual assault was the perverted justice meted out a decade earlier that allowed Epstein to escape suitable punishment for a sex crime conviction.

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Perversion of Justice by Julie K. Brown (Dey Street)

Following a 2008 charge in Miami of soliciting prostitution from minors, Epstein was sentenced to a few months in a local jail, where Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown writes that guards allowed him to bring in girls and $100,000 worth of gourmet food to make his stay more pleasurable.  Epstein didn’t even have to register as a sexual offender.

Epstein, who died two years ago in what was ruled a suicide (although some dispute that), might have gotten away with his crimes if not for the dogged work of Brown. Disgusted by Epstein and a legal system that all but covered up his exploits, she dug into thousands of documents and interviewed innumerable sources to locate victims and to determine why Epstein had been given such a lenient sentence.

Epstein’s exploits are old news. “Perversion of Justice” is the story of how money and political connections allowed Epstein to escape just punishment.

Epstein was a self-made man whose brilliant financial acumen allowed him to accumulate millions of dollars, which he spent on lavish residences (including an entire island) and entertainment. His important friends included Alan Dershowitz, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew.

Epstein’s sexual appetite was insatiable, Brown writes. He had sex as often as three times a day. Girls barely in their teens were lured to Epstein’s residence by friends or others and told they would be paid $200 or more to give a massage to an old man, the investigation showed. But once in Epstein’s quarters, they said they faced a man wrapped only in a towel, who let it drop as he lay down on the massage table. The girls were told to undress, then were fondled while Epstein masturbated, Brown writes.

They allegedly were groomed by Epstein employees, including Epstein’s girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell.  As the sexual acts grew more perverted, payment rose, Brown wrote. Some girls said they were given apartments or money for college. Nothing they received, however, allowed them to overcome the guilt and shame that often ruined their lives. Brown tracked down a number of the victims, but even years later, most were too traumatized to speak on the record.

Brown also located the people who were responsible for Epstein’s unconscionably light prison sentence. Despite a strong case against Epstein in 2008, both federal and local officials reached an agreement to allow Epstein to plead to reduced charges. Contrary to law, the plea agreement was kept secret from the women who had agreed to testify, further victimizing them.

The women found vindication in the series of articles Brown wrote that exposed that “perversion of justice.” Epstein and Maxwell were arrested. Alex Acosta, the U.S. attorney who had approved the agreement, was forced to step down as Trump’s labor secretary, and the victims received millions of dollars in compensation.

In 2017, Brown failed to get a job she’d applied for at The Washington Post. But if that had happened, she writes, “Alex Acosta might now be a Supreme Court justice — and Jeffrey Epstein might still be jetting around the world abusing children and young women.”

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