Much has been written about high-powered wealth manager Jeffrey Epstein's controversial plea bargain for child sex trafficking from Alexander Acosta — how it gave him just a 13-month minimum-security sentence with daily work-release, how it let him register as a much lower-level sex offender than it should have, how it shut down the FBI investigation and kept the names of his co-conspirators secret, how it may have violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by not disclosing the details to his alleged victims.
But as Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle wrote on Saturday, there is one massively important aspect of the plea bargain that has been comparatively overlooked — Epstein's agreement not to contest lawsuits brought by his alleged victims.
At first blush, that might seem like a concession on Epstein's part. In fact, that's a spectacular deal for him. As a billionaire (or at least something like it), it didn't hurt Epstein in the least to pay out settlements to his victims. On the other hand, in doing so, he guaranteed those victims' silence going forward, which is why he went so many years without being prosecuted for other offenses. If even prosecutors didn't know who the victims were, they couldn't investigate to see if there were any additional sex crimes that could be brought against him.
So how was Epstein finally brought down? What finally pierced the veil of secrecy and exposed him to criminal liability? The answer, Von Drehle wrote, is a safe in his Manhattan mansion containing "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of pornographic images of children.
Now, all of a sudden, prosecutors don't need the victims he paid off into silence to cooperate to learn who they were — they can just examine the contents of the safe and find out for themselves. Moreover, the mere act of possessing the images in that safe, and of making and transporting them, are all federal crimes in and of themselves.
Epstein thought that he had the perfect strategy to keep himself immunized for his crimes. Now, he is looking at the rest of his life in prison.