- Prominent billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy for crimes involving victims allegedly as young as 13.
- By 2008, federal prosecutors had identified 36 minors that Epstein had abused, and the Miami Herald later reported that they had independently identified nearly 80 women who had been victims of Epstein.
- He faced life in prison, but was given only 13 only months in jail after his lawyers made a deal with then-prosecutor Alexander Acosta, who is now the Secretary of Labor, and who many are calling on to resign in wake of the new charges.
- Epstein also has ties to prominent political circles, like those of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, causing many to wonder if they knew about the crimes Epstein committed.
Billionaire hedge-fund manager and financier Jeffrey Epstein was charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy by federal prosecutors, according to an indictment that was unsealed Monday.
Epstein was arrested on Saturday and held in custody in New York, where he stood trial on Monday.
According to the indictment, Epstein, “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations.”
From 2002 to 2005, Epstein “enticed and recruited” minors to “engage in sex acts with him, after which he would give the victims hundreds of dollars in cash,” the indictment stated. “Epstein also paid certain of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused by Epstein.”
“[The victims] were as young as 14 years old at the time they were abused by Jeffrey Epstein,” it continued. “Epstein intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18, including because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age.”
The indictment also said that Epstein “worked and conspired with others, including employees and associates who facilitated his conduct by, among other things, contacting victims and scheduling their sexual encounters with Epstein.”
If found guilty, Epstein could face up to 45 years in prison. During his court appearance on Monday, he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
However, shortly after, the Justice Department released a memo saying that federal agents had raided Epstein’s New York mansion and found “At least hundreds—and perhaps thousands—of sexually suggestive photographs of fully- or partially nude females.”
“Some of the nude or partially-nude photographs appear to be of underage girls, including at least one girl who, according to her counsel, was underage at the time the relevant photographs were taken,” the memo continued.
After the news of Epstein’s arrest broke, it was reported that prosecutors said several women came forward with complaints, including accusers who had not previously spoken to the government about their cases.
Epstein is no stranger to these serious accusations. For years, Epstein has been accused of preying on minors both in court cases and in police complaints.
An investigation into his misconduct was first opened in 2005 after the parents of an accuser in Florida went to the police.
That investigation grew rapidly. By 2008, federal prosecutors had identified 36 underage victims, according to documents reviewed by the Miami Herald.
The Herald reported that investigators found evidence of abuse dating back to 2001, and said that Epstein had abused girls as young as 13. The Herald also identified about 80 women who said they were sexually abused by Epstein and ultimately located about 60 of those women.
Federal prosecutors in Miami prepared a huge 53-page federal indictment against Epstein. If found guilty, he could have faced life in prison.
Then in 2008, prosecutors negotiated a last-minute secret deal with Epstein’s lawyers.
Under that deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges and was sentenced to only 13 months in jail. However, while in jail, he was given work-release privileges which allowed him to leave six days a week for 12 hours a day.
The deal also protected any co-conspirators, and notably, the prosecutors did not tell the victims they were representing about the deal they made until after it was approved.
After the deal was made public, it was met with significant backlash. Many accused the Justice Department of mishandling the case, and in turn, the department has faced litigation from Epstein’s accusers over the years.
In February, the Justice Department finally opened its own internal review into the decision.
Connections to Powerful People
Since the 2008 deal, some have claimed that Epstein was able to get off so easy because he is a powerful and influential man, and also because he prides himself on having a long list of even more powerful and influential friends.
Among other high-profile and powerful people, Epstein’s circle of friends included former President Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump.
In a statement, Clinton’s office said that he had flown on Epstein’s private plane several times for work involving the Clinton Foundation after his term as president.
The statement also said that the former president “knows nothing” about the crimes Epstein has been accused of.
President Trump also has ties to Epstein that go far back, with reports of Trump attending parties hosted by Epstein, and Epstein visiting Mar-A-Lago.
In 2002, Trump spoke to New York Magazine about Epstein.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Additionally, in 2016, Trump was sued by a girl who claimed Trump raped her in 1994 when she was 13 at a party hosted by Epstein. The lawsuit has since been dropped, as the woman said she was receiving threats.
However, in 2017, an attorney for the Trump Organization, said that Trump “had no relationship with Mr. Epstein and had no knowledge whatsoever of his conduct.”
Connections to Others in Trump Administration
Beyond Trump himself, other officials in the administration have also been linked to Epstein.
On Monday, Attorney General William Barr said he was going to recuse himself from Epstein’s sex trafficking case, citing the fact that he had previously worked at a law firm Epstein has used in the past.
However, on Tuesday morning, Barr decided not to recuse himself from the case, though he will still be recused from department’s review of the 2008 plea deal Epstein reached with prosecutors.
That is not where the complications for the Trump administration end. The prosecutor that agreed to the controversial deal was Alexander Acosta, who is now Trump’s Labor Secretary.
Acosta responded to the situation in a tweet on Tuesday, and said that he was “pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence.”
Acosta’s tweet followed numerous remarks from top Democrats calling for him to resign. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called for Acosta to step down in a tweet on Monday.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Trump to fire Acosta if he does not resign.
“I am calling on Secretary Acosta to resign,” Schumer said. “It is now impossible for anyone to have confidence in Secretary Acosta’s ability to lead the Department of Labor. If he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him.”
Others in the Republican party chimed in as well. On Monday, Senator Ted Cruz responded to a tweet posted by CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Tapper retweeted a Miami Herald article that named Acosta and others who they said enabled Epstein. In his tweet, Tapper indicated that he hoped Acosta and the others would go down with Epstein.
Cruz responded to the tweet, writing, “Fully agree.”
When asked by a Fox News anchor if he thought Acosta should resign, Cruz did not outright answer the question.
“I’m concerned about the allegations, but the Department of Justice has an ongoing investigation,” he said. “I think we should find out what happened, I think we should have imposed the toughest penalty we could have, based on the evidence, and I think we need to inquire if we did that.”
Epstein is due back in court on Thursday. On Monday, Epstein’s lawyer, Reid Weingarten, said in a statement that the accusations had been settled in 2008.
“To us this indictment is essentially a do-over,” Weingarten said. “This is old stuff. This is ancient stuff.”
However, U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, who is prosecuting the case, said the agreement from 2008 only is only binding in the Southern District of Florida.
See what others are saying: (Miami Herald) (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast)
Pennsylvania School District Threatens Foster Care Placement Over Lunch Debt
- A Pennsylvania school district sent letters to over three dozen parents who had accumulated a school meal debt of $10 or more, warning them to pay the balance or risk having their child placed in foster care.
- The local social services agency criticized the school for “weaponizing” the foster care system to scare families into paying lunch bills.
- The president of the district’s board of education said the letters may have been strong, but they worked.
- Meanwhile, the vice president of the school board said the letters were not approved by the superintendent and is calling a meeting to discuss the issue, but said future letters will be less threatening.
Debt Letter Sent
A Pennsylvania school district faced backlash for sending letters to parents this month, warning them to pay off their children’s school lunch debt otherwise they may face consequences that could result in their child being placed in foster care.
“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” the letter from Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District, read.
“This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.” the letter continued.
The letters were sent out to those with a balance of at least $10 or more.
Outrage Over Foster Care Threat
Parents in Luzerne County did not respond well to the threat from the school district and the letter soon made national headlines. But the mention of foster care also pulled Luzerne County Children and Youth Services into the issue.
“The Luzerne County Children and Youth Foster Care System is NOT utilized to scare families into paying school lunch bills,” Joanne Van Saun, director of the local agency, wrote in a letter to the district’s superintendent.
“We exist to protect and preserve families. The only time a child is taken out is when they cannot be maintained safely in their home,” she later told CNN. “Our agency has helped many children and families with paying rent and buying clothes. We know children do better when they’re with their families.”
Van Saun added that she felt “blindsided” by the district’s letter, especially since the district and the agency have had a good relationship with one another in the past. “The way they handled it was totally inappropriate, unnecessary and could’ve easily been resolved through so many different avenues.” she said.
C. David Pedri, Luzerne county manager, also wrote the district a letter complaining about the notice.“It weaponizes Luzerne County’s foster care system,” Pedri said on Saturday in a statement to The New York Times. “It’s exactly what we’re not here to do. The foster care system is here to help kids who are abused.”
“Taking a kid out of a house is one of the most extreme things that a foster care system has ever tried to do,” he added. “So you don’t do it lightly. We would never take a kid out of a house for failing to pay a school lunch bill.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey even called the letters “callous,” adding, “No child should have to imagine the horror of being ripped away from their parents because their family is struggling economically.”
Mixed Responses From Officials
According to CNN, Wyoming Valley’s Cafeteria Purchase Charging and Insufficient Funds Policy says nothing about parents potentially going to court or losing their children. However, it does state that families with a student account that reaches negative $10 or more will receive “an automated call every Friday” until the remaining balance is paid.
After being identified by WNEP as the person who penned the letter, Joseph Muth told the news station that it was a “last resort” effort to deal with the roughly $22,000 in debt that the district had accumulated.
Joseph Mazur, the president of the district’s board of education, told NPR that the district had tried contacting parents by mail, email, robocalls, and personal calls, before the notice, but nothing worked.
Mazur then defended the letter saying: “I think you have to pay your bills. I mean, I’ve been paying my bills all my life. So has everybody else. I mean sometimes you have to do without something for yourself if you want to raise your kids and see that they’re taken care of.”
“We are in the process of trying to save money wherever we can. We have laid off some employees. We have reduced some of our curriculum. And we’re looking anywhere we can save,” Mazur said. “I don’t care if it’s $1,000 or $20,000.”
Mazur did note that all students in the district received a meal. “Every poor kid got a meal,” Mazur said. “If the Board of Directors was mean and cruel they’d just honestly say, ‘stop the lunches,’ but we didn’t.”
“Was the letter a little strong? Maybe yes,” Mazur added. “But it did work, because they’re paid now.”
However, David Usavage, vice president of the school board, told the Times on Saturday that he received about six phone calls complaining about the letter. He also added that when he first read the notice, he thought it was a “joke.”
The letter “was not approved by anyone,” Usavage said. “We have a policy that says everything should go through the superintendent.”
It is not uncommon for the district to mail letters to parents, asking them to pay debts, but the language has always been “softer,” he said.
Usavage explained that the notice was written by Muth and the district’s lawyer, Charles R Coslett. Usavage said Muth has since apologized over the notice, but did not release any information about potential consequences for the two.
Usavage also provided the Times with more information about the district’s debt, saying that the district, which is made up of seven different schools, serves school meals that cost between $1 to $2.70 to about 5,000 children.
“We have never denied anyone because they don’t have money,” he said. “We would never, ever allow a child to go hungry.”
However, Usavage said that 960 students had accumulated a debt of five cents up to $9.99. Parents of 40 children owed $10 or more and parents of four students owed more than $440.
For now, Usavage said he would call a special meeting with the school board to discuss the issue, but said future letters will be less threatening.
“I don’t want the people who live in the Wyoming Valley West School District to think we are so classless as to send out a letter threatening parents,” he said. “I can assure you we will not take one child or one parent to any kind of court to get back the money.”
For the coming school year, the district will qualify for funding to provide free lunches to all students. regardless of their family’s financial need.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (NPR)
NJ Judge Who Spared Teen Accused of Rape Because He Was From a “Good Family” Steps Down
- New Jersey Judge James Troiano has resigned after facing criticism for ruling that a teenage boy accused of rape should not be tried as an adult because he was from a “good family” and had good grades.
- An appellate court overturned the ruling and made the decision public, prompting widespread outrage, protests, and numerous lawmakers to call for Troiano’s resignation. It was also reported that Troiano and his family received threats of violence.
- Troiano’s resignation was announced by the state’s Supreme Court, which also said that they were starting the proceedings to remove Judge John Russo, who asked a woman if she had closed her legs to try to prevent an alleged sexual assault.
- The state’s Supreme Court has ordered a new initiative to enhance the training of judges in the areas of sexual assault, implicit bias, and more.
Judge Troiano Steps Down
A New Jersey judge who recommended that a 16-year-old boy accused of rape get leniency because he was from a “good family” resigned, according to an order from the New Jersey Supreme Court issued Wednesday.
In 2018, Monmouth County Judge James Troiano denied a waiver that would have allowed the teenage boy to be tried as an adult.
The teenager was accused of raping an intoxicated girl at a party, recording it, and then sending the recording to multiple people with the caption “when your first time is rape.”
Troiano argued that the defendant should not be tried as an adult because he had good grades and was from a good family.
He also said he did not think the incident was a “traditional case of rape,” which he defined as “two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person.”
Troiano’s decision was later overturned by an appellate court, which made the ruling public in June.
Troiano has already been retired since 2012, but had continued to hear cases part-time. According to the order from the New Jersey Supreme Court, Troiano requested to step down effective immediately, and the court agreed.
Protests & Calls for Resignation
After Troiano’s decision was made public, he was met with widespread criticism and condemnation.
Numerous elected officials in New Jersey called for Troiano to resign or be removed from the bench, and petitions calling for his impeachment were circulated.
It was also reported that Troiano and his family had received phone calls and emails threatening violence. According to The New York Times, Troiano also received death threats.
On July 11, protestors gathered outside the Monmouth County Courthouse to call for the resignation of Troiano and Judge Marcia Silva, who ruled that a 16-year-old boy accused of assaulting a 12-year-old girl should not be tried as an adult because the “offense is not an especially heinous or cruel offense.”
Silva’s decision was overturned by the same appellate court.
Judge John Russo
The state’s Supreme Court also announced that it was beginning proceedings to remove Judge John Russo, who asked an alleged victim if she had closed her legs to try to prevent being sexually assaulted.
“Because of the seriousness of the ethical violations here, it is appropriate for the Court to consider the full range of potential discipline, up to and including removal from office,” Justice Stuart Rabner, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey wrote in the order.
According to NBC News, the state’s Supreme Court is seeking a harsher punishment for Russo after a judicial ethics commission recommended three-month unpaid suspension earlier this year.
Russo has said he was just trying to get more information from the alleged victim.
NBC also reported that Russo had been reassigned to another county court in December, and will have until next month to contest his removal in front of a panel of state Supreme Court judges.
He will be suspended without pay during the process.
New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy released a statement on Wednesday applauding the state Supreme Court’s decision.
“Unfortunately, the inexcusable actions of several judges over recent months have threatened this reputation for thoughtful and reasoned opinion, and common decency,” Murphy said. “I am gratified that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench and that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo.”
However, last week, New Jersey’s top public defender, Joseph Krakora, defended Troiano and Silva in a rare public statement.
“Vilifying or seeking the removal of judges who make unpopular or even erroneous decisions threatens the independence of the judiciary,” he said. “Judges are simply lawyers entrusted with the responsibility of deciding difficult cases.”
“Litigants sometimes feel that their decisions are incorrect or unfair. That is why we have appellate courts,” he continued.
The New Jersey Supreme Court also ordered a new initiative Wednesday to improve how judges are trained to address sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as diversity and implicit bias.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (USA Today)
Berkeley To Remove Gendered Language From City Code
- The City Council voted unanimously to replace more than two dozen terms often used in the city’s municipal code with gender-neutral words.
- Along with changing “he” and “she” pronouns to “they” and “them,” the move will also swap words like “manholes” with “maintenance holes,” and tiles like “firemen” with “firefighters.”
- Local officials say the move is necessary to make “the environment of City Hall and the language of city legislation consistent with the principles of inclusion.“
The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a measure on Tuesday that would replace more than two dozen gender-specific words from its municipal code in a move towards improving nonbinary gender inclusivity.
The ordinance on gender-neutral language will replace words like “he” an “she” to “they” and “them” in the city code. But it will also do away words like “manholes,” “manmade,” and “manpower.” Instead, “manholes” will be changed to “maintenance holes” and other references to “manmade” will be changed to “artificial.” Terms like “human effort” or “workforce” will replace “manpower.”
Other terms that will be changed include “pregnant women”, which will be switched to “pregnant employees.” “Brother” and “sister” will be switched to a “sibling.”
Job titles like “bondsman” will be “bonds-person,” “firemen” and “firewomen” will now be “firefighters.”
“Fraternity” and “sorority” soon be changed to “collegiate Greek system residence,” along with several other changes.
Berkeley city councilmember Rigel Robinson, a 23-year-old recent graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, sponsored the ordinance in March. “In recent years, broadening societal awareness of transgender and gendernonconforming identities has brought to light the importance of non-binary gender inclusivity,” Robinson’s ordinance reads.
“Therefore, it is both timely and necessary to make the environment of City Hall and the language of city legislation consistent with the principles of inclusion.”
The move still requires a second reading at the council for the proposal to become official. That will then be followed by a 30-day waiting period. However, based on Tuesday’s unanimous vote, the language change is expected to easily pass through the remainder of the process.
“There is power in language. This is a small move, but it matters,” Robinson tweeted after the ordinance was approved.
Robinson’s office estimates that it will cost about $600 to implement the change to the municipal code.
The move is not surprising for Berkeley. The city has implemented similar changes in the past in an effort to make the community more inclusive. In February, the city began giving all employees the option to receive a name badge with a preferred pronoun printed alongside their professional title.
Other efforts to improve inclusivity have also made waves across the state. In 2014, then-Governor Jerry Brown approved a measure that replaced “husband” or “wife” in state law with “spouse.”
Then in 2017, California became the first state to provide a third gender option on state driver’s licenses, identification cards, and birth certificates with the passage of Senate Bill 179.
California is not alone in that move. Maine and Washington D.C. have also made efforts to recognize gender-neutral individuals on drivers licenses.