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Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
September 2019

The Epstein case proves a point about jurisdiction

TPix_JayBeskin_9-19he sordid life -- and death -- of the late unlamented Jeffrey Epstein is an international tale set in New York City and a private island among the… er, Virgin Islands, involving the glitterati and illuminati, including Prince Andrew of England, who spent a week at Epstein’s townhouse in Manhattan two years after Jeffrey was convicted of nefarious misdeeds and has now released a statement asserting that he never, never had the slightest idea that his old buddy Jeff was anything but the salt of the earth.

Of course, if we had a chance to cross-examine this bull artist currently known as Prince, we might ask: “Okay, Your Majesty, we believe you that you were not there to do naughty things, but what pray tell were you there to do?”

But despite all this fanfare and finery, the most important legal part of this escapade took place not in London or New York, but in sunny South Florida. It was here in West Palm Beach that he was charged, that he made a plea deal, and that he served a flimsy sentence that was not more than a slap on the… er, wrist. And it was here that the Miami Herald ran a wonderful series late last year indicting the indictment, dealing dirt about the deal, and writing acerbic sentences about the sentence. The work of the Herald and its investigative reporter Julie K. Brown served to herald the downfall of a cabinet secretary who had skeletons in his cabinet and the eventual arrest and jailing of Epstein himself, climaxing in his eventual suicide or homicide in a federal prison in New York City.

To review, Mister Epstein was a fellow who became very wealthy indeed as the result of a friendship with Leslie Wexner, a member of the billionaire family from Columbus, Ohio, which owns The Limited and Victoria’s Secret. Wexner has put the word out that originally Epstein was providing investment services, but that at some point it became clear that Epstein was embezzling significant funds, and that they decided to go their separate ways.

Apparently, Epstein learned how to use his friendship with Wexner as a way to lure women who were hoping to model for Victoria’s Secret. From there he slid down the black hole into seducing underage young women into providing massages for money, and the rest is probably worse than you or I can imagine.

When some young women lodged complaints, a series of dominoes fell, which led to the Department of Justice putting together a hefty indictment against him for numerous charges. Just when it looked like he was going away for a long time, his team of high-priced lawyers intimidated the U.S. Attorneys in charge of the case and got a sweetheart deal that involved the federal government withdrawing its charges in favor of State of Florida charges, which netted him a year in a very limited confinement that included work release during business hours.

This was some years ago, but the Herald reporting revived the matter, embarrassing the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida who’d okayed the deal, forcing him to resign his federal position as Secretary of Labor. The Department of Justice quietly reopened the case and arrested Epstein as his private plane landed in Teterboro, New Jersey, in early July. He was held without bail in the Manhattan Correctional Center, but by early August he was dead in an apparent suicide.

The larger question for Floridians is this: Is it ever a smart idea for us to pick up the slack in these cases with a primary nexus in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles? Epstein was prosecuted in Palm Beach because he had a second home there and he victimized local girls on those premises. Certainly he deserved punishment here no less than in the more cosmopolitan centers he frequented most. But there is a strong case to be made that all of the worst errors here could have been averted if the Southern District of New York had prosecuted the initial case, instead of leaving it to Florida.

I don’t mean to suggest that we’re all rubes here and that the city slickers can run circles around us any old time. As a transplanted Chicagoan, I have no reason to ascribe omniscience to New York and Chicago or to condemn Floridians for naiveté and ignorance. I think we’re just as knowledgeable and just as capable as the big boys in the big cities. Yet despite that judgment, it might pay for us to defer to the big urban centers on cases of this size.

It’s one thing if we have incriminating information on a local person, one who lives here full time. That should be pursued here, and there’s no barrier to our success in obtaining appropriate verdicts and sentences. The problem comes in when you have New Yorkers or Chicagoans who do a bit of wintering here but aren’t full time residents. If we pick on those guys, they call their friends back home and ask to be defended against the hicks in Florida.

We not only have defense lawyers showing up from New York and D.C. and Chicago, we also have prosecutors, law enforcement officers and politicians from the big cities trying to call our people off.

Even if we advance a case to the point of indictment, the U.S. Attorneys and police commissioners from the bad guy’s hometown feel they’ve been upstaged, that some ambitious small-time prosecutor is trying to steal their thunder by hijacking cases that belong to New York or Chicago. Since the case isn’t theirs, those attorneys and commissioners are not motivated to assist and are often motivated to resist. The results are messy arrangements like the Epstein deal, which make the Florida prosecutors look amateurish and out of their league.

Much as local prosecutors and law enforcement types may grumble, it tends to work out much better when New York prosecutes the New York bad guys and Florida prosecutes the Florida bad guys. We can play second fiddle to Chicago when one of their mafia guys opens a side business down here; instead of prosecuting here, it may be a far better move to cooperate with Chicago prosecutors to get him for his main offenses up there.

Again, this is not us admitting failure or acknowledging that we’re somehow doomed to be small-timers. It’s just that part of being a touristy place, or a place with a Season, is that our best play when our visitors make trouble is to send them back home.

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