The new sex-trafficking prosecution against Jeffrey Epstein could rise or fall on how a judge interprets a single, rather mundane word.
The pivotal term — “globally” — lurks on the second page of a seven-page agreement signed in 2007 and finalized the following year, detailing a pledge by federal prosecutors in Florida not to prosecute Epstein for serial sexual abuse of underage girls if he pleaded guilty to two prostitution-related felonies in state court.
“IT APPEARING that Epstein seeks to resolve globally his state and federal criminal liability…” reads the document laying out what critics have described as a sweetheart deal well-connected defense lawyers won from the then-U.S. Attorney for Southern Florida Alex Acosta, who now serves as Labor secretary.
Some lawyers say Epstein’s future may turn on how much weight the courts give to that tricky adverb.
“That word is his best hope,” said Loyola Law School law professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor.
Epstein’s attorneys are already arguing that the decade-old pact was intended to dispose of all potential claims that Epstein engaged in sexual abuse, sex trafficking, soliciting prostitution and similar crimes relating to his penchant for hiring underage girls to give him massages that included sex acts.
“How in the world can that deal be undone?” Epstein defense lawyer Reid Weingarten asked at Epstein’s arraignment Monday in Manhattan, where Epstein entered a plea of not guilty. “It sure seemed like a global [resolution] to everyone at the time, including my client.”
Prosecutors disagree. Before Epstein even appeared in court Monday, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said the unusual non-prosecution agreement didn’t affect his office’s ability to go after Epstein in New York.