Florida lawmaker seeks investigation of Epstein work-release

Sen. Lauren Book requests that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement look into how Epstein was supervised on the days he was allowed to leave the Palm Beach County Stockade as part of the work-release program.
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation.
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation.
Published July 23, 2019

Florida Sen. Lauren Book called Tuesday for state police to investigate allegations that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office enabled accused serial sex predator Jeffrey Epstein to continue abusing women during his incarceration more than a decade ago by granting the sex offender work-release privileges.

In a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Book — a child sexual abuse survivor who wrote a memoir about her experiences — requested that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement look into how Epstein was supervised on the days he was allowed to leave the Palm Beach County Stockade as part of the work-release program.

Epstein served 13 months in the county jail after he pleaded guilty in 2008 to lesser state solicitation charges.

During his jail term, he was allowed to leave his cell and go to his office for up to 12 hours a day.

And Epstein’s “employer” during his work-release was the Florida Science Foundation, a charity he created a year before his sentence commenced. The foundation footed the $120,000-plus bill for the deputies who supervised him.

Epstein was arrested and charged with new allegations in New Jersey this month and accused of manipulating dozens of underage girls into massages and sex acts in his Manhattan and Palm Beach mansions. His arrest has sparked additional accusers to come forward with allegations that they were abused by him when they were girls.

Last week, Brad Edwards, an attorney representing several Epstein accusers, told reporters in New York that Epstein continued to sexually manipulate women during the hours that he spent away from his jail cell and under the supervision of Palm Beach sheriff’s deputies. Edwards couldn’t say if any of the women Epstein came in contact with were younger than 18 at the time. He said they visited Epstein without realizing they would end up in situations that were “sexual in nature.”

Book on Tuesday told the governor in a letter that an FDLE investigation is needed.

“I believe an investigation into PBSO’s handling of Epstein while on work release is also necessary and proper,” Book, D-Plantation, wrote to the governor. “If Epstein was able to abuse young girls while under supervised work release, we need to understand very clearly when and how these egregious lapses and abuses occurred so they cannot be repeated.”

Book was abused as a child by a nanny and is now the head of a sex-abuse prevention non-profit called Lauren’s Kids. She has previously called for a state investigation in the Epstein case, but on Tuesday made the request of DeSantis formally, in writing.

DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did the other three elected members of the Florida Cabinet, who together oversee Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen.

Ric Bradshaw, Palm Beach County’s elected sheriff, announced last week that his office was opening an internal affairs investigation into Edwards’ allegations. Bradshaw was the sheriff a dozen years ago while Epstein was incarcerated.

“Sheriff Ric Bradshaw shares Senator Book’s concerns,” spokeswoman Terri Barbera said Tuesday. “That is why he has ordered an internal investigation to determine if in fact the system failed 11 years ago and hold those accountable for any failures and ensure that it won’t happen again.”

Outrage over Epstein’s lenient prosecution erupted last year after the Miami Herald published Perversion of Justice, an investigative series that exposed the extent of the allegations against the wealthy financier. It detailed how Epstein was able to negotiate a plea deal that set aside a 53-page federal indictment and allowed him to plead guilty to two solicitation charges.

After Epstein’s July 6 arrest at Teterboro Airport, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta faced calls for his resignation over his role in the negotiation of the non-prosecution agreement back when he was the U.S. Attorney in Miami. Acosta stepped down July 12, but not before blaming local authorities for letting Epstein leave jail on work release, which he called “complete B.S.”

As part of his 2008 plea deal, Epstein agreed to register as a sex offender — which should have kept him from participating in the county’s work-release program under a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office policy. But Bradshaw, who has refused to speak with the Miami Herald about Epstein, has previously claimed that Epstein was not yet a sex offender during his incarceration.

“All we did was house him,’’ Bradshaw said earlier this year on an episode of Sundial, a radio program by Miami Herald news partner WLRN News. “He met the criteria for work release. He was not adjudicated as a violent sex offender. He wasn’t even adjudicated as a sex offender.’’

The nature of Epstein’s charges were well known at the time, though. Records obtained by the Herald show that Epstein signed documents at his sentencing acknowledging that he was a sex offender and outlining all the requirements that go with that conviction.

DeSantis has so far not commented publicly on the handling of Epstein’s case. The former Republican congressman from Ponte Vedra is a close ally of President Donald Trump, who has downplayed the friendship he once shared with Epstein, a neighbor on the tony island of Palm Beach.

But DeSantis, who is granted wide-ranging power under the Florida Constitution to suspend elected officials for negligence, malfeasance and other missteps, has been aggressive in investigating allegations against elected officers in the past.

He has removed at least four politicians from office since he was sworn in as governor in early January. DeSantis suspended Palm Beach Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher that month, and has removed Broward Supervisor Brenda Snipes and Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.

Snipes and Bucher resigned. Israel is fighting his suspension.

“The allegations related to serial sex predator Jeffrey Epstein assaulting young girls while serving on work release under the jurisdiction of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office are alarming,” Book wrote Tuesday. “If true, this shows yet another breakdown of the system’s dealing with this pedophilic abuser.”

Miami Herald staff writers Aaron Brezel, Julie K. Brown and Rob Wile contributed to this report.