Florida Sen. Lauren Book has reached out to Capitol police after receiving an anonymous warning connected to her demand for a state inquiry into Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s handling of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s lenient work release program, the Miami Herald has learned.
Book, a vocal advocate for child sexual assault survivors, said she also received more than a dozen calls from Bradshaw’s political supporters asking her to back off on her call for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into Bradshaw.
On Monday, Book, a Democrat, wrote a letter to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him to authorize a probe into how Epstein, accused of molesting dozens of underage girls and a registered sex offender, was permitted to leave the Palm Beach County Jail and spend much of his 2008-2009 incarceration in an office in West Palm Beach.
DeSantis said Thursday after a Cabinet meeting that he would “certainly consider” an investigation but that he has yet to decide how the state should respond.
“I saw someone sent me a letter. I looked at it,” he said. “I’ve got to figure out what the proper role of FDLE [is]. I know they are investigating it down in Palm Beach. ... Clearly when you look at how that happened, if even like 10 percent of the things about him are true, then that whole agreement was obviously suspect and willfully below what he should have faced.”
While the governor was still weighing the merits of the senator’s request, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office issued a new statement that its previously announced internal affairs investigation of the deputies who guarded and supervised Epstein during his work release had become a criminal investigation as well. No further elaboration was provided.
Meanwhile, Book, in an interview with the Herald, said she had asked the Capitol police, who handle security for state lawmakers, to look into claims made on a Russian website alleging that Bradshaw was behind an effort to access her phone and emails by using the pretext of “imminent danger’’ to obtain her personal information.
“I’ve received countless phone calls saying ‘Little girl you don’t know what you’re getting into,’ and telling me that I should just stop,’’ said Book, a child sexual abuse survivor herself who has worked to pass strict sex offender laws in Florida.
In a statement, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office said it had no knowledge of anyone trying to threaten or pressure Book.
“Nor has (the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office) made any effort to access her phone or emails as alleged on a salacious website run by a disgruntled former employee,’’ the statement said.
Pbsotalk.org, the website in question, is a blog tied to a former Palm Beach sheriff’s deputy who moved to Russia after starting the site, which claims it is dedicated to exposing corruption in the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office. The former deputy, John Dougan, fled to Moscow in 2016 following an FBI raid on his Palm Beach home that he claims was politically motivated.
The pressure against Book came on the same day that Epstein, 66, was found injured in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, where he is awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges brought earlier this month by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. His arrest stemmed from alleged behavior with underage girls dating back more than a decade in New York and Florida. Epstein was taken into custody July 6 after arriving at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport from Paris on his private jet.
Epstein was found unconscious in his cell Wednesday evening amid speculation that he may have tried to commit suicide or been attacked by another inmate. Jail officials said he was in the lockup Thursday.
Last Friday, Bradshaw announced the internal affairs investigation after reports emerged that Epstein — while on work release in Palm Beach — was allowed female visitors to his office, including at least one visit that led to a sexual encounter. The terms of Epstein’s incarceration were detailed by the Herald as part of a series published last year about Epstein’s case, Perversion of Justice.
Jack Scarola, who represents several of Epstein’s victims, said it is ludicrous to think that Bradshaw is able to investigate his own department.
“The allegations are against the sheriff and there’s no way a credible investigation can be conducted by the sheriff’s office when the allegations extend to the very top of the organization,’’ Scarola said.
Book, whose father, Ron Book, is perhaps the most powerful lobbyist in Florida, said she intends to pressure the governor for a full and thorough investigation.
“The privileges that Epstein received in Palm Beach County were outside the scope of what anyone else would receive. We need an independent body to identify whether this was an issue of individual failures or systemic failures. And if it was an individual failure, we need to hold those individuals accountable,’’ she said.
Bradshaw, who is running for his fifth term, wields tremendous power in Palm Beach, where the agency has also been the lead law enforcement detail assisting the Secret Service during President Donald Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago. The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office spent $5.6 million for Trump’s 2017-2018 trips, the Palm Beach Post reported in April. The department is reimbursed for the work.
Epstein was found on the floor of his jail cell with injuries to his neck, according to a report from NBC New York late Wednesday.
The television station said another inmate had been questioned and that Epstein is on suicide watch. A source told CBS News the injuries were not life threatening. The New York Post reported that Epstein was taken to a nearby hospital and may have intentionally hurt himself in order to win a transfer out of the federal facility.
Quoting unnamed law enforcement officials, The New York Times said prison officials were treating the incident, which left Epstein with “bruising around the neck,” as a possible suicide attempt.
The jet-setting financier was denied bail last week after a federal judge said he posed a danger to young women. His lawyers have filed their intent to appeal, saying he should be released to his palatial Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse.
Epstein, who has pleaded not guilty, roamed the halls of power before dozens of underage girls accused him of sexual assaults. After preparing a 50-plus-page indictment on sex trafficking charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida shelved the charges and allowed Epstein to plead guilty to minor charges in state court. That’s how Epstein ended up in the Palm Beach County Jail — and then on work release approved by Sheriff Bradshaw.
A fixture on the high-society social circuit, he was known to associate with figures such as Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew of Britain. He owns homes around the world, including a mansion in Palm Beach. His lawyers pegged his wealth at $559 million in court documents.
In an email, the Bureau of Prisons said Epstein was currently at the federal jail Thursday morning, not a hospital, but did not address his condition or whether an incident had occurred.
“As with all inmates, for privacy and security reasons, we do not share information on an inmate’s medical status or their conditions of confinement,” the Bureau of Prisons said.
The federal detention center where Epstein is locked up has been described by The New York Times as “less hospitable than Guantánamo Bay.” It has also held Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who plotted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, according to the Times.
This story was written by Miami Herald staff writers Julie K. Brown and Nicholas Nehamas. Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.