Gov. Ron DeSantis acted responsibly this week by directing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to take over a criminal investigation into the handling of the Jeffrey Epstein underage sex trafficking case in South Florida. There are too many obvious conflicts of interest involving the Palm Beach County sheriff and the state attorney, and an objective investigation by FDLE is the correct approach. The only question is what took so long for a governor who in other situations has been too quick to intervene into the business of locally elected officials.
In an apparently coordinated effort, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw wrote to DeSantis Tuesday and asked that FDLE take over the investigation Bradshaw had initiated of his own department's treatment of Epstein. DeSantis responded by seeking a broader FDLE investigation beyond the issues involving Epstein's work-release to include "other irregularities concerning the case's disposition'' by a former Palm Beach County state attorney. He also issued an executive order taking the investigation away from Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg and giving it to long-time State Attorney Bruce Colton, who covers four counties north of Palm Beach County. Given the numerous questions, DeSantis took the responsible route in seeking a fresh, independent investigation
The Epstein case has been national news since the Miami Herald published a series of articles in November raising serious questions about his original prosecution in South Florida. Epstein, a multimillionaire who had friends in high places, is now being held in New York on charges sex trafficking minors in Manhattan and Palm Beach. But he was first investigated more than a decade ago in Palm Beach, indicted on federal charges and then allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges in state court under a deal approved by then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta. Public outrage following the Herald's excellent series last year and Epstein's latest arrest forced Acosta to resign as President Donald Trump's Labor Department secretary. The Herald's Julie Brown also found more than 60 women who said they were victims of abuse by Epstein.
The questions surrounding the handling of Epstein's original charges are serious enough. But there also are new revelations reported by the Herald and others about the ridiculous preferential treatment he received by the Palm Beach sheriff in 2008 in connection to the plea agreement brokered by Acosta. Epstein was held in a private jail wing and permitted to have his driver pick him up and take him to his own office six days a week in an astonishingly lenient work release arrangement. It's inconceivable a person with less financial means and fewer political connections would have received similar accommodations.
If there is any doubt about the forces still at play regarding this mess, look no further than state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Book, a sexual assault survivor, recently collected thousands of signatures on a petition asking DeSantis to seek an FDLE investigation and pointed out the sheriff's clear conflict of interest. Book told the Herald last month she received more than a dozen calls from the sheriff's supporters asking her to back down, and at least one anonymous threat.
Book, not the sheriff, deserves the credit for pushing DeSantis to do the obvious right thing and seek an independent investigation of the entire Epstein episode. The dozens of victims and the general public deserve to know what forces were really at play that enabled a well-connected multimillionaire accused of molesting dozens of underage girls to get such lenient treatment.