Jeffrey Epstein grand jury records from underage girl abuse probe to be released under Florida law

Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a bill he signed at the Palm Beach Police Department, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Palm Beach, Fla., meant to release secret documents detailing the proceedings of a 2006 Palm Beach County grand jury that issued only one criminal prostitution-related charge against Jeffrey Epstein despite police uncovering dozens of victims. The measure takes effect July 1. Watching the proceedings are Epstein victims, from left, Hayley Robson. and Jena-Lisa Jones. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post via AP)
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Associated Press

Grand jury transcripts from a 2006 Florida investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of dozens of underage girls will be released publicly later this year under legislation signed into law Thursday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. A local judge cited the new law in denying release of the records for now.

The measure, which takes effect July 1, would carve out a limited exception to the secrecy that generally shrouds grand jury testimony in specific cases such as that involving Epstein, DeSantis said at a signing ceremony in Palm Beach, Florida, where many of the crimes took place at Epstein’s home.

“There needs to be a mechanism in some of these rare circumstances where people can get the truth,” the Republican governor said. “This is in the interest of justice to disclose this. We don’t think we can just turn a blind eye.”

Epstein, a wealthy financier, cut a deal with South Florida federal prosecutors in 2008 that allowed him to escape more severe federal charges and instead plead guilty to state charges of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. He was sentenced to 18 months in the Palm Beach County jail system, followed by 12 months of house arrest. He was required to register as a sex offender.

“What happened was clearly wrong and the punishment was wholly inadequate for the crime,” DeSantis said.

Epstein in 2018 was charged with federal sex trafficking crimes in New York — where he also had a mansion that was a scene of abuse — after the Miami Herald published a series of articles that renewed public focus on the case, including interviews with some victims who had been pursuing civil lawsuits against him. Epstein was 66 when he killed himself in a New York City jail cell in August 2019, federal officials say.

Epstein’s former girlfriend, socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, is serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2021 of luring girls to his homes to be molested.

Haley Robson, who was victimized by Epstein as a 16-year-old high school student in Florida, said she and others like her are grateful for the closure that release of the grand jury records would mean. The Associated Press does not generally report names of sexual assault victims unless they consent, and Robson appeared at the governor’s news conference to share her thoughts publicly.

“I can’t express enough how we’ve all been so affected by all of this,” Robson said. “This is not something we should be forgetting about.”

Although some material could still be edited out, most of the grand jury transcripts should be released fairly soon after the new law’s July 1 effective date once a petition is filed seeking them, DeSantis said.

“I don’t think it should take forever and a day,” the governor said.

Also Thursday, mentioning the new law, a state judge decided not to release the grand jury records as part of a lawsuit filed by The Palm Beach Post and said he would consider any petition seeking them once the law takes effect in July. Circuit Judge Luis Delgado said he can’t order the release under today’s statutes.

“The release of the records will not further justice as our law currently prescribes,” Delgado wrote in a ruling denying that they be made public for now.

Joseph Abruzzo, the Palm Beach County court clerk and comptroller, said in a statement that the legislation, which lawmakers formally sent to DeSantis on Wednesday, was essential for “full transparency” in the Epstein case given the judge’s position on current law.

“Without the legislation that our office championed for the past three years, there would not be an avenue to release the grand jury records in the Jeffrey Epstein case,” Abruzzo said.

While in Palm Beach sheriff’s custody, Epstein was allowed to stay in an isolated cell at the county’s minimum-security stockade, where he roamed freely and watched television. Epstein was also allowed into the county’s work-release program, working from his office on his financial consulting business and his foundation.

So many questions remain unanswered about how such a lenient punishment was imposed, Robson said.

“Why was Jeffrey Epstein given such grace and mercy for his inhumane crime?” she said. “It’s going to shed light on what I’ve known this entire time.”