Facing a criminal case for sex trafficking and sex-trafficking conspiracy, multiple civil cases by alleged victims, and a Department of Justice inquiry into his wrist-slap plea deal in Florida, Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide has opened a flurry of questions about the future status of his legal proceedings. As for the criminal charges, those are effectively kaput: As former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti explains, “Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide ends the criminal case against him because no one else was charged in the indictment.”
Many questions — not to mention full-blown conspiracy theories — remain. How much more about Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking ring will come to light? Will others be indicted? What might we find out from the FBI and Department of Justice inquiries into Epstein’s suicide? To help weigh these questions, Intelligencer spoke with former U.S. Attorney and New York contributor Barbara McQuade about where the legal proceedings involving the sex offender go from here.
How much information about Epstein and his co-conspirators will never be known because the criminal case against him closes with his death?
It could be quite a bit. His case will no doubt be dismissed: You can’t have a prosecution without a defendant. So it will probably be dismissed Monday morning. But I do think that it is likely that investigators will continue to investigate any co-conspirators who are involved in this case. We know the names of some of the women who were assisting him. And then there’s also the interesting and unusual language in the plea agreement out of the Southern District of Florida about granting immunity to any potential co-conspirators. So my guess is, they will continue to investigate whether there are co-conspirators. It may be that never pans out into any charges, for lots of reasons: a lack of evidence, evidence that’s unavailable because you needed Epstein. So it could be that we never hear anything more about it. But I think they’ll continue to investigate, and if they find evidence of a crime, that will become publicly known.
What about Epstein’s knowledge, now lost, of his own alleged crimes? I’m thinking about passwords, knowing where records are, information like that.
If he had wanted to provide truthful information, he likely could have implicated any others involved by providing testimony or photos or documents. Though I think a search warrant was already executed at his home, so investigators likely already have at least some of that.
Does his death make it less likely that charges will be brought against other people?
There was a possibility of him as a cooperator. He obviously had a strong incentive to share information — to reduce his own prison sentence. That possibility of him sharing important information that could have exposed co-conspirators — that’s gone with his death. But I think there’s still an incentive to investigate the reasons for his lenient guilty plea, and anyone who might have been assisting in or sharing in the sex trafficking. I think that investigation will continue, there’s plenty of incentive for it to continue. [On Saturday, the Miami Herald reported that with Epstein’s death, “prosecutors in the Southern District of New York will likely refocus their probe on Ghislaine Maxwell, Sarah Kellen Vickers, Adriana Ross, and Lesley Groff — all of whom allegedly helped run Epstein’s operation in the mid- to late-2000s.]
How might this affect the civil cases by his victims against his estate, or the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General investigation into the plea deal?
I think you can still maintain the civil cases, the defamation cases, those should continue. It makes it difficult: Because you don’t have him, you can’t continue to take those depositions or do the things you might want to do with the case. But those cases will continue. The inspector general maintains the ability to look into misconduct, because there was possible institutional misconduct — the idea that the apparatus has problems that needs to be corrected. So I think the inspector general could continue to investigate.
So there are no confirmed reports of a cooperation agreement between the government and any Epstein co-conspirators, but if one was theoretically in place to help prosecute Epstein, could it be thrown away to prosecute that cooperating co-conspirator?
I don’t know if it’d be thrown out. If there’s still potential investigative information that person had that would still be valuable for others, it might stay. If they were solely cooperating against Epstein, that’s an interesting question. Typically, to get credit you have to provide information that assists in the investigation or prosecution of others. If he’s dead, it’s hard to imagine that it could still amount to substantial assistance. They might lose their ability to provide something of value. I would think that there may still be value in their cooperation if they are sharing information about of others. If it’s solely about Epstein and he’s dead, that theoretical person might be out of luck. If I were involved in the case, I’d still want to talk to them to find out what they know about others.
Regarding his suicide in jail after a reported suicide attempt in July, it seems like the prosecutor may have miscalculated, seeing his first attempt as an effort to get out of jail. Where does the responsibility for his death fall? With the prosecutor? The Metropolitan Correctional Center?
I think it’s the Bureau of Prisons, which takes care of inmates and detainees. Somebody makes a decision on whether or not an inmate goes on suicide watch. It’s hard to imagine why he wouldn’t still be on suicide watch. [On July 23, Epstein had been found semiconscious in his cell with marks on his neck. He was taken off suicide watch on July 29.] It seems like someone facing these kind of charges, for that reason alone they should be on suicide watch. The fact that he attempted and failed previously seems like he would have qualified, although I don’t know what the BOP criteria is and whether it was met.
What sort of things might we learn from the FBI investigation into Epstein’s death, and the DOJ Inspector General investigation into Epstein’s death, both of which were announced today?
If no charges are filed, we may not find out anything. If the FBI is involved, they’re looking into it as a possible crime, not negligence by BOP. Was he murdered? That could be one thing they’d be looking at. Did a fellow inmate or a guard kill him? That would be one thing. The other would be a civil-rights violation, that he was beaten by guards or something like that.