Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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If You Are a Sex Criminal, It Pays to be Rich

A federal judge’s comments last week while handing down a tough sentence provide more evidence that, when facing criminal sex charges it’s really good to be rich and connected.

Calling the convicted defendant’s actions “horrific,” U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, presiding in West Palm Beach, last week sentenced Dontavious Blake to 27 years in prison.

You can guess that Blake is not rich and connected.

What did Blake do? As The Palm Beach Post’s Jane Musgrave explained, he “kept teenage runaways and other young women with drug problems in a townhouse off 45th Street, dispatching them to area hotels to have sex with strangers.” One of Blake’ victims was 15 years old. Another was 16. Blake is 34.

Said Judge Marra: “Mr. Blake’s involvement was really despicable.”

Marra also sentenced an accomplice, Tara Jo Moore, 28. But Moore got only 15 years. Marra explained that it was clear Moore also was a victim of sorts.

“She’s a vulnerable, under-educated, insecure, weak individual who had a troubled past just like the victims,” Marra said. “Her sociological background made her easy pickings for Mr. Blake.”

Moore isn’t the rich and connected person, either.

That individual would be Jeffrey Epstein.

Epstein is the fabulously wealthy Palm Beacher whose connections included Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew. Epstein in 2008 pleaded guilty to charges stemming from allegations that he paid underage girls for “massages” at his Palm Beach mansion. Some of the girls were every bit as young as those Blake roped into prostitution.

But amazingly, Epstein did not end up in federal prison with a 27-year sentence. He worked out a deal so the feds didn’t even prosecute him. Instead, he spent just 13 months in the Palm Beach County Jail on state charges, where he enjoyed perks that allowed him to frequently leave the facility.

How in the world did Epstein, who allegedly abused dozens of girls, get such a deal?

Well, that’s what some of his victims wanted to know. They filed a lawsuit under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act to find out.

But guess what? Epstein – and the prosecutors who arranged the deal – have fought like crazy to keep secret the details of the deal that let him avoid prosecution that could have ended in a life sentence.

So far, they have been mostly successful.

This month, a federal judge in West Palm Beach ruled that Epstein and the U.S. Attorney’s Office had persuaded him to keep 15,000 pages of material related to the non-prosecution agreement secret. According to the Palm Beach Daily News, the judge’s ruling cites attorney-client privilege, the protection of grand jury proceedings and the privacy rights of other victims.

That misses a far bigger picture. Unless and until the public is allowed to review and understand what happened in the Epstein case, the suspicion only can be that Epstein got treated differently than any ordinary person would have been.

In giving Epstein a ridiculously light sentence for having sexual contact with minors, the justice system in effect is treating those girls with the same kind of contempt a pimp like Blake regards his victims.

It is tawdry, it stinks, and it undermines the judicial system. Lawyers for the Jane Does who sued to have the material released still hope to have the non-prosecution agreement thrown out. Even if that happens, there’s no guarantee Epstein would be prosecuted or convicted.

The judge who refused to release the documents – in a small irony – was U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra. He said it wasn’t his place to judge “whether the government erred, and thus had a motive for hiding its error, when it decided not to prosecute Epstein.”

Maybe not. But it sure looks like somebody erred. And it sure looks like a cover-up.

Jac VerSteeg is editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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