The Department of Justice released the findings of a probe into the prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein last week, stating in a 13-page overview that there was no misconduct committed by the lawyers who negotiated his plea deal. That finding seems to be at odds, however, with the full 348-page report obtained by OK!, which details the countless struggles and roadblocks that were being placed in front of the prosecuting attorney on the case — A. Marie Villafaña — by her male superiors.
Among the men forcing Ms. Villafaña into an uneasy and potentially illegal compromise with the pedophile and his lawyers was Alex Acosta, the former Secretary of Labor under President Trump who at the time ran the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of Florida. It was Acosta who was ultimately cleared by the report, despite investigators noting he was missing almost a year's worth of emails from his account that pertained to the focus of this probe.
The findings released by the Office of Professional Responsibility did provide some vindication for Ms. Villafaña, who in many reports had been portrayed as having a far more active role in brokering Epstein's sweetheart plea deal. On the contrary, she was prepared to indict him a year before he ultimately appeared in court to enter his guilty plea to just two felony charges of solicitation and only one involving a minor. The report states:
Accordingly, Villafaña drafted an 82-page prosecution memorandum directed to Acosta, Jeffrey Sloman, Matthew Menchel... Andrew Lourie, and her immediate supervisor, dated May 1, 2007, supporting a proposed 60-count indictment that charged Epstein with various federal crimes relating to sexual conduct with and trafficking of minors. The prosecution memorandum set forth legal issues and potential defenses relating to each proposed charge; explained why certain other statutes were rejected as proposed charges; described the evidence supporting each count and potential evidentiary issues; and addressed the viability and credibility of each of the victims who were expected to testify at trial.
Things seemed to be moving along well at this point. Villafaña received positive feedback, and there was even a plan in place by the FBI to possibly arrest Epstein in the Virgin Islands while he was judging a local beauty pageant. And yet, in the following weeks, there was no mention of Villafaña's report. She sent emails asking about a possible arrest or indictment and got back nothing until she learned that her male superiors were meeting with members of Epstein's defense team without her knowledge.
Menchel met with one lawyer, in particular, Lilly Ann Sanchez. She was once a U.S. Attorney in Miami and also a former paramour of Menchel, who had gone on a few dates with the prosecuting attorney. In fact, all of Epstein's attorneys had ties to the lawyers on the case in some way, shape or form.
The belated news of this meeting lead to a heated email exchange between Villafaña and Menchel, who were at odds throughout the early stages of the case. Menchel would abruptly leave the U.S. Attorney's Office, however, shortly after promising Epstein's attorneys that a deal was possible. That enraged Villafaña, who did not hold back in an email to Menchel, writing:
It is inappropriate for you to enter into plea negotiations without consulting with me or the investigative agencies, and it is more inappropriate to make a plea offer that you know is completely unacceptable to the FBI, ICE Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the victims, and me. These plea negotiations violate the Ashcroft memo, the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, and all of the various iterations of the victims’ rights legislation. Strategically, you have started the plea negotiations as though we are in a position of weakness, anxious to make the case go away, by telling the defense that we will demand no federal conviction. We left the meeting on June 26th in a stronger position than when we entered, and your statement that a state resolution would satisfy us takes away that advantage. If you make it seem like the U.S. Attorney doesn’t have faith in our investigation, Epstein has no incentive to make a deal. Second, your discussion makes it appear that my investigation is for “show” only and completely undermines my ability to deal with Epstein’s attorneys directly. . . I would like to make a presentation to the U.S. Attorney, Jeff Sloman, Andy Lourie, and you with our side of the investigation and a revised indictment. The presentation will address the points raised by Epstein’s counsel and will convince you all of the strength of the case. In the meantime, please direct all communications from Epstein’s counsel to me.
Menchel told the investigators that it was Villafaña who had become the problem because she was "very anxious" to file charges and inasmuch not being "respectful" of Acosta's position. His scolding and belittling response to Villafaña's email had the tone of a parent scolding a child. It read:
Both the tone and substance of your email are totally inappropriate and, in combination with other matters in the past, it seriously calls your judgment into question. As you well know, the U.S. Attorney has not even decided whether to go forward with a prosecution in this matter, thus you respected his position before engaging in plea negotiations. Along that same line, despite whatever contrary representations you made to the agents in this matter, it was made clear to you by the U.S. Attorney and the First Assistant from the time when you were first authorized to investigate Mr. Epstein that the office had concerns about taking this case because of petit sic policy and a number of legal issues. Despite being told these things, you prepared a pros memo and indictment that included a definitive date for indictment. It has come to my attention that you led the agents to believe that the indictment of this matter was a foregone conclusion and that our decision to put off that date and listen to the defense attorneys’ concerns is indicative of the office having second thoughts about indicting. As you well knew, you were never given authorization by anyone to seek an indictment in this case.
That email marked a seismic shift in how the case was handled, with the men then taking the lead and Villafaña left fighting to see Epstein suffered at least some consequence from the sweetheart deal she was against from the start but forced to sign. She was also the lone prosecutor who seemed to view the victims as just that, something that certainly did not come across in the 2018 Miami Herald exposé, which presented her as having a very active role in negotiating the plea deal.
She did have to settle in the end for 18 months in prison, a 12-month period of house arrest and lifelong registration as a sex offender for Epstein. In the aftermath of that Menchel email, Villafaña had made it clear what she thought the punishment ought to be in the case. And she even put it in writing:
Villafaña sent Lourie an email, which Lourie forwarded to Menchel, explaining that a “conservative calculation” of Epstein’s potential sentencing exposure under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines would be 168 to 210 months and that in her view, the facts warranted an upward departure from that range. Villafaña told OPR that although Lourie proposed some changes to the draft indictment, at that point no one had told her that the evidence was insufficient to support the proposed charges or that the office did not want to go forward with the case.
In a statement on Thursday, she called the plea deal "patently unjust," breaking her silence after more than a decade. “That injustice, I believe, was the result of deep, implicit institutional biases that prevented me and the FBI agents who worked diligently on this case from holding Mr. Epstein accountable for his crimes,” said Villafaña. “By not considering those implicit biases based on gender and socioeconomic status, OPR the Office of Professional Responsibility lost an opportunity to make recommendations for institutional changes that could prevent results like this one from occurring in the future.”
The juxtaposition between the 13-page summary stating there was no misconduct and some of the details in the 348-page report also led Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) to question the report. “Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ — it is a disgusting failure,” said Sasse. “Americans ought to be enraged. Jeffrey Epstein should be rotting behind bars today, but the Justice Department failed Epstein’s victims at every turn. The DOJ’s crooked deal with Epstein effectively shut down investigations into his child sex trafficking ring and protected his co-conspirators in other states. Justice has not been served.”