Photo: AP

The Department of Justice has opened an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility into whether prosecutors may have committed misconduct in the legal case against multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, according to the Miami Herald. Epstein was given an incredibly light sentence for sex trafficking charges in 2008 thanks Alexander Acosta, a Florida prosecutor who is now Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor. The new investigation was requested by Sen. Ben Sasse.

“OPR has now opened an investigation into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved,’’ Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote in a letter on the matter today.

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A series of stories by the Herald last year reignited interest in the case. The reports suggested that Epstein’s abuses were far more wide-ranging than was acknowledged in legal proceedings, and that his sentence was absurdly lenient, possibly due to a conspiracy within the prosecutor’s office to get him off the hook.

From the Herald:

Epstein, 66, faced a possible life sentence for sex trafficking, but instead was secretly granted federal immunity, along with others who were part of the conspiracy, some of whom were named, but others who were not. Epstein was suspected by the FBI of running an international sex trafficking operation involving minors, and federal prosecutors had drafted a 53-page indictment that was shelved after Acosta signed off on a non-prosecution agreement in September 2007.

For months after the deal was executed, federal prosecutors kept Epstein’s victims in the dark, and the FBI led some of them to believe the investigation was ongoing. Most of the girls, ages 13-16, only found out about the plea bargain after hearing about it on television when he was sentenced in June 2008.

Acosta agreed to seal the agreement and keep it from Epstein’s victims so that the girls couldn’t try to derail it before he was sentenced, the Herald found.

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Sasse, in a statement, had strong words for Epstein and anyone who had protected him.

“Jeffrey Epstein is a child rapist and there’s not a single mom or dad in America who shouldn’t be horrified by the fact that he received a pathetically soft sentence,’’ Sasse said. “The victims of Epstein’s child sex trafficking ring deserve this investigation—and so do the American people and the members of law enforcement who work to put these kinds of monsters behind bars.’’

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The former Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter, who the Herald found had pushed for a tougher sentence for Epstein, said he was optimistic about the DOJ investigation.

“I hope that the Department of Justice investigation answers the questions of why this case was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s office in the way that it was and may it somehow result in justice and an apology by the government for the victims and their families.,’’ Reiter told the Herald.

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Epstein’s alleged victims also expressed relief at the news of an investigation.

“I am in tears that someone is finally listening to our stories. Hopefully, god willing, something happens and they dig into this and do something,’’ Jena-Lisa Jones, who says she was molested by Epstein when she was 14, told the Herald.

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A federal investigation is indeed a step in the right direction in this horrifically unjust case, but, as noted by former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah, the OPR has been known to keep investigations under wraps, and is sometimes accused of shielding DOJ prosecutors. They also do not have the power to subpoena witnesses.

“It is a good sign that OPR’s letter to Senator Sasse indicates that it will share its results at the conclusion of the investigation, but those results will have to be viewed in the context of OPR’s limited powers,’’ Rocah told the Herald.

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Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz has long pushed for an investigation into the Epstein case and its results. She says that the OPR investigation is insufficient.

“This atrocious case deserves both a publicly-disclosed investigation and complete independence that will ensure accountability. It’s simply not enough,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

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Since the Herald stories, powerful friends of Epstein’s have once again come under scrutiny. Photos of author Stephen Pinker with Epstein in 2014 recently surfaced on Twitter. In 2016, Donald Trump called Epstein a “terrific guy” in New York Magazine. And Bill Clinton was one of the men famously listed on the flight logs that Epstein kept for his private plane that he allegedly used to transport young girls to the Caribbean.

Another famous Epstein associate—Harvard professor and frequent cable news guest Alan Dershowitz—has faced his own accusations related to the case. In the Herald piece, Dershowitz was accused by one woman of raping her repeatedly while she was underage. Dershowitz has denied those claims. But he has also admitted that he still talks to his old pal Epstein.