Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced his decision to ask state police to take over a criminal investigation into Palm Beach officials’ handling of the extraordinarily lax plea deal given to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in 2008.
Epstein was arrested in early July on sex trafficking charges in New York, more than a decade after Florida went easy on him for similar offenses. Prosecutors in New York say Epstein has abused dozens of girls at properties he owns in Manhattan, Palm Beach, New Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw opened an internal investigation into the department’s handling of the Epstein case last month, but he had faced mounting pressure to allow an outside agency to conduct it.
Bradshaw caved to his critics earlier Tuesday, sending a letter to the governor requesting that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement take over the criminal probe.
“Be rest assured as with any issue or concern that has crossed my desk over the past 15 years, I will strive for the truth, wherever that leads, to ensure justice is served and the public trust in our law enforcement agency is maintained,” Bradshaw told the governor.
Palm Beach officials began investigating Epstein in 2006 until the case was referred to the FBI, which filed a 53-page indictment against him. Then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, however, signed off on the cushy plea deal, allowing Epstein to plead guilty to lesser charges in a state court in Palm Beach. Acosta was forced to resign last month as President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor amid intense public criticism of his actions.
The multimillionaire financier was housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach jail and allowed to leave for work up to 12 hours per day, six days per week; his personal driver would ferry him to and from a West Palm Beach office. DeSantis has requested that state police open a “preliminary inquiry” into the work release Epstein was given along with other “irregularities” surrounding the case.
As part of the deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to two counts related to solicitation of a minor for sex. A Miami Herald exposé published in November raised new questions about the case, including why the deal was kept secret from Epstein’s accusers until after it was signed.
“Floridians expect and deserve a full and fair investigation,” DeSantis said in a statement on Tuesday.