Palm Beach prosecutor painted Epstein victims as prostitutes, grand jury records show

Julie K. Brown | (TNS) Miami Herald

MIAMI — A Palm Beach County prosecutor painted two girls molested by Jeffrey Epstein as prostitutes, drug addicts, thieves and liars in front of a grand jury empaneled in 2006 to review the state’s criminal case against sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, newly released court documents show.

Palm Beach County Judge Luis Delgado unsealed the controversial grand jury records on Monday after years of legal action by the Palm Beach Post and other media, including the Miami Herald, CNN and the New York Times. Grand jury records are normally kept under seal to protect witnesses as well as the integrity of the case. But in the years since the Epstein case was closed in 2008, the Miami Herald uncovered evidence suggesting that Epstein and his battery of high-priced attorneys may have exerted undue influence over the state attorney.

The records have remained under seal for 16 years. Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, prodded by state lawmakers and Palm Beach County Clerk of Courts Joe Abruzzo, signed a bill to release the files by July 1. The new bill provides for the records to be unsealed if the subject of a grand jury inquiry is dead or the investigation involves sexual activity with a minor.

DeSantis noted that making the records public might explain how the wealthy Epstein managed to “engineer an outcome that the average citizen would likely never have been able” to accomplish.

The records contain nearly 200 pages, including the testimony of two girls who were molested by Epstein, the New York financier who abused hundreds of underage girls at his Palm Beach mansion between 1996 and 2008. Epstein managed to escape serious charges, in part because the Palm Beach prosecutor at the time, Barry Krischer, elected to charge him with minor prostitution and solicitation rather than bringing a felony sexual assault case.

The Miami Herald reported in 2018 that both Krischer and the lead prosecutor in the case, Lanna Belohlavek, told Palm Beach police that they didn’t intend to prosecute Epstein because they believed the girls were prostitutes and a jury would never believe them. But Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter and the lead detective, Joe Recarey, both protested the decision, noting that there were multiple victims, some as young as 14, who were lured to his home under false pretenses. Reiter and Recarey went over Krischer’s head and took the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, arguing that Epstein, who was in his 50s, was a serial sex predator who wouldn’t stop until he was put in prison.

“There was no reason to take this case to a grand jury in the first place,” said Spencer Kuvin, the attorney representing one of the girls who testified before the grand jury. “They had evidence of numerous victims to show that he was a serial sex predator. The only reason they gave it to the grand jury was to taint their own case and have an excuse not to prosecute.”

The grand jury and the girls

The actual audio recordings of the daylong proceeding were not released to the public Monday. The Herald requested the recordings, but was told that they were not available. The transcripts also seem to be missing key elements that would normally be part of a grand jury proceeding. For example, there is no record that Belohlavek introduced herself to the panel, explained what the case was about or told the jury what they were supposed to do. There’s no closing statement summarizing the case or any documentation of what the grand jury ultimately decided.

What is clear is that Belohlavek painted an unsympathetic portrait of the two girls, both of whom came from broken families. One of the girls and her sister had been passed back and forth between parents and were taken to a school for troubled juveniles. The girl ran away several times before meeting a group of older kids, one of whom brought her to Epstein’s mansion.

She described for the jury how she was ushered into a large bedroom and instructed to strip down to her underwear. Alone in the room with Epstein, and confused about what was happening, she reluctantly complied. After he molested her, he gave her $200.

In front of the jury, Belohlavek asked the girl: “You’re aware that you committed a crime?”

“Now I am. I didn’t know it was a crime when I was doing it,” said the girl, who was 14 at the time. “Like, I — I don’t know. I guess it was prostitution or something like that.”

Belohlavek also asked the girls questions about their parents, and allowed members of the jury to make statements to the victims.

“Did you have any idea that deep inside of you that you — what you’re doing is wrong?” asked one juror.

“Yea, I did,” the girl replied.

“Oh do you?” the juror said, pointing out that the girl should have known better.

Asked another juror “Did it ever occur to you that he could have hacked you up?”

“Yes,” she stammered. “I thought about it a lot.”

Said the juror: “(You) should give it a little further thought.”

David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, was astonished at the way the case was presented to the jury. He pointed out that the girls were under the age of consent, yet they were the ones treated like criminals.

“How is that not statutory rape?” he said of Epstein’s crime. “I can see how people think that a wealthy powerful man got away with abusing all these girls.”

Recarey, the lead investigator on the case, testified in detail at the proceeding about how Epstein and his assistants would recruit girls from local high schools, telling them initially that they were being hired to give him massages. While they were instructed to lie about their ages, many of them told Epstein their real ages and spoke to him about high school.

Recarey, who passed away in 2018, told the Herald in an interview prior to his death that he was frustrated by the state attorney’s handling of the case, claiming that Krischer and Belohlavek went to great lengths to discredit the girls — and failed to present to the jury the corroborating evidence that backed up the girls’ stories, including phone records.

Neither Krischer nor Belohlavek has ever commented on the case. The Herald was unsuccessful in reaching them on Monday. Both have since retired.

The years that followed