2019 Explanatory Reporting, Medium Newsroom finalist

Perversion of Justice

About the Project

Through words and compelling video, the Miami Herald’s “Perversion of Justice” breaks down and dissects a mindboggling violation of decency and miscarriage of justice: the case of hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein.

Using his vast wealth and over a period of years, Epstein lured dozens of underage girls to his Palm Beach estate and other mansions scattered around the country and sexually abused them. He then paid them to recruit other girls to service him, in what amounted to a sexual pyramid scheme. This was a brazen instance of human trafficking by an individual with influential friends (Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, to name just two). Epstein is a man who felt he was untouchable.

Despite a parade of potential victims/witnesses, the Justice Department chose to sign a nonprosecution agreement with Epstein. As part of the deal, he served a token amount of time in the local jail, despite crimes that would have put any other American away for life. Most shockingly, the arrangement was deliberately kept secret from victims, so they could not raise objections, a gross violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.

Investigative journalist Julie K. Brown and visual journalist Emily Michot attacked the subject like a police cold case procedural, sifting through a decade of records for bread crumbs and painstakingly tracking down Epstein’s victims through every social media platform imaginable. Although the Epstein case had been written about before, the victims’ stories had never been told. They had never even been asked their opinions about the deal — not by journalists, certainly not by the justice system.

Eight of them talked to Brown and Michot– four of them on the record and on video.

The impact of their words — and Julie Brown’s — is still reverberating. A judge has ruled that the nonprosecution agreement was illegal because the victims were deliberately not consulted. Separately, a three-judge panel in New York City, acting on a petition by the Miami Herald, is unsealing hundreds of pages of court documents that will shine some light on Mr. Epstein’s crimes — and those who abetted them. (The court is still working on the mechanics of that release.) The Justice Department has undertaken an internal investigation into the decision by then U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta — now President Trump’s secretary of labor — to forgo federal prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein.

Despite calls for his removal, Acosta has managed to hang onto his job thus far.

Meantime, the Justice Department is also interviewing victims of Epstein to determine if there is a basis for undertaking a new prosecution and getting it right.

In the digital era, this has the potential to be the most impactful investigation ever undertaken by the Miami Herald.