Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein may yet spend an appropriate amount of time in a federal prison. He should have been sent away years ago. Why that did not happen needs to be explained.
Epstein, 66, has been arrested by federal authorities in New York, on charges of sex trafficking involving children. His attorney insists the accusations are old news.
Perhaps so. Or, given the incredible leniency with which Epstein was treated in 2008, perhaps prosecutors have evidence of crimes since then.
Then living in Florida, Epstein was investigated in 2005 after the mother of a girl he had molested called police. But, though state officials had prepared charges against him, the federal government stepped in.
In 2008, Epstein and federal prosecutors in Miami reached a plea deal. Though he was alleged to have sexually assaulted dozens of girls, Epstein was granted immunity from federal prosecution. He was permitted to plead guilty in state court to two prostitution charges. His accusers were not told of the plan until after the plea deal was formalized in court.
His punishment amounted to a very light slap on the wrist. Epstein was required to spend 13 months at a jail in Palm Beach. He was allowed to leave it six days a week, allegedly to go to work.
So outrageous was the arrangement that the Justice Department began taking another look at it in February.
One reason for the renewed attention may be to determine the role Alexander Acosta played in the plea agreement. He served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2008.
Acosta was until Friday when he announced his resignation, secretary of labor in President Donald Trump’s administration.
Sexual predators who victimize children, as Epstein did, should be put behind bars for a long time. Learning how he escaped such a sentence — and who was involved in helping him do so — is important. Justice Department officials should pursue that knowledge, wherever their investigation leads.