Pointing to a request from the Palm Beach County sheriff, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to oversee an investigation into the handling of high-profile sex offender Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago.
The probe is expected to look at privileges provided to Epstein while he was in the custody of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. DeSantis directed the FDLE to initiate a preliminary inquiry that also considers “irregularities” regarding a 2008 plea agreement with Epstein, a politically connected financier now facing sex-trafficking charges involving minors in Florida and New York.
In addition, DeSantis assigned State Attorney Bruce Colton of the 19th Judicial Circuit to handle any proceedings that arise from the investigation. The 19th Judicial Circuit covers Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties.
“Floridians expect and deserve a full and fair investigation,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.
State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, has publicly pushed the past two weeks for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office handling of Epstein while he was on work release.
DeSantis on Tuesday, however, cited a request from Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who wrote in a letter to the governor that the public interest would be better served by a state investigation “from court sentencing to incarceration.”
“Given the recent questions that have been raised around the Jeffrey Epstein case, I am formally requesting that FDLE assume the existing criminal investigation and I pledge the cooperation and participation of my agency,” Bradshaw wrote.
The investigation grew out of an internal affairs inquiry Bradshaw announced on July 19, after an allegation was made that Epstein was able to engage in sex while on work release.
Epstein served 13 months of an 18-month sentence after he pleaded guilty in 2008 on two state prostitution charges in Florida, including procuring a minor for sex. The plea required him to register as a sex offender.
While in custody, Epstein was housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach County stockade. After more than three months in custody, Epstein was provided work release for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
The sheriff’s office will continue an internal affairs investigation, Bradshaw wrote in the letter to DeSantis.
Epstein’s latest arrest led to the resignation last month of Alex Acosta as U.S. labor secretary amid questions over his role as a former federal prosecutor in Florida and the plea deal.
Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, thanked DeSantis on Tuesday.
“Epstein enjoyed an unprecedented and deeply troubling level of leniency and luxury while incarcerated by PBSO,” Book said in a release. “I am disgusted by the flagrant corruption documented within the logs of deputies assigned to supervise Epstein while on work release and deeply disturbed by allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated under PBSO watch. FDLE’s investigation is the first step toward a clear understanding of what happened and who is responsible.”