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Florida governor orders criminal probe into handling of prior Jeffrey Epstein sex case

Key Points
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis directed his state's law enforcement department to handle a criminal probe into Jeffrey Epstein's jail work release in the late 2000s.
  • DeSantis also asked the agency to launch an inquiry into "other irregularities" surrounding an earlier state probe and plea agreement with Epstein, a wealthy financier.
  • Epstein is accused in a pending federal criminal case of child sex trafficking. Prosecutors in that case say the former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton sexually abused dozens of underage girls from 2002 through 2005.
Charges against Jeffery Epstein were announced on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.
Stephanie Keith | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis directed his state's law enforcement department Tuesday to handle a criminal probe into Jeffrey Epstein's jail work release in the late 2000s, and also asked the agency to launch an inquiry into "other irregularities" surrounding an earlier probe and plea agreement with Epstein.

DeSantis said he wants the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into "the prior state investigation " of Epstein and the plea agreement he signed in 2008.

Epstein, 66, is currently facing indictment in Manhattan federal court, where he is accused of child sex trafficking. He was arrested in early July at a New Jersey airport after flying there from Paris on his private plane.

Prosecutors in that case say he sexually abused dozens of underage girls at his Manhattan townhouse and Palm Beach, Florida, mansion from 2002 through 2005. He has pleaded not guilty, and is being held without bail because the judge in his case said he could represent a danger to other underage girls if he were released.

In the prior case lodged in 2008 by the Palm Beach County State's Attorney's Office, Epstein pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges involving an underage girl.

Epstein, a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, served 13 months in jail in that case, during which he was allowed outside for hours nearly every day. The case was filed after police called for far more serious charges involving alleged sexual misconduct with underage girls to be brought against Epstein.

VIDEO0:5800:58
NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992

In addition to criticism of the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office's handling of the earlier Epstein case, there also has been criticism of a nonprosecution deal that then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta cut with Epstein, which also granted immunity to his alleged co-conspirators.

That deal let Epstein off the hook for potential federal criminal charges in 2007 in exchange for pleading guilty in the state prostitution case and registering as a sex offender.

Acosta resigned as Trump's Labor secretary last month after outrage over the agreement mounted on the heels of Epstein's arrest.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department recently opened a criminal probe into the circumstances of Epstein's jail stint in that county.

A lawyer for some of Epstein's accusers claim he was visited at least once during his work release by a woman, and that Epstein engaged in sexual conduct during that visit.

On Tuesday, Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw in a letter to DeSantis asked that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement take over that investigation, "given the recent questions that have been raised around the Jeffrey Epstein case."

Bradshaw pledged "the cooperation and participation of my agency" in the letter. "I believe the public interest would be best served by an FDLE-led investigation examining every aspect of the Epstein case, from court sentencing to incarceration," he wrote.

In response, DeSantis wrote the head of the FDLE, Rick Swearingen, and asked that the agency take over the ongoing criminal investigation involving the work release.

DeSantis also requested that the FDLE launch "a preliminary inquiry into misconduct and allegations that go beyond the reported concerns with Jeffrey Epstein's work release."

The Republican governor also announced that he had reassigned the case to the state attorney for the 19th Judicial Circuit, Bruce Colton.

Colton's district includes counties other than that of Palm Beach County, whose criminal cases, including the earlier one involving Epstein, are normally handled by the state attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit.

Colton told CNBC he and his team are "absolutely new to the case."

"I don't have any problem handling the case," Colton said.

Colton said he had only been informed of his assignment about 90 minutes prior to DeSantis' press release being made public.