Jeffrey Epstein Settles Lawsuit, Avoiding Testimony From Accusers in Sex Case

Jeffrey Epstein Settles Lawsuit, Avoiding Testimony From Accusers in Sex Case

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A 2006 booking photo of Jeffrey Epstein, who on Tuesday settled a civil case in which women who accuse him of sexual abuse were set to testify.CreditCreditPalm Beach Sheriff’s Office, via Associated Press

MIAMI — With sexual abuse allegations from dozens of girls in Florida back in the national spotlight more than a decade after they first surfaced, Jeffrey E. Epstein, a wealthy New York financier, unexpectedly settled a civil case against him on Tuesday, a last-minute development to avoid a trial that could have brought some of his accusers to testify about their trauma for the first time.

The courthouse in West Palm Beach, Fla., was set for a legal drama to play out as jury selection was scheduled to begin in the trial, which drew so many news reporters that the case was moved to a larger courtroom. Instead, in an unusual written apology delivered by one of his lawyers, Mr. Epstein admitted to wrongfully suing Bradley Edwards, a lawyer for some of his accusers, who had sued Mr. Epstein for malicious prosecution.

“The lawsuit I filed was my unreasonable attempt to damage his business reputation and stop Mr. Edwards from pursuing cases against me,” Mr. Epstein, 65, said in the statement read by his lawyer, Scott J. Link. “It did not work.”

The confidential financial settlement between Mr. Epstein and Mr. Edwards will allow Mr. Edwards to continue to pursue a case in federal court on behalf of Mr. Epstein’s accusers. That case seeks to nullify a controversial nonprosecution agreement made in secret in 2007 that allowed Mr. Epstein to avoid federal criminal charges, despite police findings that Mr. Epstein had lured girls — some of them runaways or foster children — to his Palm Beach mansion to give him massages that frequently turned sexual.

He instead pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting prostitution from a minor and served only 13 months in a local jail.

“We learned over the years about victims all over the country and all around the world,” Mr. Edwards said on Tuesday outside the Palm Beach County Courthouse. Behind him stood three cartloads of legal filings from the decade-long case, and posters depicting Mr. Epstein’s lavish properties and dark S.U.V.s. “If we invalidate that immunity deal, it doesn’t mean the U.S. attorney’s office has to prosecute him,” he added. “But the focus of attention on this is going to make it more difficult for the government to want anything but an appropriate prosecution.”

Mr. Edwards’s lawyer, Jack Scarola, warned that the statute of limitations in Florida may have expired against Mr. Epstein in some cases.

Mr. Epstein’s case has received renewed scrutiny in the wake of a recent investigative report in The Miami Herald that included accounts from four victims, now adults, detailing how they were abused and paid to recruit more girls to Mr. Epstein’s network. His plea deal, seen as lenient for a sexual predator of children, was approved by R. Alexander Acosta, who was then a United States attorney in Miami and is now President Trump’s labor secretary.

On Friday, 15 Democratic members of Congress, led by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, sent a letter to the inspector general of the Justice Department, asking for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the “extremely preferential deal” approved by Mr. Acosta, whose office did not pursue a 53-page indictment drafted against Mr. Epstein.

“The American people and the victims of these horrific crimes deserve to know why justice was not served in this disturbing case, and the lack of transparency still cloaking it is very troubling,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

Though Mr. Epstein’s accusers will have to wait to testify in court to the abuse they suffered, Mr. Edwards, their lawyer, said participating in a state trial over what was essentially a lawyering dispute would have been a burden: What they really want to do is tell a federal judge why the plea deal for Mr. Epstein was unjust, Mr. Edwards said.

“This would have revealed itself as the distraction that Jeffrey Epstein wanted it to be,” Mr. Edwards said about his settled state case. More victims have signaled over the past week that they might be interested in publicly telling their stories, he added.

Still, Judge Donald W. Hafele, who presided over Tuesday’s settlement, offered a few words from the bench to the women who had been on Mr. Edwards’s witness list.

“I thank you for being willing to step forward,” he said. “I thank you for having the courage to do so.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Financier Settles Lawsuit, But Troubles Aren’t Over. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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