Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and philanthropist accused of sex trafficking underage girls, wants out of a Manhattan federal jail. He is proposing a $77-million bail package that would put him under house arrest at his Upper East Side mansion instead of remaining behind bars.
Southern District Judge Richard Berman is slated to rule Monday on Epstein’s bail proposal, and there’s no guarantee the judge will agree to the terms. The judge said he needed think about the request during a hearing, according to the Associated Press.
Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Meanwhile, thousands of other Americans accused of crimes are locked up with their case pending because they can’t afford to pay an average $10,000 bail, researchers say. The bail proceedings are yet another window into the way the criminal-justice system can treat the rich and poor differently, critics add.
In 2008, the future Labor Department Secretary Alex Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, oversaw Epstein’s secret plea deal on Florida state prostitution charges. Acosta resigned Friday as Labor Secretary amid uproar on the 2008 agreement.
Far from the white-hot attention on Epstein’s case, other defendants can scarcely muster a fraction of the money for a chance of a pretrial release.
Epstein, 66, is proposing putting up his Upper East Side residence, valued at around $77 million, as collateral for his bond, court papers show. He’s also willing to put up a private jet as extra collateral.
Epstein says he’ll pay for guards to watch him around the clock and noted other courts have signed off on similar arrangements for defendants including convicted felon Bernie Madoff, who ran a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, and attorney Marc Dreier, who was also convicted of running a Ponzi scheme worth hundreds of millions of dollars, before their convictions.
Right now, Epstein is jailed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the same place where Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is being held as the convicted Mexican drug kingpin awaits sentencing.
Far from the white-hot attention on Epstein’s case, other defendants can scarcely muster a fraction of the money for a shot at a pretrial release. An estimated 6 out of 10 people in jail, or nearly 500,000 people, are awaiting trial in U.S. on any given day.
Some 34% of defendants who were detained before their trials in 2009 were in jail because they can’t afford to pay bail, the Prison Policy Initiative found, citing Department of Justice statistics. Some 53% were fathers with children under the age of 18, while 66% were mothers with children under the age of 18, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And a 2013 review of New York City’s jail system concluded ‘more than 50%’ couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less.
However, a recent analysis of inmates at Cook County Jail in Illinois released earlier this year found that 48% of those awaiting trial could not afford bail or lacked a place of residence for electronic monitoring, the Chicago Tribune reported. And a 2013 review of New York City’s jail system concluded that “more than 50%” couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less.
“Money bail is often imposed arbitrarily and can result in unjustified inequalities,” a 2016 report by the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard University found. “When pretrial detention depends on whether someone can afford to pay a cash bond, two otherwise similar pretrial defendants will face vastly different outcomes based merely on their wealth.”
“These disparities can have spiraling consequences since even short periods of pretrial detention can upend a person’s employment, housing, or child custody,” it added. “Being jailed pretrial can also undercut a defendant’s ability to mount an effective defense.”
“Improper use of money bail can accelerate unnecessarily high rates of incarceration and deepen disparities based on wealth and race throughout the criminal justice system,” the report added. “Detaining unconvicted defendants because they lack the wealth to afford a cash bond also violates the Constitution.”
The median bail for felony defendants was $10,000 in 2009, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, which did not have more recent data immediately available. That $10,000 sum would be $11,921 in 2019 dollars, when adjusted for inflation. Using that figure, Epstein’s bail proposal could underwrite bail release for almost 6,500 others.
Criminal justice reform efforts are looking to reduce or end ‘money bail’ because it puts poor, disproportionately minority, defendants at a disadvantage.
There are various reasons for judges to jail defendants during an ongoing case, such as the seriousness of the charges, the person’s criminal past and protection of victims and witnesses. But bail reform advocates — as early as then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1964 — say the inability to afford bail isn’t one of them.
Bail laws vary across the country, but criminal justice reform efforts are looking to reduce or end the use of money bail because it puts poor, disproportionately minority, defendants at a disadvantage.
New Jersey basically eliminated money bail in 2016 and California will end the use of money bail in October. A New Jersey legislative report said court appearances remain high, and the alleged re-offense rate is low for those out on bail. New York lawmakers recently passed a law paring down the use of money bail.
New York prosecutors argue against ‘gilded cage’
Prosecutors say Epstein abused dozens of underage girls in his Manhattan and West Palm Beach residences from 2002 to 2005. But the defense says there are no allegations Epstein ever trafficked anyone for money and prosecutors were trying to dredge up the now-ended Florida case.
Berman’s past rulings show the judge isn’t easily swayed by extravagant bail bids from the super-rich.
In 2016, he rejected Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab’s request for house arrest and armed guards. The elaborate system was “unreasonable because it helps to foster inequity and unequal treatment in favor of a very small cohort of criminal defendants who are extremely wealthy, such as Mr. Zarrab,” Berman wrote.
Epstein’s lawyers wrote in court papers that Berman’s worries about armed guards for the rich were “admirably motivated and sincerely held,” but also problematic. “Avoiding ‘inequity and unequal treatment’ rooted in such dubious socioeconomic distinctions — doing ‘equal right to the poor’ and ‘rich’ alike — are imperatives that run both ways,” they argued.
Southern District of New York prosecutors are fighting Epstein’s release into what they call “a gilded cage.” There’s no mix of requirements or any amount of money or collateral that can guarantee Epstein’s return to court if he’s released, they said.
It is “frankly outrageous for the defendant to suggest that preventing him from using his vast wealth to duplicate a private prison” would put Epstein at “a special disadvantage,” they added.