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Florida Legislature passes bill to release state grand jury's Jeffrey Epstein investigation

MIAMI - The transcripts of a 2006 grand jury that investigated Jeffrey Epstein 's sexual assaults of underage girls would be released to the public under a bill heading to Florida's governor after it was unanimously passed by the Legislature.

The bill, which passed the Senate on Wednesday after earlier passing the House, would take effect July 1 if signed by Gov Ron DeSantis, although a South Florida circuit judge might release the transcripts sooner as part of a lawsuit filed by the Palm Beach Post.

The Post sued the Palm Beach County state attorney and the court clerk in 2019 to obtain a court order to unseal the grand jury proceedings and reveal why the grand jury returned only minimal charges.

A circuit judge determined in 2021 that the court didn't have the authority under state law to release the records. A state appeals court disagreed last year, citing a state law that says grand jury records can be made public if that is a "furtherance of justice." The appeals court ordered the lower court to review, redact and release the material, but that hasn't happened yet.

The new bill adds that records can be released if subject of the grand jury inquiry is dead or the investigation is related to sexual activity with a minor.

Palm Beach County Court Clerk Joseph Abruzzo was technically a defendant in the Post's lawsuit as his office holds the records, but he hasn't fought the appeals court ruling and has previously indicated a desire to release the records in the interest of full transparency. Barry Krischer, who was the state attorney for Palm Beach County during Epstein's grand jury inquiry, retired in 2009.

Epstein was 66 when he killed himself in a New York City federal jail cell in August 2019 as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges. Federal prosecutors had accused him of paying underage girls hundreds of dollars for massages at his homes in Florida and New York, where he then molested them.

Florida's treatment of Epstein came under scrutiny in 2018 following a series of Miami Herald articles. They detailed the disagreements that surfaced beginning in 2005 among law enforcement officials after teenage girls and young women told Palm Beach police investigators that Epstein had sexually assaulted them. They had agreed to give him massages while semi-nude or fully nude in exchange for money, but they said he would then molest them without their consent.

Palm Beach police, meanwhile, took their evidence to federal prosecutors, who threatened to bring charges until an agreement was reached in June 2008. Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution. He was sentenced to 18 months in the Palm Beach County jail system, followed by 12 months of house arrest. He was required to register as a sex offender.

While in Palm Beach sheriff's custody, Epstein was allowed to stay in an isolated cell at the county's minimum-security stockade, where he roamed freely and watched television. State investigators said in a 2021 report that isolating him was a prudent decision, saying it was made to protect Epstein from other inmates and to prevent him from using his wealth to become "king of the dorms."

Epstein was also soon allowed into the county's work-release program. During that time, he was taken to his office, where he claimed to be running his financial consulting business and his foundation. By the time of his release, he was spending six days a week and 18 hours a day at his office. He was required to wear an ankle monitor and hire two deputies to oversee his whereabouts from the lobby, but they were not in his office with him.

A woman who was then 17 and another woman, who was then an adult, have said they were trafficked to Epstein's office during that time to have paid sex with him.

Epstein's former girlfriend, socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, is serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2021 of luring girls to his homes to be molested.

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