WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A last-minute settlement was reached Tuesday in a long-running Florida lawsuit involving a politically connected financier accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls, clearing the way for the victims' lawyers to try to unravel a once-secret agreement that prevented federal criminal prosecution of the financier.
The non-prosecution agreement protecting Jeffrey Epstein was negotiated a decade ago by prosecutors in the South Florida U.S. attorney's office, which was then run by current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. It is the subject of a separate federal lawsuit in Florida filed by victims who say the deal trampled their rights to be heard.
"That injustice needs to be addressed and will be addressed," said attorney Jack Scarola, who represents fellow lawyer Bradley Edwards in the lawsuit settled Tuesday. "There is no justification for the broad scope of immunity that was granted."
Epstein, 65, pleaded guilty in 2008 to two state charges after reaching the non-prosecution deal with Acosta's office while under investigation for. He served 13 months in jail, was required to reach financial settlements with many of the victims and registered as a convicted sex offender.
But Epstein could have faced a possible life sentence if federal prosecutors had pursued a draft 57-page indictment that was never filed. Now, Scarola and Edwards say that possibility still exists, and the victims - some of whom were only 13 or 14 when they were molested - may yet get their day in federal court amid a national #metoo movement that seeks to hold sexual harassers and abusers to account.
"They're willing to talk. They want to share their stories," Edwards said.
None of the victims was in court Tuesday and it wasn't clear if any would be available immediately for interviews.
The settlement reached Tuesday involved a lawsuit Epstein filed against Edwards almost a decade ago. Edwards filed a counterclaim, contending that Epstein sued him maliciously, trying to harm Edwards' reputation and derail his work with Epstein's own abuse victims.
CBS affiliate WPEC-TV reports that another attorney said Epstein's was able to "buy his way out" of a life sentence.
"For a man that was a multi-millionaire, if not billionaire at the time, he was able to buy his way out of what should have been a life sentence," said attorney Spencer Kuvin, who represented three young women who alleged they were lured to Epstein's Palm Beach estate while they were underage.
There, the young women said Epstein engaged in sex acts with them.
WPEC reports that Kuvin said he's aware of at least 39 young women whose allegations against Epstein were investigated by law enforcement. Kuvin said there were likely additional victims.
"And it was really unbelievable to us at the time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office, wasn't taking the matter more seriously," he said.