Gov. Ron DeSantis this week requested that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement initiate a criminal investigation into how the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office handled convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s probation in 2008.
But DeSantis did not do it at the behest of Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, who has collected more than 4,000 signatures demanding the governor authorize an FDLE investigation, but at the request of Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
“Given the recent questions that have been raised around the Jeffrey Epstein case, I am formally requesting that FDLE assume the existing criminal investigation and I pledge cooperation and participation of my agency,” Bradshaw wrote in a Tuesday letter to DeSantis. “I believe the public interest would be best served by an FDLE-led investigation examining every aspect of the Epstein case, from sentencing to incarceration.”
DeSantis reacted quickly, noting after reviewing Bradshaw’s letter that he was not only requesting that FDLE Director Rick Swearingen “conduct a preliminary inquiry into matters beyond the work release and into other irregularities concerning the case’s disposition” but also reassigning the case to 19th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bruce Colton.
Palm Beach County is in Florida’s 15th Judicial Circuit.
Epstein, 66, was arrested July 6, after landing in his private jet in New Jersey after flying there from Paris, on federal charges of sexually exploiting underaged girls dating back to 2002 – including when he was on Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office supervised work-release from jail. He has denied the charges and remains in a Manhattan jail without bail.
Epstein pleaded guilty to prostitution involving underage girls in Palm Beach County in 2008.
As part of a plea deal, he was allowed out on work-release, 12 hours a day, six days a week, with his own driver picking him up and taking him to a West Palm Beach office, while completing his 13-month jail sentence in a private wing of the Palm Beach County Jail.
Epstein’s plea deal included a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors approved by then-U.S. Attorney in Miami Alex Acosta, despite an FBI probe that found more victims and evidence compiled in a 53-page indictment and the objections of federal prosecutor Maria Villafaña.
Acosta resigned as President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary last month when details surfaced of his decision to cut Epstein a federal non-prosecution deal, shielding him from further federal charges related to sexual misconduct with underage girls.
In November, the Miami Herald explored the plea deal and raised questions about how local, state and federal officials handled the case against the well-connected multimillionaire in series of articles, Perversion of Justice.
Federal prosecutors in New York praised the Miami Herald series for reigniting interest in the case, which resulted in Epstein’s arrest last month.
Among the federal charges is an accusation that Epstein had “improper sexual contact” with at least one minor woman in his West Palm Beach office during work-release from jail while Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office deputies waited outside.
In late July, Bradshaw – who has been Palm Beach County Sheriff since 2005 and approved the Epstein work-release deal – announced he was launching a criminal and internal investigation “into whether his department properly monitored the wealthy financier.”
But Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the founder of Lauren’s Kids, which educates children and families about sexual abuse, said an internal sheriff's office investigation was inappropriate and asked DeSantis to authorize the FDLE to lead the probe.
“We are calling for accountability on all fronts and to that end, I am formally requesting for you to direct the FDLE to investigate this matter,” Book implored DeSantis in a letter. “When an atrocity occurs in our state and there is a breakdown involving law enforcement, I believe it is appropriate for FDLE to step in and investigate.”
Book had gathered more than 4,000 signatures on a petition requesting the state take over the investigation, but DeSantis did not respond until Bradshaw’s letter Tuesday.
Book told WPTV Tuesday she was “thrilled” that DeSantis “agrees like we do that there needs to be an independent investigation of the things surrounding, not just the work-release program, but the entirety of the entire situation. How was he able to get the sweetheart deal that he gets?”
When that “sweetheart deal” was struck, she said, at least some of those who signed off had to be aware that there were more victims – “at least 80 by our count” – and that he had only weeks before beginning his sentence created a nonprofit organization to provide the “work” in the work-release arrangement.
“It is corruption at his finest,” Book said. “We need a really good look at what happened, why it happened, so if there is a systemic failure, we can address those things, and if it is an individual failure, we can hold those people accountable.”