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'Long overdue:' Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill to release Jeffrey Epstein grand jury investigation

Epstein, 66, died by suicide in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at the Palm Beach Police Department on Feb. 29, 2024.jpg
Posted at 6:10 AM, Feb 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-29 18:22:57-05

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed legislation that will allow the transcripts of a 2006 grand jury in Palm Beach County that investigated Jeffrey Epstein's sexual assaults of underage girls to be released to the public.

"This bill says that in a situation like this, this is in the interest of justice to disclose it," DeSantis said during a news conference at the Palm Beach Police Department. "This would green light the disclosure of the grand jury materials regarding the Jeffrey Epstein case. And this is long overdue."

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs legislation while standing next to Jeffrey Epstein victims at Palm Beach Police Department, Feb. 29, 2024
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill into law that forces the release of grand jury testimony involving the Jeffrey Epstein case as Epstein's victims look on during a news conference at the Palm Beach Police Department, Feb. 29, 2024, in Palm Beach, Fla.

"This is not something to be swept under the rug," Haley Robson, a victim of Epstein, said.

Robson was 16 years old when she said she was lured by Epstein to recruit her high school friends to enter the pedophile's orbit.

She now hopes the grand jury information that could be released this year will bring new information to light.

"I just am trying to put pieces together, the final pieces of the puzzle to help me move on and finally get the peace that I deserve for my life," Robson said.

The Palm Beach 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.

Haley Robson speaks at a news conference held in Palm Beach to announce the new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Feb. 29, 2024.
Haley Robson speaks at a news conference held in Palm Beach to announce the new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Feb. 29, 2024.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Lou Delgado 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.

County Clerk Joseph Abruzzo has worked closely with Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, R-Boca Raton, to advance and pass the legislation during the 2024 legislative session.

"There needs to be a mechanism in some of these rare circumstances where people can get the truth. And where we can try to pursue justice," DeSantis said Thursday.

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. Barry Krischer, who was the state attorney for Palm Beach County during Epstein's grand jury inquiry, retired in 2009.

The clerk's office serves as the custodian for grand jury records in a variety of cases, including the Epstein case, those records are under the authority of the chief judge.

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

Attorney Brad Edwards, who represents 200 women who claim to be Epstein victims, said many people who've followed the Epstein case may be disappointed if the grand jury transcripts are released.

Attorney Brad Edwards explains what the new law could mean and what the public could learn from the Jeffrey Epstein case.
Attorney Brad Edwards explains what the new law could mean and what the public could learn from the Jeffrey Epstein case.

"What I think everybody thinks we are going to see is some mountain of new evidence against Jeffrey Epstein," Edwards said. "I bet you there's very little that was given to this grand jury, which is why the charges that came out of this grand jury were very minimal."

The circuit court judge currently holding the grand jury documents ruled he will not release the information before July 1, when the law signed by the governor takes effect.

After that, Delgado said he would entertain motions on if, when and how this information will be released.

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.

WATCH: The Making of Filthy Rich: The Epstein Story

'The Making of Filthy Rich: The Epstein Story'

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 County Sheriff's Office 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.