State Sen. Lauren Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, wants the state to investigate how the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office handled sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while he was in its custody more than a decade ago.
The Plantation Democrat asked Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday to direct the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to check an allegation that Epstein, a politically connected wealthy financier, had sex with at least one woman while on work release supervised by sheriff’s deputies.
“The allegations related to serial sex predator Jeffrey Epstein assaulting young girls while serving on work release under the jurisdiction of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) are alarming,” wrote Book, who founded a non-profit organization aimed at preventing child sexual abuse and has backed efforts to toughen human-trafficking laws. “If true, this shows yet another breakdown of the system’s dealing with this pedophilic abuser.”
When asked to comment, Helen Ferre, a DeSantis spokeswoman, replied Tuesday afternoon that she would “need to get back to you on this.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement did not respond to a request for comment.
The allegation regarding sex while on work release was made July 16 by attorney Bradley Edwards, who represents several of Epstein’s accusers.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw on Friday announced an internal affairs investigation into the Epstein matter.
“Sheriff Ric Bradshaw shares Senator Book’s concerns. That is why he has ordered an internal investigation to determine if in fact the system failed 11 years ago and hold those accountable for any failures and ensure that it won’t happen again,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Teri Barbera said in an email Tuesday.
In a case that has drawn international attention, Epstein is facing sex-trafficking charges involving minors in Florida and New York. A federal judge in New York denied a request for bail last week.
Epstein previously served 13 months of an 18-month sentence after he pleaded guilty in 2008 on two state prostitution charges in Florida, including procuring a minor for sex. The plea required him to register as a sex offender.
While in custody, Epstein was housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach County stockade, according to the Miami Herald, which has done extensive reporting on Epstein. After more than three months in custody, Epstein was provided work release for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, the Herald reported.
Book equated the need to investigate the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s actions with how the state investigated the actions of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last year.
“FDLE investigated the Broward County Sheriff’s Office response to the massacre at Stoneman Douglas, and I believe an investigation into PBSO’s handling of Epstein while on work release is also necessary and proper,” Book wrote. “If Epstein was able to abuse young girls while under supervised work release, we need to understand very clearly when and how these egregious lapses and abuses occurred so they cannot be repeated.”
Pointing primarily to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting, which killed 17 people, DeSantis in January suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, accusing him of “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.” DeSantis also blamed Israel for mishandling the response to a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that resulted in five deaths. Israel has appealed his suspension.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida