The ethics of being sponsored by a sex offender

The saga of Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy money manager whose penchant for sex with young girls resulted in him being investigated for having sex with minors, has involved some big-name people such as prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz. But it turns out that Epstein also fancied himself as some kind of Renaissance man and funded individual scientists, many of them very well-known, such as Nobel prize winning physicist Murray Gellman and skeptic and physicist Lawrence Krauss. In fact, physicists seem to be particularly favored by Epstein.

While it may be possible that all these other people did not know earlier that underage girls were involved in Epstein’s activities, the fact that in 2008 he pleaded guilty to a sweetheart deal of reduced state-level charges of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and is now a convicted sex offender surely would give them some pause now. After all, it was only because the authorities decided not to prosecute him on federal charges that spared him from at least a ten-year prison term and likely much more.

And the favorable treatment did not end there. After serving just 13 months in a state prison in Florida (where he was only required to check in at night), Epstein moved to New York and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office wanted to give him even more favorable treatment but the judge balked. But the episode provides yet another example of how the rich can buy their way out of legal trouble by using their influence over the prosecutors.

The Brooklyn-born billionaire had served 13 months for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution. And he wanted to avoid the onerous requirement the state imposes on high-level sex offenders that they report to authorities every 90 days, according to court transcripts viewed by The Daily News.

At a sex offender registration hearing in 2011, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Gaffney shocked a Manhattan judge by recommending that Epstein be classified as a Level One offender — the lowest on the sex fiend scale.

“I have to tell you I am a little overwhelmed because I have never seen a prosecutor’s office do anything like this,” Justice Ruth Pickholz said, according to records. “I have done many (sex offender registration hearings) much less troubling than this one where the (prosecutor) would never make a downward argument like this.”

Gaffney justified asking for the lower level because Florida federal officials had allowed Epstein to plead guilty to just one count — even though Palm Beach police said there were multiple victims.

The ADA said the police allegations could not be backed up because the complaining witnesses got cold feet and stopped cooperating with investigators.

Pickholz did not buy Gaffney’s explanation and pegged Epstein a Level Three offender — the most dangerous kind, records show.

Reader Tom tells me that after being released from prison, Epstein is still using his money to host conferences that attract big name scientists. This raises the issue of whether these scientists are behaving ethically when they agree to be sponsored by a convicted sex-offender, even if they themselves were not party to the offenses. Most sex offenders, especially those who have preyed on minors, are treated like pariahs by society. But here we have a case where a wealthy person goes to prison for such an offense and then comes out and continues as if nothing happened.

On the one hand, it seems reasonable that when people have paid their debt to society for their wrongdoing and suffered the appropriate punishment, they should be allowed to start life anew with a clean slate. Our system has as a precept that we shouldn’t let one mistake ruin a person’s life forever and punishment is a way paying off the debt to society.

But part of our willingness to allow people to start over is based on the assumption that they were punished appropriately and are truly remorseful and this is where Epstein’s case is doubtful. There seems to be no question that he got a sweetheart deal and an easier sentence than any ordinary person would get because of his connections with the rich and famous and his ability to hire high-powered legal talent. The crime he is believed to have committed (preying on poor under-aged women) is also particularly odious and there is no indication whatsoever that he thinks that he did anything wrong or that he will not do it again.

An article by Philip Weiss in 2007 at the height of the investigations about him suggests that Epstein seems to be truly creepy and amoral, someone who lives in his own fantasy world, revels in having accomplished friends, has no sense of shame whatsoever, and seems to think that having a lot of money entitles you to do what you wants to whomever you want whenever you want.

Jeffrey Epstein is under indictment for sex crimes in Palm Beach, Florida, and I’d expected that when he came into the office of PR guru Howard Rubenstein, he would be sober and reserved. Quite the opposite. He was sparkling and ingenuous, apologizing for the half-hour lateness with a charming line—“I never realized how many one-way streets and no-right-turns there are in midtown. I finally got out and walked”—and as we went down the corridor to Rubenstein’s office, he asked, “Have you managed to talk to many of my friends?” Epstein had been supplying me the phone numbers of important scientists and financiers and media figures. “Do you understand what an extraordinary group of people they are, what they have accomplished in their fields?”

But agony seemed the last thing on Epstein’s soul. “It’s the Icarus story, someone who flies too close to the sun,” I said. “Did Icarus like massages?” Epstein asked.

Not that he is likely to admit that he did anything wrong. Throughout his ordeal, Epstein maintained the air that there was nothing sordid about his actions. His wealth seems to have endowed him with utter shamelessness, the emperor’s new clothes with an erection.

He has never shown a glimmer of understanding that a high-school girl could be damaged by a powerful 50-year-old’s demands, or that some of the girls were already emotionally damaged. For someone who could dream anything, it seems a little small.

We all know that such amoral people exist but it is rare that their lives are opened up to the rest of us. It is this feature of thinking that normal rules don’t apply to him that has made him toxic in the public eye. Prince Andrew got into trouble because he did not cease his association with Epstein when he pled guilty and was seen hobnobbing with Epstein even after his release from prison.

And this is what makes the behavior of those scientists who continue to accept his funding for their work so problematic.


  1. Matt G says

    I visited the link to the science conferences. What a narcissist Epstein is. Goes with the territory, I suppose.

  2. says

    Prince Andrew and Dershowitz both wrote to the court requesting clemency in sentencing for their poor misunderstood friend. And by “misunderstood” I mean “has pictures of me having sex with a minor”

  3. says

    This raises the issue of whether these scientists are behaving ethically when they agree to be sponsored by a convicted sex-offender, even if they themselves were not party to the offenses.

    In an era of mindless tax and spending cuts, where any thought of spending taxpayer money on any kind of science is considered NAZI TYRANNY!!!, one should first ask whether these scientists had any other way of getting the funding they needed to do any work. This is the result of relentless privatization: scientists who once worked for the public good with public funds, in the light of day, now have to bow and scrape for private donations, by private persons and entities who prefer to do their business (and keep everyone else) in the dark.

    Don’t just blame Epstein for this gross miscarriage of justice; blame the Republican fiscal policies that, in all likelihood, gave those scientists no other choice but dependence on an amoral scumbag with money to burn; and also blame the Republican culture of incompetence, impunity, favoritism, and utter shamelessness that allows people like Epstein to continue thinking he’s really not at all worse than anyone else.

  4. sundoga says

    I tend towards the pragmatic in things like this. May be my history training -- how much great art was created by artists sponsored or financed by horrible, monstrous people? How many of the early scientists and philosophers were beholden to nobles or merchants also responsible for torture, oppression and war? Epstein has improved the world through his sponsorship of scientific research and discovery. Epstein is a vicious pedophiliac rapist. There is no actual contradiction between those two statements.

  5. Drew McIntosh says

    Mano, I’m not sure what your personal opinions are on the topic, but I have to mention Joe the Sex Offenders blog here (I won’t link it because I don’t know if you want your blog generating traffic for him, but I will say that a more open description of prison life is hard to find and I find him to give honest accounts of what he has done wrong and why he did it, if that is interesting, then google will be your ally). I think he does a good job of outlining why our society’s tendencies to lump all sex offenders lives into one gigantic ball of nasty is harmful.

    To see someone like Epstein, who kept personal underage sex toy(s), and who figuratively (along with the obvious and disgusting literal interpretation) used them to garner brownie points, get off the way he did is so ridiculous that reality has become a parody of the concept of parody. If an inner city black kid had of pulled an ‘Epstein ‘ we all know how the case would’ve gone down…

    Fuck child abuse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *