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Former Federal Prosecutor On R. Kelly And Jeffrey Epstein


We're going to talk about Jeffrey Epstein and R. Kelly now. Both men were arrested in the last week on federal charges related to the sexual abuse of underage girls. Both have a history of alleged crimes that span decades. Laurie Levenson is a former federal prosecutor and joins us from California. Thanks so much for being with us.

LAURIE LEVENSON: My pleasure, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: Let's begin with Jeffrey Epstein first. He's, of course, facing federal charges of sex trafficking. And last night, prosecutors accused him in a new court filing of witness tampering - right? - wiring payments to two people.

LEVENSON: They did. They said in their bail opposition that, in fact, he had paid $350,000 - $250,000 in one situation, $100,000 in another - to hush up witnesses, including a coconspirator.

SIMON: What are the chances he'll get bail?

LEVENSON: I think it's going to be difficult for him to get bail. Here you have a situation where somebody who has been previously criminally convicted, got a sweet deal on that, and now he's trying to pay money to get out of this one. They've tried that home detention thing. They've tried other avenues. I think it'll be an uphill battle.

SIMON: Let me ask about R. Kelly now, of course, who's also had reports, suspicion, follow him for decades. He's already facing separate charges of sexual assault in Cook County, Ill., but he's been acquitted of charges in the past when a witness ultimately declined to testify against him. These are now federal charges. Does that mean prosecutors have new witnesses?

LEVENSON: Well, it does mean that they've done some additional investigation. In fact, he has two sets of federal charges now, one out of Illinois out of the Chicago office and the other out of New York. And these are very serious counts. He has 13 counts in Illinois of enticing minors and obstruction of justice, on child pornography. And then he has - the New York counts were actually racketeering counts in violation of what we call the Mann Act - transporting girls over state lines for illicit purposes. So he is facing a huge number of counts now in both jurisdictions.

SIMON: And strong cases as near as you can assess them?

LEVENSON: Well, we'll have to see how strong the cases are. But it does look like what the investigators did was go ahead and meet with the insiders and follow some of the money in this case as well. Both of these cases, Epstein and R. Kelly, suggest that the federal investigators did more than just talk to victims. They talked to insiders, and they followed some money.

SIMON: I have to ask you, as a former federal prosecutor, as you look at the - as events play out in both the Epstein and Kelly cases, federal charges come after so much time and, for that matter, so much reporting. Is there also some danger for prosecutors here to come back years after people thought the system had settled a case?

LEVENSON: Well, I think that the defense will argue this is ancient history. We're hearing that already in the news, that they'll argue, oh, this is double jeopardy, which it legally is not. But to people who don't know the legal terms there, they'll say it's, quote, "unfair." Some of these events go back to 1999, 20 years ago, and we're not used to seeing criminal prosecutions of cases that old.

SIMON: Yeah. Alexander Acosta, before he resigned his post as secretary of labor over his role when he was U.S. attorney in the Epstein non-prosecution agreement, this week said, quote, "we live in a very different world." I don't know. 2008 - was it that different a world when we talk about child abuse? Or is it just a new legal world?

LEVENSON: Yeah. I'm not sure it was. I think that might have been a convenient explanation for him to say, oh, I was really trying to protect the victims, and I think there would have been victim shaming. And now after #MeToo, these are easier cases to bring. But as you point out, we're dealing with underage individuals and even back then, you know, there was a strong reaction if you have people who are underage who are brought in for sexual purposes.

SIMON: Laurie Levenson is a former federal prosecutor and now professor of law at Loyola Marymount University. Thank you so much for being with us.

LEVENSON: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.