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Jeffrey Epstein accusers cannot recoup damages over lenient plea deal: U.S. judge

(Reuters) - A group of women who said Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused them are not entitled to money damages from the United States even though federal prosecutors kept them in the dark about the financier’s lenient non-prosecution agreement more than a decade ago, a Florida judge ruled on Monday.

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U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra in West Palm Beach also rejected the women’s bid to void the non-prosecution agreement, which had barred prosecutions of Epstein and some alleged accomplices, saying Epstein’s death last month made the issue moot. Marra also denied a request for attorneys’ fees.

Brad Edwards, a lawyer for the accusers, said they may appeal.

Marra ruled seven months after finding that prosecutors had violated the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act by not telling Epstein’s accusers they had agreed not to pursue serious charges against the financier, in exchange for Epstein’s 2008 guilty plea to Florida state prostitution charges.

Epstein was sentenced to 13 months in jail, but allowed to leave regularly to go to his office.

The non-prosecution agreement was negotiated by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, who resigned in July as U.S. labor secretary as Epstein’s agreement drew fresh scrutiny.

Epstein, 66, committed suicide on Aug. 10 by hanging himself in his Manhattan jail cell.

He had pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, including at his mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan had said they were not bound by the Florida non-prosecution agreement.

Marra had invited two Epstein accusers to propose remedies for not being told about the non-prosecution agreement.

“Despite petitioners having demonstrated the Government violated their rights under the CVRA, in the end they are not receiving much, if any, of the relief they sought,” Marra wrote.

“They may take solace, however, in the fact that this litigation has brought national attention to the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and the importance of victims in the criminal justice system,” he added.

Edwards said in a statement that his clients “should not be sad, but instead proud” for pursuing the case.

“This is not the ending we had hoped for, but the enormous progression of victims’ rights through this case will ensure that violations like this never happen again in this country,” he said. “For that, the fight was worth it.”

The case was Jane Doe 1 et al v U.S., U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 08-80736.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and Dan Grebler