If Ghislaine Maxwell were a single mom who worked at a Walmart, she would likely be free on bail today. When Maxwell – the alleged accomplice of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein – was denied bail on Tuesday, Judge Alison Nathan said her wealth and lack of gainful employment were to be counted against her. You can’t say the law doesn’t have a sense of humor. If you’re rich enough not to need a job, you are a poor candidate for bail, because you are unemployed. Is this an isolated decision, or a trend? Maxwell’s is not the only current case that indicates unfavorable treatment of the wealthy by law enforcement.
Last week there was another hearing in the misdemeanor prostitution case against Robert Kraft. The billionaire New England Patriots owner was arrested in 2019 for allegedly soliciting sex acts at a Florida massage parlor.
Dave Aronberg, the Democrat politician prosecuting the case, has been in a battle to release explicit tapes of Kraft and a masseuse because Kraft will not plead guilty. The proceedings continue, even as the prosecution admits it did not follow the rules of the search warrant, and falsely stated the key allegations contained in it.
All this comes at a time when the country is asking serious questions about law enforcement in light of the George Floyd incident. The nationwide movement against overcriminalization and poor treatment of the people by police and prosecutors has been incorrectly directed toward racial justice. The Maxwell and Kraft cases lay bare the lie that race and income have anything to do with the quality of justice. The reasons for that likely have more to do with political power, fundraising, and electoral politics than criminal justice reform. Prosecutors and police wield awesome power with little oversight or negative consequences for abusing it. Such great power with few checks leads to results like those seen in Kraft’s case.
Fame and Fortune = Felonies
Robert Kraft could have walked away from the charges against him – two misdemeanors – for a small fine, a class, and community service. He said he would fight the charges against him, refusing an early offer of a pre-trial diversion plan promising no record of criminal conviction. That’s likely because of one last requirement for the diversion deal – Kraft would have to admit he’d be found guilty at trial. That would be a big problem for Kraft, because of ramifications for his NFL ownership. Why make him do it, then? If the terms of the pretrial diversion would lead to dismissal of charges later – what is the point of fighting so hard for them now? Political cover.
Florida State Attorney Aronberg, the Jupiter police and the Palm Beach and Martin County Sheriff’s Offices took seven months to investigate the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. They spent a fortune in resources on what became an investigation of simple sex acts for sale – not a nefarious threat like they had billed. Aronberg said, “Modern-day slavery can happen anywhere, including in the peaceful community of Jupiter.” That’s a much easier case to sell politically than the truth – they used massive amounts of tax dollars and police effort, and there was nothing remotely approaching human trafficking going on. So, they turned up the heat on Kraft and changed his misdemeanor charges to felonies.
Last week Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case. The state wants to be able to use videotapes of alleged sex acts involving Kraft against him and to release them publicly. If prosecutors can’t introduce them at trial, Kraft will win his case. Authorities have stopped pretending the case has anything to do with human trafficking now – they admitted last week there was none. Instead, they detailed how police watched women get undressed and receive massages in the videos, too. Protecting and serving with a smile, no doubt, but perhaps frustrating to voters and taxpayers?
Since the police and prosecutors did not follow many of the strict rules required when conducting hidden camera searches, their evidence was thrown out. No matter – they have mounted an appeal, again, during a pandemic with resources stretched, to prosecute what was a misdemeanor prostitution charge for the 79-year-old widower. Would a poor black defendant receive this kind of treatment?
Ghislaine Maxwell, a U.S. citizen, was arrested on a holiday weekend for decades-old crimes. She has no criminal convictions and surrendered peacefully to law enforcement, and will have to spend a year, at least, behind bars before trial. Equal justice under the law requires fair treatment for billionaires and despised debutantes, as well as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. That’s a hopeful message. It should be easier to change the culture of the few thousand prosecuting attorneys in the U.S., than the culture of the country as a whole.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.