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Sheriff orders investigation into deputies who guarded wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw ordered an internal investigation Friday into how his agency handled wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein’s jail sentence about a decade ago.

The investigation comes amid allegations that Epstein had “improper sexual contact” with at least one young woman when he was on work release from the county stockade.

The agency released a statement that the matter “will be fully investigated to ensure total transparency and accountability.”

“Sheriff Bradshaw takes these matters very seriously and wants to determine if any actions taken by the deputies assigned to monitor Epstein during his work release program violated any agency rules and regulations,” the statement reads.

RELATED: Jeffrey Epstein’s work release setup puts Palm Beach County sheriff under scrutiny

Recently released records show Epstein was able to visit his Palm Beach mansion during his work release despite restrictions that he only work in his office in downtown West Palm Beach.

Bradshaw, who has been sheriff since 2004, defended the agency in a March interview with WLRN, saying the wealthy inmate did not receive special treatment.

“I went by the guidelines,” Bradshaw said then. “I am not concerned at all about whether it was done properly or not because it was and we’ll go from there.”

Epstein spent 13 months at the county stockade in 2008-2009 as part of a once-secret plea deal he reached with prosecutors. Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges, agreed to register as a sex offender and paid settlements to victims.

His plea ended a federal sex abuse investigation that involved at least 40 teenage girls.

About 3½ months into his incarceration, he was allowed to spend up to 12 hours a day, six days a week working for his nonprofit organization out of a downtown office in West Palm Beach.

Attorney Brad Edwards, who is representing more than a dozen Epstein accusers, said at a news conference this week that Epstein was able to continue having “improper sexual contact” with women while on work release.

He said he was not aware of any of the visitors being minors, although some were under 21.

Teri Barbera, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email that an outside investigation is not needed.

“Outside agencies do not investigate internal policies and procedures,” she wrote.

But at least three elected officials say they think outside scrutiny is needed. State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said she thinks it is appropriate for the Florida Department of Investigation to step in and review the matter.

“FDLE investigated BSO (Broward Sheriff Office’s) 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,” she said.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she’s pleased to see an internal review, but “it never hurts to have two sets of eyes.” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said she expects the Oversight Committee of the U.S. Congress will examine Epstein’s “sweetheart deal” and work release.

Outside reviews of the Parkland school shooting that left 17 people dead prompted Gov. Ron DeSantis to suspend Broward Sheriff Scott Israel on the grounds of “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.”

DeSantis has the authority to direct FDLE to investigate the Epstein case, but he hasn’t ordered a probe.

Mike Gauger, chief deputy of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, said in an April interview that Epstein was “very closely watched” and created “no issues whatsoever” during his time at the jail.

But public records released by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office contain red flags.

Under the terms of Epstein’s work release, he was not to leave his “designated workplace for any reason,” except to return to the stockade or for emergency medical treatment. He was not allowed to leave for lunch.

But reports from deputies Epstein hired to guard him during his work release show that he was able to visit his residence at least nine times, sometimes remaining unsupervised for more than two hours. One deputy wrote he spent about two and half hours outside Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion.

“I backed into the drive way and provided security to prevent unwelcome guest from entering his property,” read a deputy’s report submitted on July 13, 2009. “I did not go into the residence. No one attempted to enter the property during the house visit. … I contacted SGT W. Lawrence to get some clarity of the duties and responsibilities while at the residence. He stated the function is to provide security.”

The reports contain language not indicative of guarding a sex offender. Epstein is referred to as a client. Deputies wrote they provided “low profile security.” One deputy wrote Epstein was “very happy with the service” he was being provided.

In one report, Epstein ate lunch in a park near his office. In others, he visited other offices besides his assigned workplace on Australian Avenue. He also was left alone to adjust his GPS monitor while a deputy waited outside his office building, according to the documents.

Some portions of the reports are blacked out, because they contain medical information or information about undercover personnel, the Sheriff’s Office said.

An email raises questions about whether the agency properly vetted approved visitors. Under the terms of his agreement, Epstein was only permitted to meet with his lawyers and business associates.

In a 2010 email, Sheriff’s Maj. Chris Kneisley, a jail supervisor, questioned whether the approved visitors had been properly screened, asking if “we did any vetting of his people.”

“An investigator from one of the plaintiff’s attorney has indicated 2 are not paralegals,” the email read. “Trying to prepare a preemptive strike.”

MORE COVERAGE: Sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and Ponzi king Scott Rothstein square off in court

A memorandum showed about 20 approved visitors, including lawyers from five firms and their paralegals. Sheriff’s officials have said the visitor logs deputies kept have been destroyed as part of a routine records purge allowed by Florida law.

Then there is the question of whether Epstein, a convicted sex offender, should have been granted work release in the first place. The program’s most recent operational procedures bar “convicted sexual offenders” from participating.

A 2008 version of the policy obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel shows that “convicted sexual offenders” were not explicitly deemed to be ineligible then, although the administrator had the authority to approve or disapprove participants.

Sheriff’s officials have not explained when and why the policy was changed. They say Epstein was eligible for work release because he registered as a sex offender on July 22, 2009, the day after he was released.

Read more at Orlando Sentinel

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