Lawyers for Jeffrey Epstein, the millionaire New York money manager accused of soliciting underage prostitutes, are negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors and trying to keep Epstein from having to register as a sex offender if he pleads guilty, sources familiar with the case have confirmed to ABC News.
Epstein was charged in July 2006 with solicitation of prostitution — a felony that carries up to five years in prison — for allegedly paying underage girls to give him erotic massages in his Palm Beach, Fla., mansion. He has pleaded not guilty and has said he did not know any of the girls were underage.
According to The New York Post, Epstein is negotiating a plea deal that is expected to land him in prison for about 18 months in addition to some time under house arrest. As part of the deal, confirmed to ABC News by people familiar with the case, federal authorities are expected to drop their investigation into whether Epstein broke federal laws, which could carry more substantial prison time.
Now, Epstein's high-powered lawyers, including Kenneth Starr, who investigated President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, may try to get him out of registering as a sex offender, The Post reported.
People familiar with the case confirmed to ABC News that federal prosecutors still want Epstein, who owns what is reported to be the largest house in Manhattan, to register as a sex offender as part of the deal, though state prosecutors have not demanded that he do so. Under Florida law, people convicted of solicitation of prostitution are not required to register as sex offenders.
Mike Edmonson, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, declined to comment, saying the office does not comment on "active prosecutions." Through an assistant, Starr also declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office did not return a call for comment. Epstein's lawyer Gerald Lefcourt, the former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, also declined to comment.
Bruce Winick, a criminal law professor at the University of Miami, said it was not inappropriate to negotiate over whether Epstein would have to register as sex offender.
Epstein was arrested last year after an 11-month police investigation. According to a Palm Beach police affidavit, Epstein paid underage girls to come to his house and give him massages and engage in sexual activity.
In sworn statements to the police, a 14-year-old girl and other teenage girls said a friend had arranged for them to visit Epstein's home and give him massages, often in their underwear, in exchange for cash. The police report alleges that Epstein had sex with some of the girls.
The affidavit says Epstein's assistant took down the names and numbers of the girls. Investigators watched Epstein's 7,234-square-foot waterfront home and private jet, searched through his trash and interviewed more than a dozen witnesses before making the arrest.
Local police believed they had probable cause to charge Epstein with lewd and lascivious molestation and unlawful sexual activity with a minor. But, prosecutor Barry Krischer took the somewhat unusual step of handing the case over to a grand jury, providing jurors with a list of the possible charges against Epstein.
Local criminal lawyers, who were not involved in the case, speculated that Krischer was being cautious or that the alleged victims had credibility issues that would come up at trial.
"I assume these women had serious holes in their stories," said Richard Tendler, a Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer.
The Associated Press reported that Epstein's attorneys, including Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, presented prosecutors with evidence that some of the girls had criminal records and issues with drugs and alcohol. Lawyers claimed that at least one of the girls was older than 18, the agency reported. Dershowitz did not return a call for comment.
The grand jury indicted Epstein in July 2006 on one count of felony solicitation of a prostitute. That charge does not require him to register as a sex offender.
Police at the time said they had enough evidence to charge Epstein with more serious sex offenses, prompting criticism that the reportedly reclusive financier, who once counted among his friends Clinton and Donald Trump, was getting preferential treatment.
Police Chief Michael Reiter, in a May 2006 letter to Krischer, called Krischer's handling of the case "highly unusual" and asked him to disqualify himself from the case. He also referred the case to the FBI to see whether Epstein may have violated federal law.
Howard Rubenstein, Epstein's spokesman, said Epstein had no comment. He declined to discuss the case.