July 19-- Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown-a.k.a. Jeffrey Epstein's worst nightmare-knows what it is like to be broke and vulnerable.
Brown was just 16 when she left her Bucks County, Pa., home for good. She survived the next four years by sleeping on friends' couches and holding down a series of low-paying jobs delivering flowers, serving food, and working at a lampshade factory.
Her turning point was getting accepted into Temple University's journalism program, from which she graduated with honors in 1987.
All these years later, when Brown considers what happened to the impoverished girls who allegedly were lured into Epstein's infamous sex ring, she feels a certain kinship.
"There but for the grace of God go I," said Brown, 57. "I know how hard it is to make your way when you're 16. And these girls were almost homeless at 13, 14, 15. And I guess I could understand how you could get in that difficult situation."
Luckily, she had older friends who helped guide her as she finished school and launched a successful journalism career.
"It was hard," she recalled. "I'm not saying I was in that dire of a situation, but I could have been."
Now, because of her award-winning work at the Herald, the women who say they were lured into Epstein's infamous sex ring when they were just girls will finally get their day in court.
That's the kind of thing journalists live for. Contrary to certain beliefs about the so-called fake news media, most of us go into this business because we want to make a difference. Brown is no exception.
I met her back in the mid-1990s when she was a crime reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News. We've stayed in touch over the years, mostly via social media, and I've followed her reporting on the Epstein case. I'd never heard of him, but I got interested when I heard that the billionaire financier had ties to President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and Britain's Prince Andrew.
As far back as 2001, Epstein was accused of luring underage women from mainly disadvantaged backgrounds to his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., to engage in nude massages, masturbation, and other sexual activity. Some were used as recruiters to bring new faces. And, yes, money was exchanged.
Initially charged in 2007, Epstein could have been sentenced to 45 years in prison. But he got the hookup of a lifetime after then-U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta signed off on a sealed "non-prosecution deal."
As part of the arrangement, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges and served just 13 months, which was a travesty.
Brown has turned down most requests to be profiled because she doesn't want the focus to be on her. I get that.
But what happened in Florida would have been swept under the proverbial rug of history had it not been for Brown.
"I thought this is a fair time to really go back and look at this from the beginning," Brown said. "I didn't realize when I started the project, quite frankly, how difficult it was going to be.... I had to track down these women after all of these years. Their names were not in any of the public records because they were minors."
But she stuck at it, and identified 80 possible victims.
Her "Perversion of Justice" series, which began in November, unleashed a flood of criticism of Epstein's bogus sweetheart deal.
Acosta resigned as U.S. secretary of labor on July 12. Epstein was rearrested and once again faces a long prison sentence if convicted. His bail request was denied Thursday.
After all these years, Epstein's accusers will finally get their day to face him in court. When they do, they'll have Brown to thank.
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