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Friday, May 24, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsPlaskett Joins Calls for 'Frivolous' N.Y. Epstein Lawsuit to be Dismissed

Plaskett Joins Calls for ‘Frivolous’ N.Y. Epstein Lawsuit to be Dismissed

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, where the V.I. government's case against JPMorgan Chase Bank is being heard. (Shutterstock image)
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, where the V.I. government’s case against JPMorgan Chase Bank was heard, and where six victims of Jeffrey Epstein have filed a class-action lawsuit against the V.I. government alleging it played a role in his sex-trafficking scheme. (Shutterstock image)

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett is the latest Virgin Islands official calling for a class-action lawsuit brought by six Jeffrey Epstein victims against the V.I. government to be dismissed, saying in a court filing Thursday that the complaint is “legally and factually frivolous and was filed with no apparent justification.”

V.I Delegate Stacey Plaskett, speaking in Congress. (Source file photo)

The suit, filed in late November in Manhattan federal court by Jane Does 1-5 and amended in December to add an additional plaintiff, accuses the V.I. government of a sprawling conspiracy to aid Epstein’s sex-trafficking scheme.

The wealthy financier, 66, who became a registered sex offender after pleading guilty to procuring a minor for prostitution in Florida in 2008 in a controversial plea agreement, died by apparent suicide in August 2019 while detained in New York on federal human trafficking charges. His primary residence was Little St. James, his private island off St. Thomas where for years he ran a complex web of shell companies registered in the USVI that enabled his crimes.

Along with Plaskett, the suit names former Gov. John de Jongh, former First Lady Cecile de Jongh, former Gov. Kenneth Mapp, former Attorney General Vincent Frazer, former Sen. Celestino White, V.I. Port Authority Director Carlton Dowe in his role as a then-senator, and John Does 1-100, who are variously described as “USVI air traffic controllers,” “USVI airport baggage check agents,” “USVI coast guard agents,” and USVI police officers.

Plaskett, who is represented by Eric R. Breslen of Duane Morris LLP, filed her 24-page response by the Thursday deadline imposed by Judge Arun Subramanian. The plaintiffs, who have been granted permission to proceed anonymously as Jane Does 1 through 6, given the sensitive nature of sexual abuse cases, are represented by attorneys with Merson Law, PLLC of New York.

The Jane Does’ complaint leans heavily on information uncovered through depositions and discovery by both sides in the V.I. government’s lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase — Epstein’s banker from about 1999 until 2013 — that was settled in September for $75 million.

In fact, the complaint states that it was not until the V.I. government sued the bank and territory officials were deposed as part of that case that “the Plaintiffs and public learned of the many acts committed by Defendants which contributed to and caused Plaintiffs’ injuries.”

Both Cecile and John de Jongh have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit, as has the V.I. Justice Department, which is representing Mapp and Frazer. White and Dowe have both requested more time to answer the complaint until they secure New York attorneys. The plaintiffs then have until April 11 to file an omnibus opposition to all outstanding motions.

Central to the motions to dismiss is whether the District Court for the Southern District of New York even has jurisdiction to hear the case, and whether it is the proper venue, given the alleged crimes occurred in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While Epstein owned a mansion and other properties in New York, and the plaintiffs all live there, all the defendants are residents of the USVI and had little to no interaction with him in that state, let alone business dealings, according to court filings.

Plaskett said in her response that she was “horrified” when she learned of Epstein’s conduct after his arrest in August 2019, and that attempts to link her to his crimes because she solicited political donations from him during a visit to his Manhattan mansion, and because she was the general counsel for the V.I. Economic Development Authority when he was awarded lucrative tax breaks, is nothing more than “wild speculation stated in conclusory form.”

“It appears the Plaintiffs only named Congresswoman Plaskett in this case is because she is a high-profile Virgin Islands politician, presumably raising the profile of their complaint. Plaintiffs have no basis to suggest there was a nexus between Congresswoman Plaskett and Epstein’s crimes,” according to the memorandum of law filed in support of her motion to dismiss.

“The scandalous and reprehensible nature of the allegations serve only to tarnish the Congresswoman’s hard-won good name and reputation,” it says. “Plaintiffs do not allege any facts sufficient to infer that Congresswoman Plaskett ever had reason to know of Epstein’s trafficking, much less that she agreed to join his operation.”

Had the plaintiffs done any research, they would realize that as general counsel for the EDA, a job she held from 2007 to 2012, Plaskett was not involved in decisions regarding who received tax benefits, according to the memorandum. By statute, that was the purview of the CEO and chairman of the Economic Development Commission, with final approval by the governor, it says.

As for $30,000 in political donations the complaint alleges Plaskett received from Epstein and his associates, the money was never paid because the Democratic National Committee decline to accept it, the memorandum states. Not only that, but a brief visit to discuss campaign contributions that never materialized does “not amount to ‘transacting business’ in New York,” it says.

Moreover, it is not clear from the lawsuit how Plaskett’s alleged meetings with Epstein arose from his sex trafficking scheme. “They are simply more of Plaintiffs’ scattershot attempts to implicate the Congresswoman at any cost without regard for logic, law, or facts,” according to the memorandum. “The Amended Complaint provides no plausible explanation as to why she should have known of the sex trafficking, how she would have learned of it, or what aid she is alleged to have provided,” it says.

Plaskett also argues that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act claims alleged by the plaintiffs are barred by the 10-year statute of limitations, so any that occurred prior to Nov. 22, 2013, should be dismissed, given that the lawsuit was filed on Nov. 22, 2023.

The plaintiffs have alleged violations of the TVPA and conspiracy to violate the TVPA from 2001 to 2019, while Jane Doe 4 and Jane Doe 5 allege injuries that accrued between 2001 and 2009, and Jane Doe 6 in 2004, in effect “bootstrapping” their expired claims to timely claims, the memorandum states.

Additionally, the complaint “should be dismissed because it improperly relies on group pleading, making it impossible to determine what Congresswoman Plaskett is said to have done. Plaintiffs “cannot simply ‘lump’ defendants together for pleading purposes,” it says, citing case law. “Nearly every allegation in the Amended Complaint relies on ‘the defendants’ or some other group moniker. It is impossible to determine what facts underpin the allegations against Congresswoman Plaskett. Likely, there are none.”

Like the other defendants, Plaskett also questions why a suit against the V.I. government names the John Does — variously described as air traffic controllers and customs, baggage check and Coast Guard agents — as “employees of the USVI” when those are federal government operations or the purview of private companies. The allegations “border on nonsensical,” the memorandum states.

“None of these threadbare, sometimes demonstrably untrue, allegations establishes any nexus between Congresswoman Plaskett and Epstein’s crimes, or even that she had reason to know of his crimes. Plaintiffs fail to allege that the Congresswoman did anything wrong or improper at all. The allegations are speculative, slanderous, and have no good faith basis,” and the complaint should be dismissed, according to the memorandum.

All discovery in the case has been stayed pending an initial pre-trial conference set for May 3.

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