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Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

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It’s exceedingly rare to get any details from a police report in California and even rarer to get a glimpse inside a detective’s notebook. But Jennifer Peltz and Katie Campione did just that. Peltz and Campione convinced police to finally explain how they handled one of the earliest known sex crime accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, a 1997 case that the accuser has called a massive missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice years before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and young women.

It was a bookend of sorts to the news just days earlier that Epstein had hung himself in his New York City jail cell amid a new federal sex trafficking indictment. The early complaint against Epstein by a model who claimed he groped her in a California hotel room during what she thought was an interview for Victoria’s Secret had always been something of a mystery.

No charges ever came of it and police never explained why. Peltz, in an earlier story on Epstein, had interviewed the model who made the complaint, Alicia Arden, and reached out to Santa Monica, California, police for comment. They didn’t respond. We decided to go deeper by enlisting help from the Los Angeles bureau.

Campione, who was living in Santa Monica during her summer internship with AP, made it her mission to get police to explain how they made their decision not to prosecute. She filed a Freedom of Information request and went to the department several times demanding answers. Eventually, the department agreed to summarize the detective’s notes on the case, which revealed that the “he said-she said” case resulted in a “he-said she-said” response.

The department said the detective interviewed Epstein and found he gave a much different account (it wouldn’t say how it differed) and,most notably,that Arden decided she no longer wanted to press charges. Peltz did several follow-up interviews with Arden,who strongly denied the assertion she didn’t want to press charges and divulged previously undisclosed details about the case.

Their story turned out to be one of the most popular stories of the week on the AP News mobile site and was also one of the most engaging with readers. Even the Los Angeles Times had no choice but to put the AP story on its website front page.

For going the extra mile to get an explanation for a case that could have stopped Epstein from the start, Katie Campione and Jennifer Peltz win this week’s Best of the States.

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