WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary Alex Acosta defended a 2008 deal he brokered that resulted in a short stint in jail for super-rich sex offender Jeffrey Epstein during a news conference Wednesday, saying it was preferable to “a bad state plea” that would have allowed Epstein to escape time behind bars.
Acosta defended his role — when he was serving as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida — in a 2008 non-prosecution agreement that allowed Epstein to serve a scant 13 months in a county jail for serial sex offenses against more than 30 teenage girls. The important outcome, he argued, was that Epstein pleaded guilty in a Palm Beach County court, registered as a sex offender and agreed to pay restitution to his many victims.
“The world had to be on notice that he was a sexual predator,” Acosta later added.
The event was announced as an increasing number of Democrats, including presidential candidates, and newspaper editorial boards demanded Acosta’s resignation in the wake of New York federal prosecutors unsealing an indictment of Epstein, 66, on two counts of sex trafficking with underage girls between 2002 and 2005. If convicted, Epstein, who has pleaded not guilty, could serve 45 years in prison.
That sentence is a lifetime longer than the scant 13 months Epstein served in a county jail under an arrangement that allowed Epstein to leave the jail to work at his private office for 12 hours a day six days a week. Acosta blamed local jailers for the work-release arrangement, which he derided as “complete BS.”
Blaming local prosecutors
The beleaguered labor secretary pointedly tossed the blame to local prosecutors who, he argued, were willing to cut “a bad state plea” that would let Epstein skate with no jail time and no registration as a sex offender. Because federal officials got involved, he argued, it was this non-prosecution deal that led Epstein to face some music.
Barry Krischer, the Palm Beach County state attorney at the time, issued a statement in which he said, “I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong. Federal prosecutors do not take a back seat to state prosecutors. That’s not how the system works in the real world.”
Krischer’s office took the case before a grand jury which returned a single-count indictment of felony solicitation of prostitution, the statement noted. Afterward, the U.S. attorney’s office had drafted a 53-page indictment, which Acosta could have pursued.
“If his explanation is the locals just didn’t want to pursue this, he could have pursued it,” former Nevada U.S. Attorney Gregory A. Brower told the Review-Journal.
Acosta also contended that it would have been a “roll of the dice” to take Epstein to court as his team of elite lawyers would work to impeach the credibility of Epstein’s young victims. Two of Epstein’s victims filed a lawsuit that claimed federal prosecutors broke the Crime Victims’ Rights Act when they cut a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein’s lawyers without notifying the cases many victims.
In February, West Palm Beach federal judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that Acosta’s team did violate the act. “Particularly problematic was the government’s decision to conceal the existence of the (non-prosecution agreement) and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility. When the government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the (non-prosecution agreement) with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims. Instead, the victims were told to be ‘patient’ while the investigation proceeded.”
Said Brower: “While it is always easy to criticize a prosecutor’s decision some 10 years later, this decision to not prosecute seems very hard to justify, especially since it appears that the victims were not properly notified of the decision under federal law.”
Marra noted that Epstein’s agreement gave “expanded immunity to any ‘potential conspirator’” in Epstein’s orbit. When a reporter asked Acosta the reason prosecutors granted immunity to Epstein’s co-conspirators, he replied, “And so there were other individuals that may have been involved…. The focus really is on the top player. And that’s where our focus appropriately was.”
When reporters asked Acosta if he cared to apologize to victims who felt betrayed by his office’s failure to notify them of the non-prosecution agreement, Acosta declined. “In our heart, we were trying to do the right things for these victims,” he said.
Critics didn’t let up.
“It is incredibly lame for him to have stood up there today to make one excuse after another as to why he did what he did. He had all the evidence he needed,” said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. “He could have investigated further, to make sure this sexual criminal, predator, rapist went to jail for the rest of his life.”
As far as Acosta staying on the job, only one reaction matters, that of President Donald Trump, who voiced support for Acosta Tuesday when he also told his labor secretary to hold a press conference to make his case.
Acosta recognized that reality when he told reporters, “I serve at the pleasure of the president. I thought yesterday he was kind and he showed great support. But we have to remember, we are here because we are part of an administration that is creating jobs, that is creating growth, that is really transforming our economy and focusing it on, you know, the forgotten man and woman.”
When the Review-Journal asked Acosta what he was thinking over the years as Epstein lived as a free man about town, Acosta responded, “What I thought is, I keep reading newspaper articles about pending investigations here or there. You know, if someone does a Google search, they will see that there were rumors of investigations going on for the last 10 years. And New York finally stood up and — stood up and they took one of those investigations and they brought charges.”
“He’s a bad man,” Acosta added, “And he needs to be put away.”