The arrest of Jeffrey Epstein on alleged sex-trafficking of minors in New York between 2002 and 2005 has sparked calls for the resignation of U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta who as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2008 signed off on a secret non-prosecution agreement for the hedge-fund billionaire.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted July 9, a day after the charges were announced, that Mr. Acosta “must step down” because as “U.S. Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement” with Mr. Epstein that was “kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice.” She noted that President Trump was well aware of the controversy when he nominated Mr. Acosta.
Growing Calls by Dems
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and several other Democratic members of Congress had already called for Mr. Acosta’s resignation. The Department of Labor and the Department of Justice are the Federal government’s lead agencies responsible for enforcing the laws against human-trafficking.
On July 9 President Trump defended Mr. Acosta to reporters. “I met Secretary Acosta when I made a deal to bring him onto the administration,” he said. “I can tell you that for two and a half years, he has been just an excellent Secretary of Labor.”
In February, following a request from congressional Democrats and Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, the DOJ announced its Office of Professional Responsibility would open a probe into Mr. Acosta’s actions in the Epstein case.
Mr. Epstein was apprehended July 6 at Teterboro Airport by FBI agents after his private jet returned from Paris. The 66-year-old is being held in the Metropolitan Detention Center in lower Manhattan pending a July 15 bail hearing on charges that could send him to prison for 45 years, according to Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Federal prosecutor Alex Rossmiller disclosed at a July 8 court hearing that in a raid on Mr. Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion, FBI agents discovered in a locked safe “a vast trove of lewd photographs” as well as compact discs of what appeared to be pictures of nude underage girls.
Mr. Epstein is a registered sex offender as a result of his Florida conviction.
Mr. Berman used the press conference announcing the arrest to make a direct appeal to any victims of Mr. Epstein’s alleged trafficking operation to phone 1-800-CALL FBI. Prosecutors confirmed additional victims had come forward.
In February, Federal Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that the 2008 agreement executed by Mr. Acosta as U.S. Attorney broke Federal law because prosecutors failed to notify dozens of victims of Mr. Epstein’s crimes when he granted lawyers’ request to put the deal under court seal before the plea deal was signed off on by the courts.
Judge Marra ruled in the case, brought by two victims under the Federal Crime Victims’ Act, that Mr. Acosta’s office intentionally misled the victims that there was still an ongoing criminal probe after they had inked the sealed deal with Mr. Epstein.
That plea deal required only that Mr. Epstein and four co-conspirators plead guilty to two state prostitution charges in exchange for receiving immunity from far more serious Federal charges.
“Epstein used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him,” Judge Marra wrote in his decision. “Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors and not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others.”
The Epstein controversy surfaced during Mr. Acosta’s Senate confirmation hearing in February 2017 and has dogged him ever since. In April, when he appeared at a House Appropriations Committee, he defended what critics called a “sweetheart deal” as the best prosecutors could get against a high-powered defendant with deep pockets.
“At the end of the day, Mr. Epstein went to jail,” the Labor Secretary said. “Epstein was incarcerated. He registered as a sex offender.”
On July 9 Mr. Acosta tweeted that “the crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence.”
In a July 8 editorial, the Miami Herald, whose investigative reporting on the case Mr. Berman credited with “assisting” prosecutors, repeated its call for Mr. Acosta’s resignation.
The paper’s series entitled “Perversion of Justice” reported that Mr. Acosta met privately with Mr. Epstein’s legal team more than a decade ago and that as a result of the deal Mr. Epstein was sentenced to just 13 months in a county jail, from which he was granted daily work release and allowed to “travel to New York and his private island in the Caribbean during his subsequent house arrest.”
“If Acosta, when he was U.S. Attorney in Miami, had shown an ounce of sympathy for the vulnerable girls Epstein sexually exploited, they would have had a powerful voice on their side,” the editorial stated. “They didn’t. Now, Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is their next best hope for justice.”
‘Shocks the Conscience’
The most controversial aspect of the 2008 deal, which Mr. Epstein’s lawyers insist was signed off on at the highest level of the Bush Administration Justice Department, was that by permitting him to plead to just state prostitution charges, it failed to hold him to account for sexually exploiting scores of underage girls on a scale that Mr. Berman told reporters “shocks the conscience.”
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Epstein targeted “vulnerable” underage girls to participate in sex acts for which he paid them hundreds of dollars at both his New York and Miami residences and “in order to maintain and increase his supply of victims” he also paid those victims “to recruit additional underage girls whom he could similarly abuse” creating “a vast network of underage victims.”
Mr. Epstein’s prosecution is being handled by Mr. Berman’s Public Corruption Unit with assistance from the NYPD’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force.
At back-to-back court hearings, Mr. Epstein’s legal team accused Federal prosecutors of improperly trying to get a “do-over” because DOJ prosecutors had erred in their failure to notify victims of the 2008 plea deal.
“These facts were known by Federal prosecutors,” attorney Reid Weingarten stated, adding that it had been “approved all the way up” to DOJ’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
He continued, “And it sure seemed like this was a global settlement that was made based on the facts on the ground….This should chill the blood of every defense attorney who makes a deal with Federal prosecutors.”
Mr. Berman told reporters that the Southern District of New York had no part in the 2008 immunity deal that was brokered by Mr. Acosta and was free to pursue the case.
There is no statute of limitations for certain sex crimes.
Attorney David Boies, who represents five alleged victims in the Epstein case, said in an interview outside the courthouse, “This is an incredible big step towards getting justice for the many victims of the Epstein sex-trafficking operation”
He added that his clients “have been subject to years of verbal abuse which compounded the sexual abuse by Mr. Epstein and his enablers who have tried to attack their credibility, undermine their testimony—and this is an extremely important vindication.”
The disclosure that Mr. Epstein was still in possession of naked photos of “apparently underage girls,” caught Mr. Boies by surprise. “That somebody that knows he is subject to discovery to have kept all of those nude photographs of girls is in my mind incomprehensible. What it does show is how much he thought he was above the law, and he wasn’t worried about it,” Mr. Boies said.
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