Trump’s Labor nominee oversaw ‘sweetheart plea deal’ in billionaire’s underage sex case
Josh Gerstein reports in Politico:
President Donald Trump’s new nominee for secretary of labor, Alexander Acosta, could face a grilling in the Senate over claims that — while he was the top federal prosecutor in Miami — he cut a sweetheart plea deal in 2008 with a billionaire investor accused of having sex with dozens of underage girls.
As the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges against the wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, if he pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution.
Epstein ultimately received an 18-month sentence in county jail and served about 13 months — treatment that provoked outrage from alleged victims in the case.
Soon after the deal was cut in 2008, two women filed suit claiming that the decision to forgo federal prosecution violated a federal law — the Crime Victims Rights Act — because they and other teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it.
Acosta is not a party in the suit, which names only the federal government as a defendant. In 2015, lawyers for the women demanded Acosta submit to a deposition in the case. The motion was withdrawn last year as settlement talks in the case went forward, but the case remains pending.
“There is good reason to believe that if the prosecutors had exposed their dealings to scrutiny by Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2 and other victims, they would not have reached such a sweetheart plea deal,” the alleged victims’ attorneys wrote in a court filing last year.
Acosta acknowledged to the media in 2011 that he came under extreme pressure from Epstein’s high-powered defense team, which included legal heavyweights such as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr and Florida criminal defense attorney Roy Black.
Acosta said Epstein’s defense mounted “a yearlong assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”
“I use the word assault intentionally, as the defense in this case was more aggressive than any which I, or the prosecutors in my office, had previously encountered,” the former U.S. attorney wrote. He said his office stuck to its opening position in the case, but he also acknowledged that the ultimate punishment in the case may have been more lenient than Epstein deserved.
“Some may feel that the prosecution should have been tougher,” Acosta wrote in the letter, posted online by The Daily Beast. “Evidence that has come to light since 2007 may encourage that view. Many victims have since spoken out, filing detailed statements in civil cases seeking damages. Physical evidence has since been discovered. Had these additional statements and evidence been known, the outcome may have been different. But they were not known to us at the time.”
Acosta indicated he did not approve of cushy treatment Epstein appeared to have received during his jail stint. “The treatment that he received while in state custody undermined the purpose of a jail sentence,” the former prosecutor wrote. . .