Judge: Trump labor secretary broke law by hiding sex predator's plea deal from abuse victims

Alex Acosta, now the secretary of labor, is called out for his dubious 2008 plea deal with sexual predator

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published February 22, 2019 8:00PM (EST)

Alexander Acosta (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Alexander Acosta (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

A federal judge ruled that former federal prosecutor Alex Acosta, who is now President Trump’s labor secretary, violated the law by hiding a plea deal with serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein from dozens of his victims.

Judge Kenneth Mara ruled Thursday that Acosta and the Department of Justice violated the law by failing to confer with Epstein’s victims before agreeing to a 2008 plea deal that resulted in no criminal trial for Epstein and just 13 months in prison, CNN reported.

The ruling came after the Miami Herald reported in November that Acosta, then a U.S. attorney, had given Epstein the “deal of a lifetime” by allowing the well-connected billionaire to plead guilty to just two state prostitution charges despite a federal investigation identifying 36 underage victims.

According to the Miami Herald report, investigators found that Epstein had assembled a “large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day.”

According to FBI records, Epstein, a friend of President Trump and former President Bill Clinton, was also suspected of trafficking underage girls from overseas at sex parties attended by affluent men.

Epstein faced a 53-page federal indictment that could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life. Instead, he avoided all federal charges at all after a deal struck with Acosta “essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes,” the Herald reported.

The deal also granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators” who may have been involved, which the Herald noted suggested that other influential people were involved in the trafficking.

The judge’s ruling came in response to another part of the non-prosecution agreement that required the deal to be sealed until it was approved by a judge, thus avoiding any chance that Epstein's victims would try to derail the deal in court.

Aside from Epstein’s political connections, there was no apparent reason why prosecutors should have offered such a generous plea deal.

“This was not a ‘he said, she said’ situation. This was 50-something ‘shes’ and one ‘he’ — and the ‘shes’ all basically told the same story,’’ said retired Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter, who supervised the local investigation, in an interview with the Herald.

Earlier this month, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that the Justice Department informed him that its Office of Professional Responsibility had "opened an investigation into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct" in handling the 2008 plea deal.

On Thursday, Sasse called for the DOJ to re-examine the plea deal and hold Epstein accountable.

"I'm relieved that the court agrees that it was wrong to hide this child rapist's pathetically soft deal from his victims, in violation of federal law," Sasse wrote. "The fact that it's taken this long to get this far is heartbreaking and infuriating. The Department of Justice should use this opportunity to reopen its non-prosecution agreement so that Epstein and anyone else who abused these children are held accountable."

Acosta told CNN earlier this month that he “welcomes” the DOJ probe into the agreement and vowed to “cooperate fully.”

"Absolutely not," he told the network when asked if there had been any wrongdoing on his part. "This is a matter that has been reviewed by Department of Justice leadership. This is a matter that has been defended by the Department of Justice over the intervening 12 years across five attorneys general and multiple administrations."

A lawsuit brought by Epstein’s victims seeking to invalidate the non-prosecution agreement is still pending. That case will certainly be bolstered by Thursday’s ruling, since the suit contends that the plea deal was illegal in the first place.

“As soon as that deal was signed, they silenced my voice and the voices of all of Jeffrey Epstein’s other victims,’’ Courtney Wild, who says she was abused by Epstein at age 14, told the Herald. “This case is about justice, not just for us, but for other victims.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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