Labor nominee cut deal with billionaire in sex abuse case
There was once a time — before the investigations, before the sexual abuse conviction — when rich and famous men loved to hang around with Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire money manager who loved to party.
They visited his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. They flew on his jet to join him at his private estate on the Caribbean island of Little Saint James. They even joked about his taste in younger women.
President Donald Trump called Epstein a “terrific guy” back in 2002, saying that “he’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Now, Trump is on the witness list in a Florida court battle over how federal prosecutors handled allegations that Epstein, 64, sexually abused more than 40 minor girls, most of them between the ages of 13 and 17. The lawsuit questions why Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, former Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Wednesday, cut a non-prosecution deal with Epstein a decade ago rather than pursuing a federal indictment that Acosta’s staff had advocated.
Although Epstein’s friends and visitors once included past and future presidents, rock stars, and some of the country’s richest men, he is no longer a social magnet. Epstein pleaded guilty to a Florida state charge of felony solicitation of underage girls in 2008 and served a 13month jail sentence. Politicians who had accepted his donations, including former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, have scurried to give them back. (Harvard University kept a $6.5 million gift, saying it was “funding important research” in mathematics.)
But Epstein’s unusually light punishment — he was facing up to a life sentence had he been convicted on federal charges — has raised questions about how Acosta handled the case.
Former Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter, whose department conducted the initial investigation into Epstein’s behavior, said in a lawsuit deposition that Epstein got off easy.
“That wasn’t an appropriate resolution of this matter,” Reiter said, arguing that the charges leveled against Epstein were “very minor,” compared with what the facts called for. In a letter to parents of Epstein’s victims, Reiter said justice had not been served.
Federal prosecutors detailed their findings in an 82-page prosecution memo and a 53-page indictment, but Epstein was never indicted. In 2007, Acosta signed a non-prosecution deal in which he agreed not to pursue federal charges against Epstein. In exchange, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to a solicitation charge in state court, accept a 13-month sentence, register as a sex offender and pay restitution to the victims.