Justice Department report criticizes Epstein plea deal
WASHINGTON — A Justice Department report has found former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta exercised “poor judgment” in handling an investigation into financier Jeffrey Epstein when he was a top federal prosecutor in Florida. But it also says that he did not engage in professional misconduct.
The report, obtained by The Associated Press, is a culmination of an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility into Acosta’s handling of a secret plea deal with Epstein, who had been accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
Though the report faulted Acosta for his judgment, it concluded that his actions in arranging the deal did not constitute misconduct, and that none of the prosecutors involved committed misconduct in their interactions with the victims.
The conclusions are likely to disappoint the victims, who have long hoped the internal investigation would hold Justice Department officials accountable for actions they say allowed Epstein to escape justice.
In a statement, Acosta expressed vindication at the report’s conclusion that he had not committed misconduct, saying it
“fully debunks” allegations that he had cut a sweetheart deal for Epstein. He said the report confirmed that his decision to open an investigation into Epstein had resulted in a jail sentence and a sex offender registration for the financier.
“OPR’s report and public records document that without federal involvement, Epstein would have walked free,” Acosta said in the statement.
Under the 2008 nonprosecution agreement, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution. That allowed him to avert a possible life sentence, instead serving 13 months in a work-release program. He was required to make payments to victims and register as a sex offender.
Epstein was later charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for nearly identical allegations in 2019, but he took his own life while in federal custody as he awaited trial.
Acosta said the “Epstein affair” was vastly “more lurid and sweeping” than when he was first involved, an allusion to some of the high-profile names referenced in media reports as friends or associates of Epstein.
In a separate statement, Marie Villafana, who was the lead prosecutor in the investigation, said she
• • • was pleased that OPR had completed the report but was “disappointed that it has not released the full report so the victims and the public can have a fuller accounting of the depth of interference that led to the patently unjust outcome in the Epstein case.
The OPR investigation centered on two aspects of the Epstein case — whether prosecutors committed misconduct by resolving the allegations through a nonprosecution agreement, and also whether they mishandled interactions with victims in the case.
The report concludes that prosecutors did not commit misconduct in their interactions with the victims because there was no “clear and unambiguous duty” to consult with them before entering into the nonprosecution agreement.
But it says the lack of consultation reflected poorly on the Justice Department and “is contradictory to the Department’s
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2020
mission to minimize the frustration and confusion that victims of a crime endure.”
The Justice Department’s internal probe also concluded that Acosta’s “decision to resolve the federal investigation through the NPA constitutes poor judgment.” Investigators found that the agreement was “a flawed mechanism for satisfying the federal interest that caused the government to open its investigation of Epstein.”
The report drew immediate condemnation from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who has questioned Justice Department officials about the plea deal repeatedly.
“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment.’ It is a disgusting failure. Americans ought to be enraged,” Sasse said, adding, “the Justice Department failed Epstein’s victims at every turn.”