Richmond Times-Dispatch

Justice Department report criticizes Epstein plea deal

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RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH

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.”

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? The Justice Department found that former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta exercised “poor judgment” in handling an investigat­ion into financier Jeffrey Epstein as top federal prosecutor in Florida, but that his actions did not constitute misconduct.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS The Justice Department found that former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta exercised “poor judgment” in handling an investigat­ion into financier Jeffrey Epstein as top federal prosecutor in Florida, but that his actions did not constitute misconduct.

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