Law­mak­ers is­sue call for in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Acosta in plea deal

The Bradenton Herald - - Front Page - BY JULIE K. BROWN, ALEX DAUGH­ERTY AND CAITLIN OSTROFF [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com adaugh­[email protected]­clatchydc.com [email protected]­clatchydc.com

More than two dozen law­mak­ers are de­mand­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble mis­con­duct by U.S. Sec­re­tary of La­bor Alexan­der Acosta, who, as a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor in Mi­ami, helped bro­ker a se­cret plea deal for a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire ac­cused of run­ning an un­der­age sex traf­fick­ing net­work.

The law­mak­ers, mostly Democrats, have sent sev­eral let­ters to Michael E. Horowitz, in­spec­tor gen­eral for the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, call­ing for a probe into Acosta’s role in the 2008 plea deal for Jef­frey Epstein.

Epstein, 65, a Palm Beach hedge fund man­ager, faced a pos­si­ble life sen­tence for mo­lest­ing dozens of girls, but was in­stead granted fed­eral im­mu­nity as part of a non-pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment ap­proved by Acosta when he was U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern Dis­trict of Florida.

Thus far, 34 sen­a­tors and mem­bers of the House have called for a probe of the Epstein case, in­clud­ing two Repub­li­cans, Sen. Marco Ru­bio and Sen. Ben Sasse, chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s sub­com­mit­tee for over­sight.

The re­quests come one week af­ter the Mi­ami Her­ald pub­lished an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Perver­sion of Jus­tice, that re­vealed how fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors worked with Epstein’s high­pro­file lawyers to craft a deal that would keep him out of prison. In­stead he would serve a brief jail stint.

Acosta agreed, de­spite a fed­eral law to the con­trary, that the deal would be kept from Epstein’s un­der­age vic­tims un­til af­ter Epstein was sen­tenced, thereby mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for them to ap­pear in court and pos­si­bly de­rail the agree­ment.

The Her­ald iden­ti­fied nearly 80 pos­si­ble vic­tims, most of them 13 to 16 years old. Sev­eral

of them, now in their late 20s and early 30s, told the Her­ald that they felt be­trayed by Acosta and other pros­e­cu­tors who failed to treat them as vic­tims and la­beled them as pros­ti­tutes — even though they were un­der the age of con­sent.

Acosta, 49, was con­firmed as Pres­i­dent Trump’s la­bor sec­re­tary in April 2017. Dur­ing his hear­ings, sen­a­tors Tim Kaine and Patty Mur­ray ques­tioned Acosta about Epstein’s deal but Acosta never ex­plained why he agreed to have it sealed.

He was ap­proved by the Se­nate, 60-38, with eight Democrats and one in­de­pen­dent vot­ing in fa­vor of his ap­point­ment.

“At the end of the day, based on the ev­i­dence, pro­fes­sion­als within a prose­cu­tor’s of­fice de­cided that a plea that guar­an­tees some­one goes to jail, that guar­an­tees he reg­is­ter [as a sex of­fender] gen­er­ally and guar­an­tees other out­comes, is a good thing,’‘ Acosta said dur­ing his hear­ings.

As la­bor sec­re­tary, Acosta over­sees a mas­sive fed­eral agency that pro­vides over­sight of the coun­try’s la­bor laws, in­clud­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing.

He had been on a list of pos­si­ble suc­ces­sors to for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, but was said to have been elim­i­nated from con­sid­er­a­tion af­ter the Her­ald pub­lished its se­ries on­line last week.

On Thurs­day, a group of sen­a­tors led by Mur­ray, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the Se­nate panel that over­sees the Depart­ment of La­bor, wrote a let­ter to Horowitz, ques­tion­ing whether Epstein used his con­nec­tions to not only se­cure a le­nient sen­tence, but to ob­tain im­mu­nity for other peo­ple who were in­volved or knew about his sex­ual ex­ploita­tion of mi­nors.

“Our jus­tice sys­tem is pred­i­cated on the fun­da­men­tal value that no in­di­vid­ual is above the law, and to that end, it is es­sen­tial that plea agree­ments in­volv­ing well­con­nected in­di­vid­u­als not only fol­low the law and stan­dard prac­tice, but also stand up to scru­tiny,’‘ said the let­ter, signed by 15 other mem­bers of the Se­nate.

Ru­bio on Thurs­day also called upon the Jus­tice Depart­ment to ex­plain how such a deal could have hap­pened.

“There should be a lit­tle bit more clar­ity as to why that case was re­solved the way it was re­solved,” Ru­bio said. “Be­cause for most peo­ple that read it, it doesn’t make sense.”

From 2001 to 2006, Epstein as­sem­bled a large cult-like net­work of un­der­age girls — most of them from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds — to give him mas­sages. He then co­erced them into sex acts and paid them to re­cruit other girls to bring to his Palm Beach man­sion, three to four times a day, ac­cord­ing to po­lice.

The Her­ald’s ex­am­i­na­tion of thou­sands of court records, emails and FBI records also showed that af­ter the deal was struck, it ef­fec­tively shut down an on­go­ing FBI probe into whether Epstein was traf­fick­ing girls and young women from around the coun­try and from over­seas for sex par­ties at­tended by other pow­er­ful peo­ple at his man­sions in New York, New Mex­ico and on his pri­vate is­land in the Caribbean.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors had pre­pared a 53-page in­dict­ment against Epstein for fed­eral sex crimes in­volv­ing mi­nors, which would have sent him to prison for decades. The in­dict­ment, how­ever, was shelved, and Epstein was al­lowed to plead guilty to two mi­nor pros­ti­tu­tion charges in state court.

He spent just 13 months in the Palm Beach County jail, where he was given per­mis­sion to leave most of the day un­der a liberal work re­lease pro­gram that wasn’t granted to other con­victed sex of­fend­ers. He was re­leased in 2009.

Sasse, in his let­ter, said he was dis­turbed that fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors would have given Epstein such a break.

“The fact that this mon­ster re­ceived such a pa­thet­i­cally soft sen­tence is a trav­esty that should out­rage us all,’‘ Sasse wrote in a let­ter to DOJ’s in­spec­tor gen­eral.

Ex­perts say its pos­si­ble that sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions could be launched, not just by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice.

The Depart­ment of La­bor’s in­spec­tor gen­eral could also do a re­view, said Philip La­co­vara, who served as coun­sel to the spe­cial prose­cu­tor who in­ves­ti­gated Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s Water­gate scan­dal.

Nei­ther agency is re­quired to say if and when it is con­duct­ing a re­view, he said, so it’s pos­si­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tions could al­ready be un­der­way. But the re­sults may or may not be made pub­lic.

“They may do 10 con­fi­den­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions, but you may only know about one,” La­co­vara said.

Francey Hakes, a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor, said that such an in­ves­ti­ga­tion could re­sult in pol­icy changes and new reg­u­la­tions on how fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors han­dle vic­tim no­ti­fi­ca­tion and non­pros­e­cu­tion agree­ments.

“I just don’t know of any ret­ro­spec­tive way to fix things,” Hakes said.

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