DOJ Scolds Ex-Prosecutor’s ‘Poor Judgment’ in Epstein Deal

The Justice Department said then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta used “poor judgment” as the top prosecutor in southern Florida in approving a generous plea deal with former money manager Jeffrey Epstein, but didn’t commit “professional misconduct.”

The finding by Justice Department’s internal disciplinary unit was criticized by lawyers for Epstein’s victims. Epstein, who was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls, was allowed to enter into a non-prosecution agreement with Acosta’s office in 2008 while also pleading guilty to state charges for which he served 13 months in a work-release program.

“Victims were not treated with the forthrightness and sensitivity expected by the department,” the report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility added.

Acosta, who served as President Donald Trump’s labor secretary from April 2017 to July 2019, said in an email that the report “debunks” allegations that his office “improperly cut Epstein a ‘sweetheart deal’ or purposefully avoided investigating potential wrongdoing by various prominent individuals.”

“The Epstein case understood today is vastly more sweeping than what was understood in 2008,” he said, adding that Epstein would have walked free if his office hadn’t pursued a case in the first place. Initially, he noted, the state case, in which Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution, would have let Epstein off without serving jail time.

Since 2008, “new evidence has been discovered, more victims have come forward, and more victims have become willing to testify,” he said.

Epstein was charged last year in a separate sex-trafficking case by federal prosecutors in New York but was later found dead in his Manhattan jail cell in what was ruled a suicide.

The Justice Department investigation included interviews with more than 60 witnesses and review of hundreds of thousands of pages of records.

The agency said it didn’t find that Acosta engaged in professional misconduct by resolving the federal investigation with a non-prosecution deal or that others committed professional misconduct through “their implementation of Acosta’s decisions.” Still, Acosta’s decision “constitutes poor judgment,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The accord with Epstein wasn’t the result of “improper favors,” the agency added.

Federal law mandates that crime victims be given timely notice about any proceedings involving the accused, and Acosta was faulted for failing to provide notification of the accord to Epstein’s victims, who only later learned about it.

Sigrid McCawley, a lawyer who has represented victims in the Florida investigation, said the report’s findings fell short of the answers Epstein’s victims deserved.

”The countless number of women whose lives were devastated by Jeffrey Epstein deserve something more than a government-issued report that says Alex Acosta, as the lead prosecutor at the time, showed ‘poor judgment’ in handling Epstein’s criminal investigation,” McCawley said in a statement. “This is an anemic accounting of what really happened.”

The Justice Department said the U.S. Privacy Act prohibits the agency from releasing the full report publicly but permits it to be disclosed upon request to a congressional committee.

The Epstein case is not over. In July, federal prosecutors in New York brought sex-trafficking charges against Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend and confidante, accusing her of participating in the scheme. She’s denied wrongdoing and is scheduled to go on trial next year.

Prosecutors have said they continue to investigate.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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