The Epstein Scandal Could Actually Help Alex Acosta Get Rich

"Every place Acosta has landed, he has landed with a parachute."

by Francisco Alvarado
Jul 16 2019, 2:33pm

(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Alexander Acosta isn't finished yet.

On Friday, the embattled Secretary of Labor announced his resignation by way of appearing alongside Donald Trump. Noting that his tenure would officially end July 19, Acosta effectively surrendered in the face of withering criticism over his role in handing registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein a plea deal more than a decade ago. At the time, Acosta was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where the feds had prepared a draft 53-page indictment against Epstein that was never filed, as the Miami Herald reported.

Epstein had allegedly sexually abused dozens of underage girls, some as young as 13, according to evidence gathered by local police and the FBI.

As is now well known, Epstein’s high-powered legal team—including Jay Lefkowitz, a former Acosta colleague from his tenure at the private law firm Kirkland and Ellis—successfully negotiated a deal such that their client only had to serve 13 months in jail on state charges. The agreement also promised immunity from federal criminal charges for Epstein and his alleged accomplices. According to the Herald's investigative series on the saga, the arrangement was finessed in cordial settings like a breakfast meeting between Acosta and Lefkowitz at a West Palm Beach Hotel in October 2007, and was not disclosed to Epstein's victims until after being finalized by a federal judge. (Acosta has defended his actions as ensuring some level of accountability for Epstein in a sensitive case.)

Acosta's cabinet tenure was doomed by his part in that story, one that often reads like a dystopian parable of how justice works in America. But legal experts and political insiders canvassed by VICE suggested that even if he wasn't out of the water yet, the transactional nature of Big Law—full of compromised players working on behalf of dubious interests—means Acosta could actually be primed to cash in.

That was especially true thanks to his strong ties in the strange, uniquely muddy waters of high-dollar lawyering in South Florida.

"Every place Acosta has landed, he has landed with a parachute," said Raul Martinez, a former mayor for the city of Hialeah in Miami-Dade who knows a thing or two about the perils of favor-trading and now hosts a popular political show on Spanish-language radio station Caracol.

Martinez argued Acosta had landed high-profile gigs throughout his adult life because of who he knew. "He ended up dean of the law school [at Florida International University] when he didn't have an education background," he said. "I hope FIU doesn't entertain the idea of bringing him back. That would be a major scandal."

Of course, Acosta quietly sliding back into the legal world would first require the spotlight of Epstein's prosecution—this time, by U.S. attorneys in New York, where he is charged with sex trafficking and has pleaded not guilty—to fade. That won't happen any time soon. In fact, it could get worse for Acosta before it gets better.

"I think he should be looking for a criminal defense lawyer," said Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University and expert on legal ethics. "He could be a target if the Southern District of New York really wanted to go all out…. They could say Acosta was part of the conspiracy."

There's also the possibility Acosta faces bar complaints from Epstein victims or lawyers who represented him, Jarvis added. "Losing his law license is a distinct possibility," he said.

Acosta and Molly Conway, the labor secretary’s chief of staff, did not respond to phone messages requesting comment for this story.

For Acosta, a Harvard Law alum who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, continuing a career in the public sector—according to the New York Times, he had been eyeing a federal judgeship—seemed almost certainly out of the question. But his connections could land him a plum perch at a private law firm in his home turf of Miami, legal insiders said.

Retired Miami-Dade County Court Judge Jeffrey Swartz, who teaches ethics law at the Tampa Bay campus of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, said Acosta's Republican connections—as well as any relationships he cultivated in his current gig—would make him an attractive candidate in spite of the Epstein cloud hanging over him.

Indeed, some of Miami’s more prominent lawyers have come to Acosta's defense in recent months, and could provide glowing referrals. Among them: Jeffrey Sloman, who was Acosta's former second-in-command at the U.S. Attorney's Office. In February, Sloman wrote an opinion piece published in the Herald stating, "Some have mistakenly suggested that our office kowtowed to Epstein's high-priced defense lawyers or, worse, that his lawyers intimidated us into submission."

Sloman added, "You can disagree with the result we reached, but our whole team—from Alex on down the chain of command—always acted with integrity and in good faith."

Legal insiders expected Acosta to lean on former Kirkland and Ellis colleagues like Lefkowitz and ex-federal prosecutors like Sloman for job referrals. They said another candidate who might line up to find Acosta a landing spot was Guy Lewis, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and another one of Epstein's other former criminal defense lawyers. (Lefkowitz, Sloman, and Lewis did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)

Unlike Epstein's victims, Acosta will likely be able to return to his private life and move on from the scandal, argued Orlando-based litigator and former prosecutor Bill Schaefer.

"I don't see a criminal prosecution against Acosta unless more can be shown that there was a quid pro quo for Epstein's plea agreement," he said. "As we've often seen, fallen public officials have avenues in the private sector for them to pursue. Acosta would be a valuable asset to some law firms or corporations on labor issues."

After all, even if he were to lose his law license, Acosta could almost certainly find work as a consultant or lobbyist.

"I don't see him being left without the ability to make a living," Swartz said, adding, "He is a significant reclamation project given the Epstein case will remain in the news cycle for the next six months to a year. But I don't think he is going to be poor."

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Donald Trump
Big Law
Jeffrey Epstein
alexander acosta