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Labor Secretary Alex Acosta told reporters Wednesday that Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged child trafficking ring is “despicable.”
He said his actions “absolutely deserve a stiffer sentence.”
“He should be prosecuted in any state in which he committed a crime,” said Acosta.
But he would not admit he made any mistakes 11 years ago, when instead of going to trial, Acosta — then a U.S. Attorney in Miami — struck a plea deal that allowed the high-flying financier Epstein to avoid a lengthy jail sentence despite the dozens of girls who had accused him of molestation and rape at his Palm Beach mansion and other locations.
“We believe we proceeded appropriately,” Acosta said. When asked multiple times whether he’d apologize or whether he had regrets about the case, Acosta did not respond directly. He did say, "Today's world treats victims very, very differently."
“Today victim shaming is just not accepted,” he said.
As part of his 2008 plea deal, Epstein was jailed on lesser prostitution charges, rather than sex trafficking charges. But Acosta said Thursday he doesn’t consider the victims prostitutes, emphasizing they were children.
“They were victims,” Acosta said. “End of story.”
Acosta shifted blame to the state attorney’s office, which he said sought lesser charges without jail time before the federal attorneys stepped in, and said “prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable.”
He said the non-prosecution agreement his office eventually reached was complex, and that victims were scared and traumatized. Some did not want to testify, or come forward, and faced potential brutal cross-examinations from Epstein’s all-star legal team.
His goal, he said, was to ensure Epstein served some level of time and registered as a sex offender.
“He’s a bad man, and he needs to put away,” Acosta said.
Epstein was made to register as a sex offender in 2008 and served a little more than a year in a Palm Beach jail, although he left for work six days a week. But Acosta argued that Epstein would have gotten off much easier if federal prosecutors hadn't stepped in.
“Without the work of our prosecutors, Epstein would’ve gotten away with just that state charge,” Acosta said.
He added that Epstein's extraordinarily cushy confinement, where he was allowed to leave for work six days a week, was not part of the deal. “When we proceeded, the expectation was that it’d be an 18-month sentence, and the expectation was that it’d be served in jail," he said. "So this work release was complete B.S.”
Over the weekend, Epstein was arrested as his plane landed at an airport in New Jersey on new sex trafficking and conspiracy charges — this time through the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York. He’s accused of running a sex trafficking ring between his Palm Beach and Manhattan estates from 2002 to 2005. He’s pleaded not guilty to the charges and faces up to 45 years in jail.
Several Democrats have called upon Acosta to resign since Epstein’s arrest. Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Tuesday that “if he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him.”
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, told reporters Tuesday he feels “very badly” for Acosta, who wasn’t the only lawyer involved in the controversial plea deal.
In February, a federal judge ruled that the 2008 plea deal violated federal law because Epstein’s alleged victims weren’t notified the deal was being made. That move, the federal judge argued, violated the victims’ rights under federal law.
Cover: U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta speaks during a press conference July 10, 2019 at the Labor Department in Washington, D.C. Secretary Acosta discussed his role in the sexual abuse case of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)