DOJ says ex-prosecutor Acosta showed poor judgment in 2007 sweetheart deal with sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein

Key Points
  • An internal Justice Department investigation found that a top federal prosecutor "exercised poor judgment" in cutting a no-plea prosecution deal with alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in 2007 but also found that prosecutors had not broken the law.
  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., blasted the findings about the former prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, who resigned last year as U.S. Labor secretary after outrage over the deal.
  • Epstein, who died in a jailhouse suicide in 2019, had been friends with Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, as well as with Britain's Prince Andrew.
Charges against Jeffery Epstein were announced on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.
Stephanie Keith | Getty Images News | Getty Images

An internal Justice Department investigation found that a top federal prosecutor "exercised poor judgment" in cutting a no-plea prosecution deal with alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in 2007 but concluded that prosecutors had not broken the law or engaged in professional misconduct.

The report by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility also found that the former top federal prosecutor in Miami, Alexander Acosta, had closed the federal investigation into Epstein at that time "before significant investigative steps were completed."

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., blasted the Justice Department for its report on prosecutors including Acosta, who resigned last year as U.S. Labor secretary after outrage over the non-prosecution deal.

"Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t 'poor judgment' — it is a disgusting failure," Sasse said in a statement.

"Americans ought to be enraged. Jeffrey Epstein should be rotting behind bars today, but the Justice Department failed Epstein's victims at every turn," said Sasse, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee.

The OPR investigation was launched after Sasse requested it in late 2018, on the heels of an explosive report in the Miami Herald about the non-prosecution agreement.

At the time of that 2007 deal, Epstein, who had been friends with President Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, Britain's Prince Andrew and other wealthy people, was suspected of having sexually abused dozens of teenage girls in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In his agreement with Acosta, who at the time was U.S. attorney for South Florida, Epstein was required to plead guilty to state crimes in Florida, including one related to paying an underage girl for sexual services.

In exchange, Acosta agreed not to prosecute Epstein or several suspected co-conspirators on federal charges related to alleged sexual misconduct with minors.

Epstein, who pleaded guilty in the state case in 2008, ended up serving just 13 months in jail, but spent hours free each day on work release. As a result of his conviction, he was registered as a sex offender.

The Justice Department, in a statement Thursday, said, "While OPR did not find that Department attorneys engaged in professional misconduct, OPR concluded that the victims were not treated with the forthrightness and sensitivity expected by the Department."

"OPR also concluded that former U.S. Attorney Acosta exercised poor judgment by deciding to resolve the federal investigation through the non-prosecution agreement and when he failed to make certain that the state of Florida intended to and would notify victims identified through the federal investigation about the state plea hearing," the department said.

The Miami Herald in late 2018 had reported that at the time of the deal in 2007, Acosta had "agreed, despite federal law to the contrary that the deal would be kept from the victims."

"As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it," the Herald reported in 2018.

NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992

Acosta resigned as Trump's Labor Department secretary after public reports of the deal sparked widespread outrage when federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein, 66, with child sex trafficking.

The alleged crimes occurred at his Manhattan townhouse and mansion in Palm Beach from 2002 through 2006, during the time that was covered by the deal with Acosta.

Epstein died from what has officially been ruled a suicide by hanging in a federal jail in Manhattan in August 2019, while awaiting trial in the case.

Sasse said that the Justice Department's "crooked deal with Epstein effectively shut down investigations into his child sex trafficking ring and protected his co-conspirators in other states."

"Justice has not been served. The full report needs to be released to the public," Sasse said.

He added that the OPR "might have finished its report, but we have an obligation to make sure this never happens again."

U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta makes a statement on his involvement in a non-prosecution agreement with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who has now been charged with sex trafficking in underage girls, during a news conference at the Labor Department in Washington, July 10, 2019.
Leah Millis | Reuters

NBC News reported that on Thursday, Justice Department officials briefed several Epstein victims on the investigation's findings in a meeting in Miami.

The Justice Department, in its statement, said, "In order to fully respect the rights and dignity of Jeffrey Epstein's many victims, the Department first invited victims and their legal representatives to be briefed this morning on the report's contents."

The department also said, "The Privacy Act prohibits the Department from releasing the full report publicly, but permits the report to be disclosed upon request to a congressional committee with jurisdiction over the matter, and this has been done."

"We salute the courage of survivors as they again are confronted with these horrible crimes and their aftermath. The Department will thoroughly review the report, which will inform our implementation of the Crime Victims Rights' Act and the Attorney General's Guidelines on Victim and Witness Assistance."

In July, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was charged by federal prosecutors with abetting Epstein's alleged serial sexual abuse of underage girls in the 1990s.

Maxwell, who is Epstein's former girlfriend and property manager, has denied allegations that she recruited and groomed girls for Epstein.

She is being held without bond in a federal jail in Brooklyn. Her trial is scheduled for next year.