Eleven years later, Jeffrey Epstein’s accusers have another shot at the justice they say they were denied when then-U.S. Attorney — and now Labor Secretary — Alexander Acosta cut him a lenient nonprosecution agreement in a major sex-crimes case. A Wednesday news conference by Acosta did not adequately explain or excuse the delay.
Federal prosecutors in New York, where the wealthy financier owns a mansion, released a 14-page indictment on Monday alleging that Epstein engaged in sex trafficking by creating “a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit.” Epstein allegedly lured these victims to his homes to perform massages but would then pay them to engage in a range of sex acts and recruit others, creating a sort of sex pyramid scheme involving victims as young as 14 years old. The allegations are strikingly similar to those Epstein faced when Acosta examined his behavior 11 years ago yet allowed him to plead not to any federal charge, but to state charges of soliciting prostitution, for which he served 13 months in a county jail.
Acosta insisted on Wednesday that, at the time, “based on the evidence, there was value to getting a guilty plea,” as opposed to “rolling the dice” on a trial. That raises the question of why federal prosecutors appear willing to roll the dice now. Acosta on Tuesday tweeted that “new evidence and additional testimony is available” that would allow “an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
There is some new evidence available, in part because of the work of New York prosecutors and in part because of a superb investigation by Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown. Yet a more committed prosecution might have unearthed more evidence 11 years ago.
Acosta nevertheless argued on Wednesday that times have changed since 2008. “We now ... live in a very different world,” he said, as though he were referring to 1958 rather than 2008.
It is possible that everything that Acosta said is true — that career prosecutors in his office 11 years ago calculated it was not worth pursuing federal charges against a rich defendant with a dream team of lawyers prepared to attack the credibility and character of the victims prosecutors sought to protect. Yet, no matter how well intentioned, Acosta and the lawyers working under him still made the wrong call.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST