ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico's attorney general wants to change a law that allowed billionaire businessman Jeffrey Epstein to avoid registering as a sex offender in the state, where authorities say they are interviewing possible victims that visited his sprawling, secluded ranch south of Santa Fe.
Attorney General Hector Balderas said Friday he will renew his push for legislation that would require anyone with a sex trafficking conviction to register as a sex offender in New Mexico. Similar legislation to expand the statute for the sex offender registry died in the last legislative session without receiving a hearing.
Balderas' decision comes as New Mexico's laws face deepening scrutiny for allowing Epstein to avoid having to register as a sex offender.
"New Mexico continues to lag behind the rest of the country in strengthening outdated and weak laws that fail to protect our children from abuse," Balderas said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. "This is a huge black eye for our state."
In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida to soliciting a minor for prostitution under an agreement that required him to spend 13 months in jail and register as a sex offender. The agreement has been widely criticized for ending a federal sex abuse investigation at the time that could have landed him behind bars for life.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he's stepping down amid the tumult over his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with Epstein. Acosta was the U.S. attorney in Miami when he oversaw the non-prosecution agreement.
The indictment filed in New York this week accuses Epstein of paying underage girls hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and then molesting them at his homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York from 2002 through 2005. The charges carry the potential for up to 45 years in prison.
Matt Baca, the New Mexico attorney general's spokesman, said state authorities were interviewing people who allege they were abused at Epstein's ranch and planned to provide additional evidence to federal authorities.
The office also has been in contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, where Epstein was jailed on new federal charges that are similar to those in the 2008 case.
Epstein has not faced criminal charges in New Mexico, but was accused in a 2015 court filing in Florida of sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl at several locations including New Mexico.
Known as the Zorro Ranch, Epstein's property in Stanley covers thousands of acres. At the center of the rural swath of high desert sits a massive, million-dollar home.
Aerial images of the property show an airplane hangar and landing strip. Closer to the east edge of the property, several structures that appear to serve as small homes and horse stables stand in public view.
Records show Epstein purchased the ranch valued by county officials at over $12 million from the family of former Gov. Bruce King. His son Gary King was the state attorney general from 2007 to 2015.