Federal prosecutors including former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta exercised “poor judgment” but did not act improperly in approving the lenient 2008 plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire accused sex trafficker, a Justice Department report released Thursday found.
The report is the final conclusion made by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) about a non-prosecution agreement between Epstein and federal prosecutors in Miami, including Mr. Acosta.
“Although this decision was within the scope of Acosta’s broad discretion and OPR does not find that it resulted from improper factors, the [non-prosecution] agreement was a flawed mechanism for satisfying the federal interest that caused the government to open its investigation of Epstein,” the OPR said.
Under the controversial agreement, approved by Mr. Acosta while he was the U.S. attorney for Miami, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida of soliciting a minor for prostitution.
The deal allowed Epstein to avoid a possible life sentence and instead permitted him to serve 13 months in a work-release program, pay restitution to his victims and register as a sex offender.
Epstein’s victims at the time were outraged over the agreement, saying it ignored strong evidence that he was sex trafficking minors. They had said they were ignored and should have been consulted before the deal was approved.
But the report issued Thursday said there was no “clear and unambiguous duty” to notify Epstein’s victims.
“OPR did not find evidence that the lack of consultation was for the purpose of silencing victims,” the report said.
Investigators determined that the lack of communication with victims was among a series of missteps that led to widespread condemnation of the government’s treatment of Epstein’s victims.
The decision not to discuss the deal with the victims “reflected poorly on the department as a whole and is contradictory to the department’s mission to minimize the frustration and confusion that victims of a crime endure.”
Investigators cleared Mr. Acosta, who resigned as President Trump’s labor secretary in July 2019 amid questions about his handling of the Epstein case, saying he had the authority to resolve the case as he saw fit.
The office said its investigation, which began in June, did not uncover any evidence that Mr. Acosta was influenced by “impermissible” factors, such as Epstein’s wealth, status or political connections.
In fact, the office credited Mr. Acosta for rebuffing Epstein’s attorney’s push to have the case returned to state authorities and insisting that Epstein register as a sex offender.
But it did ding Mr. Acosta for exercising “poor judgment.” The office said he resolved the case before federal significant investigative steps were finished and relied too heavily on state officials over whom he had no authority.
“Acosta should have ensured a more effective coordination and communication during the negotiations and before approving the final [non-prosecution agreement],” the OPR said.
The investigation began in June and included interviews with more than 60 witnesses and a review of hundreds of thousands of Justice Department records. Mr. Acosta, three former supervisors in his office and an assistant U.S. attorney were identified as the investigation’s subjects.
Early Thursday, Justice Department officials briefed several Epstein victims on the investigation’s conclusions before the report was made public, the department said.
Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, immediately condemned the report in a scathing statement.
“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ — it is a disgusting failure. Americans ought to be enraged,” Mr. Sasse said. “Jeffrey Epstein should be rotting behind bars today, but the Justice Department failed Epstein’s victims at every turn.”
Epstein died by suicide in a New York jail in August 2019, while awaiting federal sex trafficking charges.
His longtime associate, British media heiress Ghislaine Maxwell, was arrested in July and remains in federal custody on charges of procuring girls for Epstein.
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