Federal prosecutors in Florida—including President Trump’s current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta—broke the law when they signed a secret plea agreement with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a Palm Beach judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that the decision to keep more than 30 of Epstein’s accusers in the dark about the non-prosecution deal that allowed Epstein, a prominent financier with political connections, to avoid federal prosecution was unconstitutional.
By signing the deal, Marra ruled, Acosta and other DOJ lawyers violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), which guarantees victims the right to speak with prosecutors.
“Petitioners and the other victims should have been notified of the Government’s intention to take that course of action before it bound itself under” a plea agreement, Marra wrote in the 33-page opinion, which mentioned Acosta multiple times.
The evidence, the judge concluded, shows that Epstein, 66, violated federal law in 2008 by running an international sex trafficking operation that recruited underage girls, often times bringing them to the U.S. from overseas.
“Epstein used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him,’’ Marra wrote. “Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others.’’
A bombshell Miami Herald report revealed how Epstein—who has been accused of molesting more than 100 underage girls—was granted the sweetheart plea deal by Acosta and other DOJ attorneys after mounting pressure by Epstein’s defense lawyers.
“When the Government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading,” the judge wrote. “While the Government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the NPA with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims. Instead, the victims were told to be ‘patient’ while the investigation proceeded.”
Those lawyers, including Sexgate prosecutor Ken Starr and celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz, created the secret 2008 plea deal with Acosta, who was then Miami’s top federal prosecutor, and other attorneys unbeknownst to the billionaire’s alleged victims, the Herald investigation found.
“Particularly problematic was the Government’s decision to conceal the existence of the NPA and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility,” the judge wrote on Thursday about the secret plan that effectively buried dozens of sexual-abuse claims.
Epstein, instead of facing life in prison for sex trafficking, only pleaded guilty to two minor charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution. He ultimately served 13 months of an 18-month prison sentence.
Thursday’s decision concluded an 11-year investigation into Epstein’s plea agreement, which revealed hundreds of emails showing how Acosta and other prosecutors worked with Epstein’s legal team to conceal the deal from victims and the public.
“This is a huge victory but this should not have happened in the first place,” said Brad Edwards, the attorney who brought the case on behalf of Epstein’s victims. “These women have spent 11 years fighting for justice.”
Edwards, who has had his own legal battle with Epstein, said the judge’s ruling did not give a solution to the unconstitutional plea deal, and instead gave the government and victims 15 days to jointly decide a resolution.
The decision comes less than a month after the Department of Justice announced it has opened an investigation into Epstein’s sweetheart plea deal to determine whether department lawyers “committed professional misconduct” during his prosecution.
“For more than a decade, the actions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida in this case have been defended by the Department of Justice in litigation across three administrations and several attorneys general,” a Department of Justice spokesperson told The Daily Beast Thursday. “The office’s decisions were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures.”