A former Miami federal prosecutor “showed bad judgment” in allowing disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein to escape federal child trafficking charges more than a decade ago, a Justice Department review, but he found no other wrongdoing, sparking criticism that the Department shirked responsibility for its light treatment of Mr Epstein, who died last year of apparent suicide after his arrest on similar charges.
The department’s professional liability office found no malpractice of R. Alexander Acosta, the American attorney in Miami who oversaw the 2006 investigation into Mr. Epstein and who later served as labor secretary under the president Trump until his resignation last year amid a renewal outcry over the Epstein affair.
The review was an attempt to shut the door on an embarrassing episode for the Justice Department that critics say saved Mr Epstein from being criticized despite years of allegations he sexually abused dozens of teenage girls. It has also allowed him to continue to socialize with politicians, celebrities, academics and Wall Street billionaires and to reinvent himself as a philanthropist and tax and real estate advisor to the ultrarich.
Mr. Acosta’s decision to pursue a non-prosecution agreement rather than federal charges “was a flawed mechanism to satisfy the federal interest that prompted the government to open its investigation into Epstein,” according to a 13-page summary from the report. Mr. Acosta, according to the summary, erred in giving too much deference to the interests of Florida prosecutors and “his view of the federal interest in prosecuting Epstein was too narrow.
The no-prosecution deal was part of a deal that resulted in Mr Epstein pleading guilty in Florida to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from an underage girl and registering as sex offender. The terms of the federal deal, which also protected four named alleged co-conspirators from prosecution, were largely withheld from its victims for years.
Although the Justice Department emphasized in its summary that it found no wrongdoing, it is clear from the nearly 350-page full report that Mr Epstein and his defense attorneys were controlling the negotiations from June 2007, when they first met with prosecutors. to discuss potential charges, until the investigation is resolved with a no-prosecution agreement.
The lead prosecutor in charge of the case, Marie Villafaña, initially drafted an 82-page brief containing 60 possible criminal counts of sexual misconduct and human trafficking. She and her colleagues used the document to plan a possible indictment, narrower in scope, which would include only their strongest witnesses and allegations. By mid-May, they had come up with a series of charges that could result in 14 to almost 18 years.
But Mr Acosta told Justice Ministry investigators he believed Ms Villafaña was “on top of her skis” and he privately discussed the slowdown in the case with his superiors. They also met with Mr. Epstein’s defense attorneys at the end of June over Ms. Villafaña’s objections, opening the door to a wave of relentless criticism from Mr. Epstein’s attorneys, which ultimately prompted one of Ms. Villafaña’s supervisors to review her work on the Case.
The report also criticized Mr Acosta for not being sensitive to the feelings of Mr Epstein’s victims by failing to alert them to the terms of the no-prosecution agreement and making sure they had sufficient notice. from Mr. Epstein’s guilty plea to the state prosecution. The report said the omission “presented a stark contrast to Acosta’s responsiveness to requests from Epstein’s attorneys, which included the unusual courtesy of allowing them to preview and respond to draft victim notifications (from federal prosecutors). . “
The review followed public outrage over a series of Miami Herald inquiries that examined the events leading up to the no-prosecution deal and the relatively light sentence Mr Epstein imposed on prosecutors of State of Florida as part of the agreement. A month after the Herald series, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who is chairman of the Federal Justice Oversight Subcommittee, called for an investigation by the Department of Justice into Mr. Acosta’s handling of the case.
Mr. Sasse said the findings of the review were inadequate. “DOJ’s crooked deal with Epstein effectively ended investigations into his child sex trafficking ring and protected his co-conspirators in other states,” he said in a statement.
Mr Acosta defended his 2007 decision at a press conference shortly after Mr Epstein’s arrest in July 2019. But his explanation did not quell the fury, and two days after that press conference , he resigned from his post as Labor Secretary.
The report also seeks to dispel some urban myths that have developed around Mr Epstein, including whether he received a light deal because he cooperated in an investigation involving a criminal case involving two former hedge fund managers Bear Stearns or was an “intelligence asset.” The report says it “found no evidence to suggest that Epstein was such a cooperative witness or an ‘intelligence tool’.”
In a two-page statement released by his attorney, Gordon Todd, Mr Acosta said the review largely vindicated it and “refuted claims” that he and his office “improperly cut Epstein off a ‘love deal’ or willfully avoided investigating possible wrongdoing by various prominent figures. “
Mr Acosta also said in the statement: “The Epstein case as understood today is much more sinister and sweeping than previously thought” and involves allegations against a number of prominent figures as well as Mr. Epstein.
Before releasing the summary, Department of Justice lawyers met with lawyers for some of the victims in Miami to discuss their findings. Lawyers for the government said full copies of the report would be provided to any member of Congress who requested them.
Sigrid McCawley, a lawyer at Boies Schiller Flexner who represents several victims, called the review “an anemic account of what really happened.” Spencer Kuvin, who represents some of the early accusers who complained to federal and state authorities about Mr. Epstein, said he was happy that “the US government is acknowledging its own failures in handling this matter.”
The fury over Mr Epstein’s handling of the sexual abuse allegations led federal prosecutors in Manhattan to take a fresh look at the matter. The new investigation led to Mr Epstein’s arrest for sex trafficking in July 2019.
But his death a month later sparked yet another wave of public outcry, especially from victims who could never face him in a federal courtroom. Attorney General William P. Barr immediately announced internal investigations to determine how Mr. Epstein died and said the Manhattan Federal Attorney’s Office would continue to conduct a human trafficking case against some of Mr. Epstein’s associates .
Coroner’s reports and an investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice Inspector General ultimately concluded that Mr Epstein’s death was a suicide, Mr Barr said last fall, adding that he had personally examined security camera footage of Mr Epstein’s living area which showed no one entered on the night he died.
Investigations by the FBI and the Inspector General led to criminal charges against two prison guards who were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and making false records. Although the guards pleaded not guilty, the lawsuits against them exposed the official account of the negligence which the government says allowed Mr Epstein to enjoy the privacy and seclusion he needed to get away from it all. commit suicide.
The Bureau of Prisons has also completed an investigation into the circumstances of Mr Epstein’s death, but it should not be made public.
This summer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan arrested Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of a publishing mogul and former confidant of Mr. Epstein, on charges of luring underage girls and preparing them to be abused by Mr. Epstein.