Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta defended his actions in the 2008 plea deal arranged for accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in a Wednesday news conference. Acosta argued that his office proceeded appropriately based on the evidence that got Epstein jail time and registration as a sex offender.
Epstein’s indictment in New York on Monday resurfaced the 12-year-old case, bringing Acosta into the line of fire for an agreement that gave Epstein only 13 months of jail time and six days a week of working in his personal office.
“The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office was ready to let Epstein walk free,” Acosta said. The Florida grand jury reviewed the evidence and recommended a single charge that included no jail time and no registering Epstein as a sex offender.
“Without [the U.S. Attorney Offices’] involvement, Epstein would have gotten away without charge. We believe that we proceeded appropriately,” Acosta said. “Based on the evidence, there was value to getting a guilty plea and having him registered.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office intervention in the state process was incredibly rare. Acosta said he was determined to make Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender, and provide restitution to the victims.
“The world need to be on notice that he was a sexual predator,” Acosta said. “Based on the evidence, there was value to getting a guilty plea and having him registered… He needed to go to jail. That was the focus.”
Acosta pressed the point that the case was ultimately under the jurisdiction of Florida, and “the work release was not what was bargained for,” Acosta said. “I fully thought he would be spending his time in jail.”
Dispelling rumors that the president may fire him, Acosta said that he and the president have recently had friendly conversations in the Oval Office.
“I’ve gotten his support,” Acosta said. “If at some point the president decides that I am not the best person to do this job, I respect that.”
Part of the outrage generated by Epstein’s case is concern for the victims. Acosta received many inflamed questions during the conference regarding victims’ feelings that the penalty for Epstein did not constitute justice for his crimes.
“We can’t begin to understand what [the victims] went through,” Acosta said. “So you always look back ‘what if.’ What I can say is at the time… this was the view of the office. There is a value to a sure guilty plea because letting what the state attorney was ready to do go forward would have been absolutely awful.”
Acosta also noted that the 2008 case plays very differently today than 12 years ago: “Today’s world treats victims very, very differently… My colleagues have spent their careers prosecuting these kinds of cases. Each one of these cases is devastating and saddening. But the prosecutors were trying to do the right thing,” Acosta said.
When asked what message he would send to victims, Acosta said, “You need to come forward. I heard this morning that another victim came forward and made horrendous, horrendous allegations. As victims come forward, these cases can be brought…”