A judge ruled on Thursday that federal prosecutors broke the law by failing to keep victims adequately informed about a plea deal that Jeffrey Epstein, a prominent financier, cut to avoid federal prosecution for sexual encounters with numerous underage girls.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta was the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida at the time the agreement was negotiated more than a decade ago. The Justice Department’s internal watchdog for attorney misconduct announced earlier this month that it had opened an investigation into the government’s conduct in the case.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra said Thursday that prosecutors violated the Crime Victims Rights Act by failing to notify victims before signing off on the arrangement, under which federal prosecutors promised not to prosecute Epstein in federal court if he pleaded guilty to a pair of prostitution-related offenses in a Florida state court.
“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 the NPA,” or nonprosecution agreement, Marra wrote.
Marra criticized federal prosecutors for not only hiding the agreement from the victims but also misleading them about the state of the case.
“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.
“When the Government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. 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.”
Evidence in the case showed that for years Epstein dispatched aides and associates to find teenage girls, many of them underage, to visit his Palm Beach home for “massages” that often involved sex acts. Epstein wound up with an 18-month sentence. He was cut loose five months early, and much of the time he did serve was under lax conditions in which he was on work-release during the day.
Marra’s 33-page ruling makes numerous mentions of Acosta’s direct involvement in the case, including his face-to-face negotiations with Epstein’s attorneys. Critics of the deal have said federal prosecutors were outmatched by Epstein’s well-connected, high-powered defense team, which included former independent counsel Ken Starr and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz.
The Labor Department declined to comment on the judge’s ruling or the specifics of the case.
“For more than a decade, the actions of the office in this case have been defended by the Department of Justice in litigation across three administrations and several attorneys general,” a Labor spokesperson told POLITICO. “The office’s decisions were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures. This matter remains in litigation and, thus, for any further comment we refer you to the Department of Justice.”
Marra’s decision came in a lawsuit that some of Epstein’s victims filed in 2008 seeking to have the nonprosecution deal nullified because of the treatment of the victims. In the ruling Thursday, the judge left open the question of what remedy should be imposed for the prosecutors’ legal violation in their handling of the deal.
The basic facts of the case have been established for years, but a Miami Herald report last November, including videotaped interviews with some of Epstein’s victims, drew new attention to the episode and prompted Democratic lawmakers to demand an investigation.
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